sports (2006-50)

Players have loyalty; coaches have contracts

Heeding the ‘Call’

by Tony Basilio

Welcome to leg No. 2 of the major college football season. Since phase one has concluded with the conference championship games, it’s time for the silly season—the time of the year when college football becomes a great study in teaching youngsters how to behave toward their peers.

Major college football has family values—Manson family values! The new way in college sports is to devour your own. There is no consideration toward player, fan, coach, administrator or consequence. If it feels good and it benefits you, just do it.

What else would you expect from a sport that is asking Ohio State to wait close to seven weeks between its season finale with Michigan and the national title game with Florida? The silly season is a time for the rich to get richer, the weak to be disregarded, the fans to get fleeced and the “student athletes” to feel disfranchised. This year’s silly season, if you’ll pardon the pun, is really rich.

A couple of high-profile programs in Alabama and Miami experienced turbulence in finding successors to fired coaches. Miami finally settled on a quasi-anonymous defensive coordinator from their recently deposed coaching staff while ’Bama got left at the altar by West Virginia’s Rich Rodriquez! Wake up calls to both programs and a blow for sanity in college football.

It was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of the media that Greg Schiano would eschew Rutgers for Miami. After all, he was a member of Butch Davis’ (now at North Carolina) staff there two regimes ago. Though he adamantly denied any interest, we all thought he would leave at year’s end. After all, he is coaching at Rutgers. And as they say in Rocky Top, what’s a Rutgers?

Glad to say it, but Schiano turned out to be a man of his word. Now that’s an interesting concept in major college sports. Sadly, we are conditioned to think that part of the stock in trade of football coaches is the right to lie. Not only is this not frowned upon in their industry, they’re almost called to fib when seeking advancement. That is the way the system is set up, lying for greener pastures isn’t only accepted—it’s incentivized.

The aforementioned Butch Davis once told Miami he would “never leave” before taking a job with the Cleveland Browns. Tommy Tuberville told the Ole Miss media that he was so in love with Oxford that “they will have to carry me out of here in a pine box to get me to leave.” A few days later he was introduced as the head coach at Auburn. Dennis Franchione bolted from Alabama in the dark of night and under a cloud of lies. It’s the way it is, and it is encouraged.

Unlike the NFL, which has tampering rules against talking to coaches while the season is still alive, college football has no such apparatus. Member schools are encouraged to devour their own. The rich get richer and, until this year, the Rutgers and the West Virginias of the world served as a farm system in developing coaches for the big boys.

The real losers in all this are the players and fans. After all, who cares about those two groups? Without having tampering rules in place, teams that are preparing to play in major bowl games routinely lose coaches to either other jobs or the distractions brought on by candidacy itself.

Remember when David Cutcliffe left Tennessee back in ’98 for Ole Miss? It was the week of the SEC championship game when he took the job! It should be noted that he did leave in an honest, above-board manner. Luckily for Tennessee, it still won the game.

Could you imagine if Tennessee would’ve lost the Fiesta Bowl? Would that have been fair to the players, the fans, and the other coaches and support personnel who lent time, talent and treasure toward that undefeated season? Of course not. 

The system dictates that players are tied to institutions, and coaches are free to move at their own volition. That’s silly! Deon Grant of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who was a guest on my radio program recently, sees a double standard at play in this.

“It doesn’t seem fair at all to the players. Especially when those guys are still young. The coaches are the main reason you choose a college. Young guys have it instilled in them to trust and look up to coaches, and then you hear that this guy is interviewing and that guy is looking around. And then you don’t know what’s going to happen before your season is over. So you hear all this fuss and you try to ignore it, but to me it’s a lack of respect for the players because you feel like you’re in it all by yourself when you’ve been told it’s all about the team,” Grant said.

Reminds me of Mark Dantonio’s comments after departing the University of Cincinnati for Michigan State. To hear Dantonio tell it, he wasn’t leaving his players and his previous school high and dry, he was “called” to East Lansing:  “I feel like I’ll have a greater opportunity to impact more people here.” Yeah, Coach, like George and Benjamin! Now, that’s silly.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.