Pont, a success at Yale and now a winner again at Indiana, works hard to cope with the new breed, but has his moments of doubt. "They needle and then they question," he says. "They want reasons for everything, even when it's obvious. 'Why do we have to do ten 40s [40-yard dashes], coach?' They want to find out how sharp you are, if you can handle the situation without falling back on that old bag, authority. They even notice your clothes.
"In a way, they're putting you down. It's a game, and maybe when you're over 30 and the target you don't enjoy the routine. They take you right to the edge of rebellion, fighting you all the way. Before spring practice, I said, 'Gentlemen, for 20 days you'll be football players. I want you to be groomed like athletes. Let's not have any hair over the collars. Thank you for your cooperation.' John Isenbarger, our halfback last year, asked me, 'Coach, will that make me run any faster?'
"I said, 'No, John, it won't make you any faster, but it'll make us a better team because it'll be a sign to me that you accept discipline.'
"Last year they tried to outfox me. I told them they could wear their sideburns to the earlobe. Jade Butcher, my starting flanker, cut his so the sideburns slashed at an angle that brought them far down his face but not below the lobe. Same motive: he was testing me."
Do coaches resist change? Probably. They are conservatives, and reform comes hard to them. But their games are changing all the time, and since it is the coaches themselves who force this with their invention, their ability to create and adapt cannot be questioned. What has happened in the last few years is that their philosophies are in disarray. Their agony lies in their attempt to accommodate change without sacrificing control.
Johnny Pont says he has changed his coaching methods four ways: 1) he accepts more ideas from his assistants, 2) he concentrates more on nonfootball topics ("today we are topical if nothing else"), 3) he tries to tune in to his players' thinking and 4) he tries to treat every player as an individual. John Wooden of UCLA says he is "definitely more permissive." Vince Gibson of Kansas State says he is now alert for the special considerations of black athletes. Tommy Prothro goes further: he calls his black athletes into the office and asks if they have complaints or have experienced discrimination.
Trying hard to cope, coaches go to almost absurd lengths. Pepper Rodgers of Kansas slipped out of a football team meeting and reappeared barefoot, wearing dark glasses, shorts and his wife's wig. He asked to see Coach Rodgers, explaining he wanted to come out for football and then—while Assistant Coach Doug Weaver played the guitar—sang a ballad, the gist of which was that he wanted to play but that Coach Rodgers insisted he had to get his hair cut to do so. When it dawned on the players who the hippie balladeer was, they roared. He was a gap-closing hit.
Not many coaches would go that far, of course, and deep down most would prefer the ethos of the autocrats, the Bear Bryants, the Adolph Rupps. Coaches tell the story—with more than a little admiration—of the day the basketball player back from vacation popped in on George Ireland at his office. Ireland observed that the boy had not got very close to the razor that morning. He rummaged in his desk, produced one and said, "Here, go shave." "But coach," the beard replied (as the story goes), "this is part of black culture." Said Ireland, "So are Cadillacs and missed free throws. Now, go shave."
An Adolph Rupp can say, as he has, that there is no difference in coaching today, that he just tells his boys that they are not to have long hair and sideburns "and that settles that." His is the much-envied hard line, but a young coach like Bob Boyd of USC admits he would never dare follow Rupp's example. Boyd allows Afros, pencil-thin mustaches, long sideburns. "You've got to be pliable," he says.
For the Bob Boyds, there are continuing worries of how a boy acts, the inflections in his voice, the way he responds. Boyd was told by one of his better players that he was a bit fearful of embarking on a running program because he had been drinking too much beer that summer. Boyd bit his tongue, reminded himself that the "boy" was past the legal drinking age, and told him tactfully that summer was over and to please taper off.