Football, politics and undervalued qualities

by John Burris ([email protected]) 210 views 

Editor’s note: John Burris is a former member of the Arkansas Legislature and the author of this opinion column.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.

Mark Richt, the head football coach at the University of Georgia, was fired last week. Virtually all agree he was a man of high integrity. He had a disposition that could almost seem boring, at least compared to his peers. Maybe most importantly, he had delivered a win to his fan base almost 75% of the time.

All of that just wasn’t good enough, though, and now Georgia is tossing out an always-reliable coach, consistently among the best, and choosing to risk future success on the hopes of finding someone who, by the numbers, could only be slightly better.

It’s easy to imagine United States Senator John Boozman reading the news about Richt’s firing and chuckling to himself. It wouldn’t be a chuckle of enjoyment, but one of empathy. Scratch that. There would be no chuckle, since it would indicate some degree of self-pity, a trait Boozman has shown no indication of possessing. He would have simply read the news and thought “poor Mark.” But it would be fair for him to have a thought or two about how the two men aren’t that different and don’t deserve some of the criticism they get. 

Boozman, like Richt, is well regarded by constituents and peers. The anecdotes about him are remarkably similar. He gets to events early and stays late. His staff is constantly forced to drag him away from extended conversations with strangers. It also seems that every Arkansan who visits Washington D.C. has, at some point, been walked to the Capitol South Metro stop by the accommodating Boozman. Expectedly, in 2014, Capitol Hill staffers voted him the “nicest Senator.” Maybe there aren’t many nice senators from which to choose, but it counts for something.

I experienced his graciousness in 2002, when at age 17, I visited Washington D.C. for the first time, along with a group of teenage Republicans from Boone County. Then Congressman Boozman met us at the Capitol for an after hours tour. He took us to places the regular tours didn’t, including the floor of the House of Representatives. It was the kind of treatment Mark Richt would give a 5-star recruit on a visit to Athens.

Boozman, like Richt, is quieter than others in his respective profession. That’s nothing for a sane person to complain about. It’s true that confidence is silent, while insecurities are loud. The Senate needs no more Ted Cruzes. College football needs no more Lane Kiffins. Quiet is better, and certainly more needed.

Boozman, like Richt, has largely succeeded in doing what he said he would do. His voting record in the Senate is close to perfect, at least according to conservative organizations that score such things. He’s voted conservatively on the big things and gives sufficient explanations for doing things that might be more nuanced. Politicians can at times be like a coach defending a play call to a fan base that’s never held a playbook but still wants to act like they know the call.

So will Boozman, like Richt, be fired from his job, despite all of these remarkably under-valued qualities? It’s doubtful, but a few are trying. Curtis Coleman is challenging Boozman for the Republican Party nomination. He is the John L. Smith of electoral politics. He’ll make Boozman look like Nick Saban.

The general election won’t be much different, meaning Boozman should keep his job.

Richt did not. He was fired by an athletic director who maybe didn’t value the things Richt valued. The fans, at least many of them, wanted Richt to stay. Maybe they appreciated his character on and off the field, along with the winning record he consistently delivered. Fans, like voters, are just people. Sometimes they get it wrong, but most of the time they get it right.

Boozman isn’t the perfect elected official. He does get the big things right, and there’s undoubtedly a side to him that is deeper than the normal politics of the day. Mark Richt had qualities that made him the kind of coach people would want their kid to play for. Boozman is the kind of politician you’d want your kid to go intern for. That’s not enough to make you the best, but it’s a great head start.

Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer coach, told his players “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Whether it’s football or politics, it’s normal to want perfection. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t cause us to under-value excellence.

Mark Richt and John Boozman are two good places to start.