I stopped when he raised his hand in a kind of benedictory salute.
"The coaches who set the styles in the 70s, and before that, are almost all gone now," he said bleakly. "Royal and Broyles and Bob Devaney finally got their fill of buttering up 18-year-olds and kicked themselves upstairs, to athletic directorships. John McKay defected to the pros. Parseghian, in the prime of life, found life less nerve-racking as a color man on prime time. Charlie McClendon was forced into retirement. Dan Devine is giving it one more year, then he's out. Woody and Frank Kush got the ax, done in by their own anachronistic intemperance. Shug is dead.
"It's hard to imagine, but our 'elder elite' are now Paterno, Schembechler and Yeoman. And only two of those are what you would call legitimate candidates for the midlife crisis. Don't ask me which two."
"Aren't you forgetting...?"
"Bryant? As my colleagues in the botany department like to say, you don't compare a sequoia with a bunch of pine knots. The Bear is a breed apart."
The waitress intervened with fresh coffee, pouring The Coach's automatically and, as an afterthought, freshening mine. I thanked her and she grunted amiably in her retreat.
"What does it mean?" The Coach continued. "It means that four coaches—Parseghian, Royal, Devaney and McKay—who accounted for five national championships in the '70s—are no longer in the college game. But more important, a whole way of coaching—and the perceived verities that went with it—has vanished. What did they all have in common? They were...."
"Authoritarians," I said hastily. "But that's not news, Coach."
He waggled his finger at my coffee cup. "Next time take it black, Scribe. It wakes you quicker. Yes, in their prime, benevolent dictatorship was the accepted form of athletic government, but those times were already changing in the '70s, and coaches with them. Their athletes started hanging around the office and asking why. The coaches not only had to say, 'Please run through that wall,' they had to explain the logic in it. But the real common denominator was the laissez-faire budgetary privileges coaches enjoyed. Money was no object. They passed out scholarships like handbills—60 or 70 a year—often taking athletes just so nobody else'd get 'em, and then treating 'em all like crown princes. It pretty much kept the competition gasping."
"So you're telling me that the 'new teeth' elite are the Barry Switzers, John Robinsons, John Majorses, Jackie Sherrills, Lou Holtzes...."