After several mind-numbing, eye-glazing weeks of watching college football coaches' television shows, I feel I have earned the right to speculate on the exact moment when the ground stirred at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham and Paul William (Bear) Bryant turned a restless one-eighty in his grave. It had to have been Sept. 28, when Rick Neuheisel, the preternaturally youthful-looking Colorado coach, trudged into the Buffaloes' locker room after practice with a camera crew. As Neuheisel draped an arm around one of his charges and stuck a microphone in the kid's face, several other Colorado players, off camera, began lobbing a small barrage of towels and tape into camera range, forcing the coach and player to duck a few times and adding a peculiarly juvenile, boys-will-be-boys atmosphere to the proceedings, all of which were shown in living color later that night on the next episode of The Rick Neuheisel Show.
On those Sunday afternoons when the hourlong Bear Bryant Show brought the great state of Alabama to a screeching halt at 4 p.m., preempting the first half of an NFL game in most markets, nary a 'Bama player appeared on camera, never mind towel-throwing reprobates. Bear didn't need players. Bear didn't need anything except good-natured host Charley Thornton, a few glasses of ice-cold Coca-Cola and some Golden Make potato chips, which he picked out of a silver bowl and munched on during the show, microphone be damned. In his gravelly baritone, he would occasionally analyze the action on the ever-rolling game film with a comment such as, "Nobody blocked anybody on this play." Most of the time, though, he rambled on about the "good mamas and papas" who had entrusted their boys to him.
Bryant wasn't the first coach to have a TV show—it is believed that honor goes to Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma, who went on the air in 1952, sponsored by the Oklahoma Milk Producers Association. But it was Bear who perfected the art form, such as it is. His magnetism, coupled with the hold that Crimson Tide football had on Alabama, made his show among the most popular in the state from his first season in Tuscaloosa, 1958, until his last, 1982.
Few coaches' shows today get the treasured football-fever time slot that Bear had (one station airs the not-quite-eponymous show of the current 'Bama coach, Crimson Tide Football with Mike DuBose, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays), and many are just programming fodder for cable companies or regional cable sports networks. Some coaches maintain that the shows help recruiting, but presumably most high school players are at practice when the shows air, typically in mid or late afternoon on weekdays. Don't ask me where the blue-chippers are when The Matt Simon Show (Simon is the coach at North Texas) kicks off at 1 a.m. on Saturdays.
Certainly no coach's show succeeds in mythologizing the coach as The Bear Bryant Show did, but these are not mythologizing times. Still, there are alumni to please, players to praise, alibis to be presented and, best of all, dollars to be made. Some coaches, such as Neuheisel, Florida's Steve Spurrier, LSU's Gerry DiNardo and Clemson's Tommy West, make as much as $200,000 a year from their media duties, which usually include a TV show and a radio show. In most cases, though, it's the viewer who should be paid.
WHAT IS THE MOST FREQUENTLY USED WORD ON COACHES' SHOWS?
I have never heard a basketball coach say, "We have to shoot the basketball better." Nor have I heard a baseball manager say, "We have to pitch the baseball better." But football coaches love to say football.
A coach never has a good team—he has a good football team. The man on the opposite sideline is never a great coach—he's a great football coach. The team never plays a terrific game—it plays a terrific football game. A quarterback is never an outstanding passer—he's outstanding at throwing the football. (This also clears up the confusion for anyone who might think quarterbacks throw manhole covers or buckwheat pancakes.)
The following, from The John Blake Show, is an example of this. In talking about Oklahoma defensive tackle Martin Chase, Sooners coach Blake said, "He's really been a plus for this football team, not just on the football field. The character of this young man is outstanding. His leadership, his presence, have been tremendous assets to this football team. I think he's going to be really missed for so many other things besides football."
SO WHAT IS THE SECOND MOST FREQUENTLY USED WORD?