In remembrance of the statesman-coach era
by Tony Basilo
Get a good look at Phillip Fulmer because when heâ’s gone, heâ’s gone. And with him will go the last link to the statesman-coach era at Tennessee. Tennesseeâ’s next coach, who will undoubtedly be hired within the next 14 months, will be part of the new multi-millionaire mercenary breed that is populating college footballâ’s landscape.
Fulmerâ’s time at Tennessee stretched from head coaches and assistants who made a living wage to guys today making silly money off the backs of an ever-eager fan base. The recent Tennessee-Alabama game gave me a chance to catch up with Gene Stallings, who roamed Alabamaâ’s sidelines from 1990 through â’96. Schooled from the tradition of Bear Bryant, whose only portfolio was his playbook, Stallings is pure statesman. His was an era of guys who were defined by what they did and not what they made. A far cry from the present era of coach worship that is pushing major college sports to the Babylonian fringe.
Stallings, who is currently serving on the Board of Regents at Texas A&M where he both played and coached, is blown away by the $4 million salary of current Tide head coach Nick Saban. â“You take the average working personâ’s salary in a place like Alabama. I donâ’t know what that is. Say $40,000. Thatâ’s a lot of money. I will assure you that I didnâ’t get paid anything like that,â” Stalling says.
Stallingsâ’ monetary approach during his coaching tenure was so pure that he didnâ’t even have representation for salary purposes. â“The money was never important to me. The job was. Truth is, I didnâ’t even know how much money I made at Alabama until I got my first check,â” he says.
â“I think I got a one month bonus for winning the national championship at Alabama,â” he adds. Strange as it sounds, Stallings doesnâ’t wish he were coaching in this high-dollar era. â“The money just wasnâ’t and isnâ’t that important to me. It never has been,â” he says.
Is the class of exalted, millionaire, modern-day rock-star head coaches a healthy thing for major college sports?
â“Personally I donâ’t think so,â” Stallings says. â“I think weâ’re all just football coaches. I used to tell the people in the media who covered me from time to time that â‘Look, your job is just as important to you and your wife as mine is to me and my wife. Just because Iâ’m a football coach and youâ’re a member of the media, that doesnâ’t make your job any more important than my job.â’ I think today weâ’ve gotten it way out of proportion. Some people in this business donâ’t like to sign autographs. If it werenâ’t for all those fans, they wouldnâ’t be making the money that some of them [high-dollar coaches] are making.â”
The trend toward burdening fans for the buttressing of rock-star coach culture is troubling to Stallings. â“We canâ’t forget that guy who saves his money to buy a ticket and then put all our emphasis on that guy who has the means to sit in the [luxury] box.
Like the modern-day athlete he coaches, todayâ’s gridiron general always seems to be looking for that extra financial edge. Former Tide head coach Dennis Franchione took it to the extreme at Texas A&M, charging $1,200 a year for an insiderâ’s newsletter that he made available for top boosters. Franchione pocketed the money without A&Mâ’s knowledge or consent.
â“For a coach to have a letter that goes out to a few bothers me for lots of reasons. First of all, gamblers are just looking for an edge. And the claim that just a few people were getting it, who knows who they give it to? I just canâ’t believe it happened, to tell you the truth,â” Stallings says.
The truth is, a scheme like this would have never entered the mind of someone from Stallingsâ’ era. As weâ’ve already established, it wasnâ’t about bilking for dollars. â“There again, [Franchioneâ’s] got one of these personal handlers who handles his quote personal website, whatever that is,â” he says. â“Heâ’s a football coach and he has somebody who just handles his stuff. Lord have mercy! As far as anybody handling my personal stuff, that was the furthest thing from my mind when I coached.â”
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