The Long Good-bye

THE LAST TIME I saw my imaginary friend, Jimmy, he was mad with joy, racing across the field after Washington State defeated UCLA back on December 7th. I couldn't really blame him, it had been an amazing season, overflowing with exhilarating highs and crushing lows. Neither Jimmy nor I could have possibly known we hadn't seen anything. Not yet. Not even close.

Jimmy is named after a character from a Seinfeld episode a few years back, partly because he speaks of himself in the third person.  


I'd almost forgotten about Jimmy when he suddenly showed up Saturday morning.  (Apparently he'd been off globe-trotting with his girlfriend, Imaginary J-Lo, and had been incommunicado.)  He'd managed to find out WSU had been defeated in the Rose Bowl.. but none of the details.  And he had no idea what else had occurred since that brilliant day in December when the Cougs earned their second Rose Bowl berth in the past six seasons.


"Jimmy's been out of touch for awhile.  Jimmy doesn't like being out of the loop when it comes to Cougar Football.  Fill Jimmy in.  Start with the Rose Bowl," he said.


I let him know we had to go back a bit farther than the actual game.  I told Jimmy about a week after the regular season, rumors surfaced that both UCLA and Alabama were interested in coach Mike Price.  Jimmy laughed so hard he nearly pulled his spleen.  He genuinely likes Price as a person, but has often taken issue with Price the coach over the years.



"Jimmy has missed your sense of humor, Bolton.  Granted, Price has done some very good things at Washington State, but UCLA?  Jimmy thinks not.  And Price at Alabama?  Where The Bear roamed the sidelines on Saturday afternoons?  Jimmy will be elected to Congress before that happens."


I informed him yes, Price soon dismissed UCLA as a possibility.  But on Dec. 18th, Mike Price accepted an offer to become the new head football coach at the University of Alabama.  It took several minutes plus time spent combing through media archives before Jimmy believed me.


"Jimmy is in shock.  But Jimmy doesn't begrudge him the opportunity.  No matter how much Jimmy disagreed with some coaching decisions, Jimmy is genuinely happy for him.  And excited about a new beginning at WSU!  Jimmy says, ‘Onward'.  Hey, this partly explains the Rose Bowl score.  Pretty tough adapting to a new coach and then winning the Granddaddy of Them All.  Who was the interim coach?  And who'd we ultimately hire?"


Upon discovering Bill Doba is the new head coach, Jimmy leapt to his feet in celebration but I waved him off.  I assured him there's a ton of great news for the Cougs this offseason.  But we'd talk about all that later - there's more to this story.  I told him Price stayed on to coach the Rose Bowl, and Jimmy did a double take.  Sensing an outburst, I quickly got in several items before Jimmy erupted. 



Price wanted to coach in the Rose Bowl.  He told his players if he left now for Alabama, he'd be taking his assistants with him.  The other coaches and the AD agreed.  And it would be folly to try and coach the Rose Bowl with 3 or 4 coaches.  Price flew south and recruited for 'Bama, did some administrative planning, taped his first Alabama coaches show and attended to other assorted duties for the Crimson Tide.. while also preparing the Cougs for their bowl game.


"What kind of (expletives deleted) madness is that?  You can't coach two teams at the same time?!  This is quite vexing.  Jimmy may need to buy some of that ‘Shock and Awe Underwear' Jimmy's been hearing about before you go on, Bolton..  No, Jimmy has steeled himself.  Continue."


I recounted the intense criticism Price received leading up to the game, interrupted by a few "Damn right's!" from Jimmy.  I summarized the game, one that featured questionable play calling and an inability, or a refusal, to adapt - making sure to stress these were but my opinions.  I also stated the Defense played heroically.. but inevitably wore down since they were on the field all day.  Jimmy went back on the internet, looking up quotes and stories from the post game, and the following month or so..


"Let Jimmy try and understand some of this.  On January 1, Price is biting his lip.  He wants to respond to criticism but he won't.  On January 5, he says has no regrets leaving.  On January 13, Price reveals he called Moore when the 'Bama job opened, not the other way around.  And three weeks after the game, assistant coaches and other "unnamed insiders" tell the media Price had no intention of leaving Pullman, insinuating Price was forced out.  This is the stupidest After School Special that Jimmy has ever seen." 


