Capitalist Coaches are Here to Stay (Commentary)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 58 views 

Anymore, the difference between the locker room and the board room is, you probably won’t get popped in the behind with a towel in the locker room. Sports business is too serious and cutthroat these days for such chicanery, making the executive wing fumblings of corporate America seem all the more thick headed.

Although company cultures have undergone mass overhauls since the scandalous early 2000s, business in sports has gone in the other direction. We have ourselves to blame.

Despite the ongoing über coverage of the University of Arkansas’ football coaching soap opera, please bear with one more thought from an expatriated old sports reporter. Old habits die hard, and these aren’t things you’re likely to hear on drive-time radio.

Bobby Petrino, the Razorbacks’ new $3 million man, quit on the Atlanta Falcons in the worst kind of example to young people. He didn’t finish what he started. He misled his coworkers. He told fibs, broke handshakes and, with all respect to Gladys Knight, ran off into the great Georgia night on a midnight jet bound for Arkansas. He did what it is his job to teach young people not to do. And it’s hard to blame him.

Not to be an Arkansas media homer – Lord knows there’s plenty – but when did a coach saying one thing and then doing another spark a public burning at the stake? That’s the norm, folks.

In fact, do that well enough and long enough and you can even run for office.

Dennis Franchione makes Petrino look like Joe Paterno. Lou Holtz has his mailbox on wheels. Steve Spurrier is as slippery as Mark Mangino dredged in butter.

In today’s fickle market place, the business lifespan of a coach is roughly equivalent to a middle manager in real estate. You better make it rain when you can.

For the national media and, in particular the corporate sycophants at ESPN, to be so incredulous with this one guy is laughably hypocritical. We’re talking about the coaching profession in 2008. The hours. The money. The pressure. They’re all on cartoonishly large scales, thanks in part to entities like ESPN.

Sports consumers are as culpable for perpetuating this climate of “Slick Willie” coaches. We want them to look the part, sound the part and most of all, be the part when and where we want them. Then when they respond, we pick them apart for doing what their customer base demanded. That’s a little over simplified, but the point is the same.

Years ago as a sports writer, I was charged with differentiating between then Razorbacks Coach Danny Ford and his predecessor in former interim Coach Joe Kines. Joe filled in during the 1992 season after Jack Crowe got fired for losing to The Citadel and generally looking like Howdy Doody on TV.

Anyway … here was the description:

“Danny Ford would want like hell to do the right thing, but would cheat if necessary to win. Joe Kines would want like hell to cheat, but would do the right thing.”

Joe Kines was everything that’s right about college football, but he didn’t embody the image the powers that be would have liked. Joe always sounded like he just swallowed a pail of hot coals and had his foot smashed with a sledgehammer. But he had the most fire in his belly for growing young men that I’ve ever seen.

I have never met a coach more about developing human beings and not just players than Joe. And he wound up a career assistant.

Louis Campbell, the Hogs’ interim defensive coordinator and longtime insider, is cut from the same cloth. All former Razorbacks Coach Ken Hatfield did was win. Yes, the offense had gotten stale, but to this day he’s the winningest coach in school history. He was fired for not pandering enough to boosters, more or less.

The days of the profession being dominated by institutional loyalty and gentlemen such as Hatfield, Paterno and Eddie Robinson are as long gone as open-face helmets. Part of it is the huge piles of obscene money avalanching down across the industry. Part of it is the electronic spotlight, where message boards and citizen journalism somehow got equal footing with real journalism.

The point is it all changed, and for ESPN to act surprised and outraged is just silly. You helped cause it boys. We all did.