Coach's Corner

This is the second part of a series on the changing face of college football. The trend is now pointing towards multimillion dollar contracts for coaches at the amateur level who make upwards of 4 to 5 times as much as college presidents. It leads to constant turnover of coaching staffs which is expensive, and the implications on the game itself are threatening.

It is nice for coaches in a tough and cutthroat profession to have the opportunity to become wealthy and able to take care of the family when an offer to move up comes.

But, what about the kids that are already members of your team? Each coaching change disrupts literally hundreds of families. Never forget that with each firing or shuffling of staffs off to other locales, there are many more lives involved than just the head coach.

Disruptions impact everyone's chances for success. Very few new coaches ever have immediate success. The players left behind need to completely change their thinking and in the process, change their lives. Everyone goes through an adjustment period and I contend it is both good and bad. Change is good but it can also be a lengthy process.

Change can take time but unfortunately the desire for winning cannot wait today. You don't wait for wins, they happen now or else! College presidents don't make changes and pay out millions of dollars with no positive results to show for it. They want wins. Coaches want money. Players just want to play the game. Nobody wants to be fired.

The college presidents have a tough time firing a bad professor because of "tenure" but won't think twice about replacing football coaches. Money and winning dictate every thing in college football and college basketball these days. They will fire anyone before the end of a contract and then hire preferably a public image conscious coach who will make them money by winning more ball games than the coach they just fired – and the sooner the better.

There in lies a real problem with college football. There is no loyalty largely because there is no patience today.

That is precisely why I admired the decision by the Rutgers coach to decline Miami and continue what he has been doing at Rutgers. He sold his system to his players and it worked. They won and were loyal to him and his coaches. He stayed because of them. Loyalty is a two way street to coach Scianno. He told his kids he would be their coach, they would graduate, and they would win. He maintained his honor. He made good his promises to their parents. His current recruits know that they can believe him and that he believes in them. He appears to be a good sports-educator. Because of it, I would believe in him if I were a player or assistant coach. This coach is very much the exception as opposed to the rule now. And that makes me sad.

One of the very best sports-educators I have ever seen in the sport of football was the great Frosty Westering who coached champions at Pacific Lutheran University.

He coached champions, not championships. Frosty was a master teacher-coach, a philosopher, a counselor, and a minister all rolled into one. His most memorable quote that applies to this situation is, "The big time is where you're at."

That pretty much says it all.

One of the problems is that very few coaches are actually educators anymore. The number of coaches at the college level who have taught or coached at the high school level is almost nil these days. Coaches go right from playing into coaching. They never deal with the educational process or the possible interpersonal ramifications of their actions.

But they are more than willing to take the chance of being fired in return for not having to teach classes.

There are two overriding principles in the coaching profession that make it all of these behaviors seem inevitable. 1) There are only two kinds of coaches, those who have been fired and those who are going to get fired. 2) If you want to be a coach, then you'd better live in a trailer so you can more easily hook it up to your truck and move on to the next job.

If you understand these, then college coaching is worth the risk.

I worked with another assistant coach once at Washington who has had no less than 18 different college coaching jobs. On the other spectrum, I also coached with a man who had coached at Washington his whole life.

Of course the coach that had dedicated nearly his entire working life to the school was fired by an Athletic Director who knew absolutely nothing about the sport of football, who had given him a big raise the year before and then made a statement to the press a month before firing him that he wouldn't be fired.

This coach had not had a losing season, was extremely loyal to his institution, assistants, and coaches, and had taken his team to a bowl game - only to come home and be told to clean out his office. His boss decided it was time for a change despite having never attending a football staff meeting to see how things actually were run, without going to any practices, or even reviewing rules of the game. His increase in graduation rates meant nothing, and her contract with him had been written so that his buyout would be minimal. Nice lady.

Of course when he got fired, then so did I, because that man was my boss. I then had to make the decision whether or not to disrupt my family and move to another college in another city in another state. I decided then that college football was changing for the worse and it was time to get out of the game.

Every coach will be faced with this dilemma sooner or later, and for me it came down to my belief that Grandparents, family, and friends are important in children's lives. I decided they were more important than leaving my own home town. I also decided that if being a coach was more important than being able to be the best father I could be, then I didn't want to be a coach anymore. I had spent 1/3rd of my life working for the Washington Huskies and we had been very successful. We had gone thru great times and some tough times yet still continued to have winning records. It didn't make any difference, and when she fired him, she fired all of us on staff. It proved costly because she paid twice as much for the next coach and still had to pay us off at the same time.

History may prove that she made a costly mistake, as the school wound up paying that coach a good chunk of change for games he never coached as well, but that's all done.

Now it is Tyrone Willingham's job to rebuild it to where it once was, hopefully bringing it back to the glory days. It has been an expensive process and the fan base has been slowly sinking with it. Where once 75,000 attended UW games now 55,000 do if a big opponent comes to town.

You all know how I feel about Tyrone by now. I really believe he is the right guy at the right time.

Coaching is similar to the military as a profession because of all of the moving, and the children are always faced with the same sorts of disruptions. I know that depression can set in, that anxiety overwhelms everyone, and that uncertainty is a bad thing for coaches' kids. I would think that colleges could get more creative in their contracts to alleviate some of this. Many already have buyouts and bonus systems but fewer still have tried the incentive system for compensation, like built-in raises for each year of service, each winning season and each championship. Let the coaches earn their big salaries by performance and not by merely taking the next job.

Probably too risky for the coach.
Dawgman.com columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the Dawgman.com staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.


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