Friday, January 15, 2010

The Outlaw vs The Sheriff – The Quandary of Coaching in Big Time College Football

this is an upload from my blog:

The Wild West is in full bloom this January and it is best seen in the media-hyped, 'sources say', 'step on your mama' carousel of college football head coaches. It is a short silly season before the incredulous stepchild appears called recruiting.

Center stage this season is the shoot-out at Knoxville corral where the outlaw Lane Kiffin has bolted and the volunteers wonder who will stand tall in the fort with strong enemies all around.

I use this language to convey the polarization of college coaching types and worry out loud at the consequences of the current trends in our culture.

As college football becomes a by-product of media marketing and high dollar stakes, there seems to emerge two distinct coaching personas.

Persona style #1 I call the Outlaw coach. He has swagger, instant flash, and media appeal. The rebel side of human nature taps into great zeal and energy. This has been the case throughout history- it’s the bad guy that is most intriguing. They say that Milton was extremely upset that his readers of Paradise Lost became infatuated with Satan more than the other characters.

Outlaw coaches develop that contra mundum ‘we will fight the whole world’ attitude and it is very effective. Football is a fight, and the warrior energy can be fed with intensity that erupts from the outlaw swagger. Two recent examples of this are Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach. Leach is, in a way, a purer example- his ‘pirate persona’ won over Lubbock and rocked the southwest. The University of Miami tapped into this bad boy power in its dynasty days.

An outlaw coach can build a winner faster than his opposite. Flash, fire, inferno, burn-out – and a long term wasteland left behind.

Outlaw coaches resonate in our culture. Bravado and brashness- especially if you have media attractive sharp looks- sells tickets and attracts the Rivals-approved blue chip recruit. Outlaw coaches make it interesting and interest is better than irrelevance. Brash is better than boredom. Armani always beats Men’s Warehouse.

The downside however must be communicated. Outlaw coaches have no fixed values except for winning and self-preservation… at all costs. The best outlaws are experts at surveying the landscape and manipulating the circumstances to (A)- survive and (B)- ponder escape routes.

Persona style #2 I call the Sheriff. He wears the badge and keeps fixed values in their proper place. He appeals to the order of society and the values that we know provides stability and honor. But he doesn’t make news, doesn’t command the immediate energy of the outlaw, and gets confined as a keeper of all the by-laws.
The Sheriff coach builds it right, which means a slower rise to the top. But once he gets there- it can be a longer ride and a more honorable legacy. Sheriff coaches include Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bobby Bowden, and younger guys seem to be Chris Peterson of Boise State – there are others but it is always harder to name them on the spot.

What works against the Sheriff coach is that the fan base gets less energy in our current media market. Outlaws stir the pot while Sheriffs usually initiate a yawn. Less energy is felt by the 5 start recruits who want momentum, who want to play now, who want to be coddled, and who want to gather as much hardware as they can on their way to the NFL. The outlaw coach promises to each individual the guarantee of that destiny. The Sheriff refuses to promise if he is unsure that reality will deliver.

The Sheriff coach does care where his players end up in 10 years, the Outlaw knows that he will be long gone before that rotten produce and backlash appears.

I do want to offer a 3rd type- the ‘successful blend’- good guys who have the attractive persona or bad guys who learn that fixed values can provide a means to their end. The toughest part of these guys is that it is impossible to really know what is the controlling element. And it really does not matter because they win. These coaches are few and far between. I will mention Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Pete Carroll as this type.

Can you feel the pressure an AD is under in hiring a coach? Do we spend cash for flash? Yet he knows that it will be misery trying to keep the wild horse in the pasture and that his new guy will have no control or respect for any authority.

A lot of programs have adopted the mentality of splashing the flash, knowing they can do it over and over- that is the trend in basketball right now. Hire a suit, get the splash, sell tickets, and fire or replace as the inferno cools.

The tragedy of the legacy is what we should grieve. The long-term cost of outlaw coaching is a loss of character. We begin to value the wrong things and wonder where commitment and loyalty go. We modeled, the young people noticed, and we reap the whirlwind.

Can we reverse the trend? I say ‘yes’.

I call on two important pieces of this puzzle to stand up and do what is right.
The first important piece is the Athletic Directors. Be willing to lose the press conference and win the war. If you find your coach to be a genuine sheriff, stand firm in the storm with solid support and patiently wait for the fruit of that style. It takes a while for a Sheriff to clean up the town and it will seem the darkest before the dawn.

But I also call on fans who understand the need for Sheriffs to stand up and vocally support those types of coaches. Auburn fans do not have to wring their hands and whisper about Gene Chizek- they need to get loud and proud and do all they can to make that guy successful. If a guy ends up coming short, don’t let it be because no one really rallied around them.

An entire other topic is the type of athletes schools should be signing… but that is a fight for the Sheriffs of the world.

I hope the University of Tennessee gets a Sheriff because I care about where those players end up. They will be marrying my daughters and raising my children.

You ought to care also.

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