Guessing the politics of college football coaches
Texas coach Mack Brown is so smooth, he'd make a good politician
Does Texas Tech coach Mike Leech's spread offense connotoe socialism?
Does USC's Pete Carroll's "win forever" approach mirror Karl Rove's philosophy?
I missed the Barack Obama infomercial on Wednesday night, which is too bad. I'm told the segment with Suzanne Somers, where she instructs him on proper Thighmaster techniques, is must-see TV. I'm over it, though. At T-minus four days and counting till Nov. 4, I'm approaching full political saturation.
Traveling in Pennsylvania and Ohio last week, I felt as if I were being stalked by the candidates, all four of whom are positively haunting these swing states during the final fortnight of the campaign. In fact, there was Obama, greeting me in Jay Paterno's office when I called on the Nittany Lions co-offensive coordinator two Tuesdays ago.
Obama was actually posing with Jay on the coach's screensaver. Jay was kind enough to share extensive background on the evolution of Penn State's Spread HD offense, very little of which made it out of my notebook following the team's 13-6 squeaker in Columbus. (Sorry about that, Jay. Surely those notes will come in handy in ... Miami?)
It turns out Jay is a fervent Obama supporter. Before the candidate visited campus last March, one of his people called Jay. They wanted to pay obeisance to the legend. "We know Joe can't endorse him," went the message, "but we wanted to reach out, as a sign of respect." Jay got his father on the phone with the Senator.
JoePa couldn't endorse Obama because he's a staunch Republican. Remember that Paterno actually gave a speech for his good friend, George H. W. Bush, at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
While Paterno pere wears his allegiance on his sleeve, what of his peers? When it comes to politics, college football's most high profile deciders seem to be determinedly agnostic -- determined to either have no strong feelings one way or the other, or to keep those feelings at home, locked in a 33-gallon Clear Tote from the Container Store.
Fine. Be that way, guys. I will divine your politics by reading the tea leaves of your public utterances; studying the sheep's entrails of your methods and philosophies.
And no matter how wrong I am, I'll take comfort in still having a better record than Lee Corso.
There may be no more gifted, natural politician in the coaching ranks than charming, folksy Texas head coach Mack Brown, who nonetheless remains a tabula rasa, politically. Yes, he seemed delighted to give Obama a tour of the Longhorns facilities last February. But Brown has been equally at ease with The Decider himself. George Bush was still governor of the Lone Star State when UT's new football coach met him at a Longhorns hoops game in December 1997.
"You know," Brown recalls Bush telling him that evening, "your job is a lot harder than mine."
Before he was introduced at halftime, Brown asked the Gov. for advice on what to say, and Bush did him right: "Just get up, tell them, 'I love coaching in the great state of Texas,' then flash 'em the Hook 'em Horns sign, and sit down." Brown did, and the crowd went wild.
It's easier to peg the politics of Mike Leach, the Texas Tech coach against whom Mack will match wits on Saturday. Among the tenets of Leach's radical, extreme spread -- its very name connotes socialism! -- is that, to work, it must get the ball to as many of his skill people as possible.
Leach is also obsessed with pirates -- the original "redistributionists," to borrow John McCain's clunky pejorative du jour. Clearly, Obama has at least one fellow traveler in Lubbock.
Closer inspection clouds the issue. By obstinately refusing to make star players Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree available for interviews this week, Leach seemed to be borrowing from the playbook of the Bush administration, which has elevated secrecy to an art form, and delights in ignoring subpoenas from Congressional committees.
Possible clue: Leach has befriended quintessential capitalist and McCain-backer Donald Trump, who introduced Tech's starting lineup against Oklahoma last season, then declared, "Oklahoma you're a great team, but today, you're fired." (Tech went on to upset the Sooners, 34-27.)