There were more quotes where Price, in praising Alabama, discounted Washington State.  But Jimmy dismissed most of those. 


"Jimmy doesn't think he meant most of these as they sounded.  He's just trying to praise his new surroundings and the Alabama people.  Jimmy knows Price shoots from the hip, often without thinking his comments through.  Jimmy's not too upset."  (He paused for a long time here, alternately reading more quotes and stories, and then pondering their meaning.) 



"Some of these quotes are foolish and annoy Jimmy, but Jimmy can still let these go.  Jimmy has now had enough time to consider Price's leaving.  Jimmy is happy for Price, Washington State and for Alabama.  It is difficult for Jimmy not to hold Price partially responsible for the Rose Bowl and what might have been -- it may always be that way for Jimmy.  But Jimmy is ready to move on.  We'll do just fine.  And hopefully, he'll do well there.  What.  Why are you looking at Jimmy like that.  Don't tell Jimmy there's more."


I told him Price might get fired later this morning without ever coaching a game for Alabama.  Price, allegedly, had been drinking to excess on occasions, spent a large sum of cash on a dancer at a strip club and woke up the next morning with a different unidentified female in his room.. and doesn't know how she got there.  And there are still more allegations.  Jimmy doubled over, slowly rocking back and forth.


"Jimmy's head hurts.  More than that, Jimmy's heart hurts.  This is not coach Price.  This is not that man.  His numerous acts of kindness have been well documented over the years.  Jimmy knows there have been just as many, if not more, good deeds that were never publicized.  Jimmy has always been able to separate the coach from the man.  Jimmy has issues with the former, especially as an offensive coordinator.  But Jimmy has nothing but the highest respect for the man.  Jimmy needs some time to think about this."


We spent an hour or so looking over the last week; as it was reported.  We listened to a radio station's broadcast where Mac Bledsoe was interviewed.  We read scores of media articles, and some of the posts on other schools' message boards.  A sizeable portion of all this made Jimmy angry. 



"Jimmy likes to joke around. Jimmy's pretty funny himself.  But Jimmy has no time at all for people who express such mean-spirited glee at someone's misfortune.  Make a few jokes?  Absolutely.  Or feel angry.. feel he deserves to be fired.. feel he should get a second chance.. Whatever.  But don't take such pleasure in the pain of another."


"And this radio shock-jock guy, Paul Finebaum.  Yes, Jimmy understands what shock-jocks do.  Jimmy realizes many are shameless, bereft of class and destined one day for Public Access.  But don't say you have not judged Price and then proceed to repeatedly judge and condemn him.  This leering little gargoyle has Jimmy's scorn.  But if Hubris knocks on Finebaum's door one day, Jimmy will take no pleasure in watching him fall.  Because Jimmy is better than him.  Hell, Jimmy's toilet is better than him."


And then it happened.  Shortly after 12 noon PST, the Athletic Director stepped to the podium.  Mike Price was no longer the head football coach at Alabama.  The only significant news Mike Price would ever make on a Saturday in Tuscaloosa would be done so on a Saturday in May..  Not in December.  Price spoke shortly thereafter.  He was contrite.  He was devastated.  And then he came out swinging.  He was wounded.  He was determined.  And he was defiant. 


Later, I asked Jimmy how he felt about the whole thing.  From December 18th until today. 



"Jimmy doesn't know if he can fully answer that.  Jimmy looks at the last 5 months and Jimmy feels anger and then happiness.  Jimmy feels compassion and then he feels let down.  Jimmy supposes most of all, he just feels sadness.  Sadness for Mike.  For what might have been..  Sadness for Joyce Price.  For their family..  For the staff and their families..  Sadness for the players.  For the true football fans of Alabama..  Jimmy could go on and on."


"Ultimately, Jimmy believes this must not be allowed to cancel out the good Price has done.  This should not overshadow the man.  It has shaken the foundation.  But the foundation is still strong.  Jimmy feels this man deserves a second chance.  And Jimmy believes he will certainly get one." 


"Now Jimmy wants, nay, Jimmy needs to focus on Cougar Football.  Tell Jimmy about the offseason so far…."

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