UCLA Football Coach Tommy Prothro, 49, says that any assessment of the relations between coach and athlete has to take into consideration that "there has always been a generation gap. There was one when I was a boy, there was one when my daddy was a boy and when his daddy was a boy. But athletes have changed. You've changed. I've changed. The whole world has changed."
The raw material is not so very different. "The two big things on this campus and on every campus I've been on are sex and food," says Prothro. But the athlete's frame of reference has altered considerably. Drinking, for example, is now allowed by many coaches. (Some just look the other way.) At Virginia, a conservative school, two beers are permitted after a game. Dress is relaxed. Money is more available. Sex, too. And drugs. A boy is more aware. He can watch the war every night on the 6 o'clock news.
Scholarships are easier to come by, too. "When I played," says Athletic Director Joel Eaves of Georgia, "a kid would have cut off an ear to get an athletic scholarship—not to mention his hair. Now just about anybody who is warm and has a pulse rate can get a scholarship in some sport somewhere." And from the moment the outstanding athlete arrives on campus there is the unspoken understanding that he is majoring in professional sport. The pot is bigger than ever. He sees it waiting under the next goalpost and he aims to cash in.
Physically the college athlete is better than ever—bigger, faster, stronger—and most coaches agree that the great majority still find sport a meaningful experience, whether they become professionals or not. But being affluent, the athlete is often resistant and irreverent. Lacking discipline, he is sometimes a quitter. Lacking patience, he pushes for immediate and total independence.
The first manifestation of the change, coaches say, is the "why" in the player's vocabulary. Says Prothro: "It's no longer the autocratic society it was when I played, where a Bob Neyland or a Wallace Wade would just say, 'You do it because I say so.' Now you have to explain yourself. The logic behind it. The philosophy." To which Basketball Coach Bill Fitch of Minnesota adds: "It used to be, you tell a boy to show up for a trip with his shoes shined and he'd be up all night shining them. Now he wants to know why. He'll do it, but you have to give him a reason."
Athletes also think they have the coach's number. One black California football player began growing a natural, although the coach had a rule about long hair. As the player's hair got bushier, it became evident to him that the coach wasn't going to do anything about it. The player's hair got so bushy he had to change helmets. Eventually the biggest helmet was too small. The coach said the hair would have to be cut. The athlete said he couldn't understand why, since he could play just as well without a helmet. The coach explained that there were rules against playing without a helmet. The player said they would have to change the rules.
The starting center for the Missouri football team taxed Dan Devine's patience right up to the time the team went into training for the Gator Bowl last year. In September, the center, Con Rees, had showed up with longer hair than Devine permitted. Devine told him to get it cut. Rees did, but had it trimmed only a shade shorter than Devine stipulated. For the Gator Bowl trip, the Missouri players received new blazers and trousers to travel in and were requested to turn in their old ones. Everyone did but Rees. "I can't," he reportedly said. "I have to go to a Christmas party." In Florida, Rees came on the field with his jersey outside his pants. "Can you follow instructions for one more week?" the exasperated Devine asked him. Rees, a senior, replied, "I can—up to a point." Devine sent him home—all the way from Daytona Beach.
Quitting (or dropping out, copping out, flaking out, etc.) has become socially acceptable behavior to the new breed of college athlete. Tommy Prothro believes that most of today's college athletes will quit if they see they aren't going to make a splash or aren't going to play. Even starters have been known to quit and then talk as if they had performed a service. Edgar Lacy quit UCLA's NCAA championship basketball team 1� years ago, claiming Coach John Wooden couldn't handle him. Lacy is black. Last year Don Saffer quit the UCLA team with a third championship in sight. He said Wooden didn't handle him properly. Saffer is white. This spring Bear Bryant lost an All-Conference middle guard, Sammy Gellerstedt. Gellerstedt told a friend that with all that studying and practicing he just wasn't having enough time of his own.
"Kids simply aren't as hungry as they used to be," Bryant says. "Paying the price doesn't mean as much because everything comes easy. Folks get more on relief today than my papa did working. You see it on the campus. No matter how poor they are, they all have cars. They don't think anything of quitting. I'm not being critical of the kids, it's the times. Other days you wouldn't know how to quit. You didn't think of quitting because you didn't have anyplace to go."
Only three pictures hang on the paneled walls of Bear Bryant's luxurious office: team pictures of the Crimson Tide's national champions—1961, 1964, 1965. Bryant brings recruits into his office and shows them the pictures. If there are any doubts of the image he wants or the goals he has, it is all right there: lean, hard, clean-cut young men, remarkable in their similarity, as if they were members of some great family who had gathered for a reunion. "If they see anything that looks like a hippie or a rebel in those pictures, they'll have to point it out to me," says Bryant.