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2008
15
Jul

Plain Talk

The middle of July is not a bad time to be a football coach. The heavy lifting of the previous year is done and there are still a few weeks before the grind of the next one commences. Plus, coaches are rarely fired in July.

This is a time for lazing around the vacation home and very short days in the office, if the coach even bothers to show up. Come October, he will be there enough. July is for taking it easy, with one notable exception.

Virtually all coaches find they must interrupt their July ‘Me’ time for the Rubber Chicken circuit. These would be the booster club meetings held by all schools, with attendance by the head football coach pretty much expected and often contractually demanded.

There is very little difference in the events held by various schools, except for the colors at the podium. Over the years I have listened at these things to every Tech coach since the drunken ramblings of Jimmy Sharpe. At various times, I have also managed to wrangle for myself invitations from friendly alums to Hoo Club afternoon teas, one with George, another with Terry Holland, a Rams Club wine and cheese tasting headlined by Mack Brown, an Iron Dukes gala and idolization of Coach K and a Wolfpack Club gathering starring the late Jim Valvano. They are all about the same.

There is the obligatory cocktail hour[s] where [mostly] middle-aged alumni throw down alcohol like sailors on a weekend pass in Norfolk. Then there is a meal of mediocre catered food, followed by a cheerleading session that culminates in a speech by the star of the show, the head coach.

The coaches rarely say anything of substance. I have seen and heard Frank about a dozen times in person and cannot offhand remember a single sentence of great matter he has uttered, not surprising, since Frank never says anything in public worth repeating, whether it be to alumni or the press.

The ones I do recall are the evangelical zeal of Mack Brown, who, were he not making a fairly decent living as a football coach, could make more as a television preacher [“Friends and neighbors, I WILL beat Florida State unless I do not”].

George was surprisingly funny, especially when the transfer of many ounces of Scotch from the bar to his bloodstream caused him to start telling Tech jokes- all coaches at all functions tell jokes on their rival. After decades spent in local watering holes trading insults with my buddy the Hoo Lawyer, I have heard all Tech jokes, none told with the hilarious deadpan delivery of George, the Henny Youngman of coaches.

The best remains Valvano, a likeable rogue and mesmerizing public speaker that could reduce an audience to hysterical laughter with a dead-on impersonation of Dean. Jimmy V did a better Dean than Dean.

For the most part, these gatherings are interesting affairs designed to fire up the troops and allow the common herd to get a glimpse of the head guy not available from the grandstands or television. The coach’s job, other than to get through this one and on to the next, is to at least appear interested in speaking to people who quite possibly could be demanding his head on a platter come that December, if it takes that long.

Understandably, coaches rarely say anything of great importance. That is especially true these days, when the chances are very good that an utterance will barely be out of his mouth before it is posted on some message board to be dissected by both friendlies and antagonistic loons.

Another rule of thumb for a coach is to never, ever say what you might actually be thinking. No good can come of it. Tell them what you think they want to hear. Therefore, you probably won’t, at any of the stops on this year’s Rubber Chicken circuit, hear any ACC coach say the following:

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech- “Has anybody else noticed how many coaches these days are getting paid a lot more than me? I’m not making enough to win bowl games.”

algroh, Hoos- “I don’t care how many times Beamer beats me. I’m still the Great NFL Legend around here.”

Ralph Friedgen, Maryland- “Frank has a nicer lake house, too.”

Jeff Jagodzinski, Fredo- “This head coaching thing is pretty easy, as long as you have an all-world quarterback.”

Butch Davis, Carolina- “I hate to advocate griping about lousy facilities, sorry fan support and a boob of an AD for everyone, but it has always worked for me.”

Tom O’Brien, NC State- “Yeah, I’m as dull as dishwater. But tell me, how did Mr. Personality work out for you?”

David Cutcliffe, Duke- “Welcome to the end of my career.”

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest- “If you win 8 games here, they name a building after you. Win 8 at Nebraska and you end up dead in a cornfield. You do the math.”

Tommy Bowden, Clemson- “Still with the Tommy Bowden Death Watch? Two words: Guaranteed Contract.”

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech- “Hey, I beat Army. How much tougher can Georgia be?”

Bobby Bowden, Florida State- “Sure, we have lost a bunch of games the last couple of years, but I don’t see what that has to do with me.”

Randy Shannon, Miami- “There’s no reason to become alarmed by last season’s record and I hope you will enjoy being Back. By the way, is there anybody in the room who knows how to coach a football team?”

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