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Concessions—and Lies
John Underwood
September 08, 1969
Some coaches are ready to make extreme efforts to relate to the new breed of student-athletes—who are really athlete-students. Others are fed up with so-called appeasement and clamor for a return to discipline and authority. But almost everyone agrees it's high time the kids were told the truth
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September 08, 1969

Concessions—and Lies

Some coaches are ready to make extreme efforts to relate to the new breed of student-athletes—who are really athlete-students. Others are fed up with so-called appeasement and clamor for a return to discipline and authority. But almost everyone agrees it's high time the kids were told the truth

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Gaither was asked about the styles of the day, the mustaches, the beards, the Afros. He laughed, and exhaled a low, amused "hmmmmmmm."

"I will tell you this," he said finally. "Our boys will be clean-cut. In fact, our whole conference has a regulation now against long hair and whiskers. When I recruit 'em, I tell them I want them to be clean-cut college men, to look like college men, to act like college men, that I want to be proud of them. I tell them, 'Boys, you come to me when you're in trouble, when someone in your family is sick, when you need help in your classroom. You come to me. Now I have a favor to ask. I don't want to see long, wild-looking hair and I don't want to see any whiskers.'

"When you get discipline, you get rapport, and you get them both when you're honest, when you're concerned, when you care. You have to be sincere. Kids today want to get into the action, to see how far they can go. When I tell them not to, they know it's not only the football team I'm concerned about, it's their future. They know that long after they've graduated I'll be writing letters for them, helping them get jobs, trying to improve their situations. They know I care."

Jake Gaither's attitude probably represents all that coaches feel when they are reflecting warmly upon their good works. Gaither cuts through the racial aspects of the dilemma by holding fast to the principles coaches cherish most. He wants to stand firm against changing youth—white or black—and thinks he can. But is such a posture possible in the face of so much change? And is there a way to successfully stand firm when so many others in today's society don't? That is a question on which the coaches themselves are much divided.

So far the coaches haven't broken ranks the way, say, college presidents have, but they are beginning to. Coaches are quitting or being fired left and right. And they aren't remaining at one school as long as they once did.

The trend, says Bill Murray, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, is for candidates to duck away from coaching, away from the insecurity of the job, the relatively meager financial return and the many threats to peace of mind. "A man wakes up," says Murray, "and begins to realize that in his middle life, at 45 or so, he can be a lost citizen with a family and without a job, and for what?"

Recruiting has something to do with the flagging of coaching morale. Though he had been the most successful basketball coach in Boston College history, Bob Cousy quit last year because he reached a point where "romancing" the new breed was distasteful to him. He resented seeing them joyride around the country at the expense of one school after another.

Coaches find recruiting not only more odious but, because of campus troubles, much more difficult. Darrell Royal of Texas had the mother of one prospect enumerate for an hour and a half the year's disturbances on the Austin campus: the demonstrations, the hippies, the narcotics, the nude plays, the murders. "I never had a chance," said Royal. Gene Felker of Wisconsin couldn't get "good families" to come across the state to visit. "They were afraid to send their kids to Madison," he said.

With tougher recruiting comes the harder line. Coaches are at last telling prospects exactly what they can expect on the field and on the campus before they sign. That includes social opportunities for black athletes and even a rundown of the teams on the schedule, just in case the athlete may take a notion to sit out a game against a school whose philosophy he doesn't admire.

"Some coaches feel we can't legislate recruiting," says Johnny Pont of Indiana. "Not only can we do it, we must do it. We should have a code to follow; the number of visits should be limited, an honest picture of the campus should be presented to the recruit. What the prospect will receive and what is expected of him should be spelled out. All too often we breed our own infection, our own cynicism with half-truths and intentional misconceptions. We distort the kid's sense of values and then we reap a bitter harvest and wonder why."

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