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CHANGE, PORTENT, PROMISE
John Underwood
September 01, 1980
A new season begins with programs tainted by academic scandal, many of the old, authoritarian coaches gone and their successors obliged to bellow, "Please run through that wall." Ahh, but all is not lost: consider the walk-ons
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September 01, 1980

Change, Portent, Promise

A new season begins with programs tainted by academic scandal, many of the old, authoritarian coaches gone and their successors obliged to bellow, "Please run through that wall." Ahh, but all is not lost: consider the walk-ons

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"Yes, and...."

This time I held up my hand.

"Let me finish. And they are all having to do it by 'relating' to 'only' 30 players a year and the 95-man roster limitation the NCAA imposes. That's not news, either, Coach. You said yourself a couple years ago that the 30/95 rule was necessary to revitalize college football—save flagging economies and juice up the competition. You would have to agree that it is doing those things."

"I did and I do," said The Coach. "The leveling factor has been very gratifying. I love it when LaVell Edwards has Brigham Young challenging for the Top 10. Bobby Bowden got FSU there, and into a major bowl to boot. Lee Corso took Indiana to a bowl game. Temple beat California in a bowl. Whole conferences have risen up. Not one, but three Atlantic Coast Conference teams beat Georgia, one of the big dogs of the Southeastern. Clemson knocked off Notre Dame.

"But so many things have happened, and so fast. I have serious doubts that those bright new stars in the coaching galaxy"—he flinched at his own cliche, but plunged on—"will, under the circumstances, last as long as their predecessors. I know they won't last as long as Bryant. Switzer, by the way, reminds me a lot of the younger Bear."

"I don't understand that part, Coach. Why won't they last...?"

"You will, Scribe, you will. Drink up. Get the juices flowing." He drained his mug and held it out as the waitress materialized with the pot. While she poured, he fixed me with his steel-blue eyes. "No matter how good they get at telling funny stories, Scribe, coaches are still conservatives. Never forget it. They may hum along with Billy Joel, but in their hearts they hear Oh Promise Me. And nowadays, the Sherrills and the Osbornes and the Robinsons and Holtzes have something else in common."

"You already said it—inflation," I said.

"You're being impertinent, but, yes, that's part of it. They are being asked, by ever-increasing degree, to solve our campus racial problems, our academic problems and our economic problems. They have to be slick and adaptable. They have to make heads and tails out of Title IX, and 'Affirmative Action.' And still finish in the Top 10, of course. It's a tougher job than ever.

"For the coach of the '80s, 30/95 is more than just a formula, it is a symbol of tough times. It embodies both the exigencies of change and the money crunch, and the quality of the game is directly tied to it. Within its application bad things are happening, and some surprising good things."

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