Special to Page 2
The word "genius" is thrown around a lot in football. Some coaches are good -- but a special group of them are called geniuses. What follows is a sneak peek at what happened recently when some of those geniuses got together.
A large man with a crew cut strode to the front of a meeting room at a church. After clearing his voice, he spoke with a nervous quiver.
"My name is Charlie," he said. "And I'm a genius."
"Hi Charlie," the rest of the group said in unison, offering Charlie compassion and understanding for what he goes through.
Once upon a time, geniuses solved nature's mysteries, built bridges and wrote spectacular prose. Now, they coach football teams. Old-school geniuses may have done more for the world, but football coaches have harder lives. Not that discovering DNA didn't come with pressure -- but no one ever tried to throw batteries at Watson and Crick while they stared into microscopes.
It's stressful being a genius these days. To cope, they get together periodically to talk about their struggles, hoping that sharing their pain will yield solutions to their problems.
The group is called Geniuses Anonymous. Since admitting weakness is terribly embarrassing for such distinguished men, they conceal their identities in these meetings by only using first names.
"It's been hard lately. I just haven't felt like much of a genius lately," Charlie admitted. It seemed a strange admission. How could a man who built his own time machine -- where else would he get that haircut? -- not feel like a genius?
"I started my job over a year ago, and I was the toast of the town. I brought my team back from the dead to a BCS bowl. We were beaten pretty badly in that game, but my genius persisted.
"Then my team got smashed at home recently by a rival. It was like the other team was taking my genius and throwing it around. Usually to this guy named Mario."
Charlie shook his head and muttered a few expletives, each enhanced by his Jersey accent. Then, he talked about the resurrection of his mojo.
"The following week, we were down 16 points going into the fourth quarter. The rain was ruining my 'do, but it was like we needed that rain. Genius needs water to grow."
What followed was a biblical tale of resurrection. His offense suddenly began firing on all cylinders. But more importantly, his defense arrived. Sort of.
"It felt like every time this Drew kid made a bad pass, my genius started showing a little more. By the time he threw that last interception, my genius was back on display for all to see.
"How'd you do it?" yelled a Southern voice, his accent an Arkansas-Oklahoma hybrid.
Charlie started by saying, "Well, Quinn " before he was interrupted.
"Damn right it was Quinn," retorted the elderly man. He looked like the kind of guy that keeps a wad of bills in his sock and pays for everything with cash. His waistline bulged in a way that signaled he was well-versed in life on the other side of the tracks.
"The name's Barry. Barry Switzer, and I don't give a damn if you know who I am. I'm no genius, but I'm just as much of one as you are."
Reluctantly, the group welcomed him.
"Quinn surely was what made you a genius. The boy can play. He was good under his previous coach, too, but he was young. You know this offense thing, Mistah Cholly. No one can take that from ya. But if you wanna survive as a 'genius,' you gotta know what it is you're talking about."
"There he goes. Every time one of us talks about what we're going through, Switzer pops up with something about players," said Bill. It's impossible to describe Bill; his hoodie obscured his face, and his dour voice gave no indication of what his personality is like.
"Hi, I'm Bill," barked the faceless man. "As you know, I'm a genius."
"Hi, Bill," the crowd replied.
"No real genius is limited by small matters like personnel," he said. "My best wide receiver's older than me. The next two receivers went to Florida, and you know what happens to Gators receivers in the NFL. And I'm gonna win the division. That's genius."
"Winnin' that booty-butt division is like winnin' prom queen at a boys home," Switzer said. But Switzer knew he had to be fair.
"Bill, you've got the gift," Switzer said. "And you'll look real smart makin' the playoffs with this team. But winnin' without receivers don't make you a genius. You're talkin' to the king of the wishbone, baby! Been there, done that.
"You'll win because you got two studs at tight end. They ain't Keith Jacksons, but they can play. Give you better matchups against 'backers than that Branch kid would have given you against a corner. If I was still workin', I'd pay them boys whatever they wanted. Good thing the Big 8 never had a salary cap.
"But get real, Bill. You're a genius 'cause you trust those big boys to catch the rock. And that pretty boy can get it to 'em."
"But everything I do works, as long as I'm not in Cleveland," Bill said defensively. "Halberstam wrote a book about me. He's got a Pulitzer."
Right then, a short man entered the room. His glasses made him look smart, but his face was weary -- almost like everything around him was collapsing.
"Sorry to interrupt. I'm Tony, and Bissinger wrote a book about me. He's got a Pulitzer, too. So, I'm a "
The crowd booed him resoundingly. Little of what was said is fit for print, but it became clear that a piddly baseball coach, one who hasn't won a championship in 17 years, is no one's genius.
Even Barry couldn't help but laugh. "Kick rocks, lil' fella," he barked at Tony. Tony could do nothing but bow his head and leave.
"Like I was saying," Barry said, "all that and a dollar can't even get you a pack of smokes. You gotta be honest with yourself, Dollar Bill. Half the stuff you get credit for isn't being a genius. It's just not being stupid. When you got lots of linebackers, you run a 3-4. Got lots of linemen, you run a 4-3. That's what the kids do when they play Madden. Hell, that's what I did in '85. Had that ingrate Aikman startin', so we were ready to throw the ball around. But he got hurt against Miami. Plugged Jamelle Holloway in and brought back the bone. Won the championship with that.
"Wasn't nothin' smart about that, Billy. Aikman could whip it, so that's what we were gonna do. Holloway couldn't, so we got back to runnin'. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I know you can't eat cereal with a knife. But if you've got that Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you can even eat it with water."
Charlie's right eyebrow squinted while his left shot toward the ceiling. "Huh?"
"Can't understand, Mr. Smarty Pants? I believe that's called irony."
Switzer has always considered himself a realist. His job was getting the best players on the field and putting them in the most advantageous situations, and he did so without self-indulgent grandeur (well, at least not about his own intelligence). As a result, his genius has never been fully appreciated.
Bill has been praised as a genius by almost all. Even his protégés have been deemed geniuses by association.
"Just look at how smart Charlie is," Bill said at the meeting, a statement uttered with a level tone that was as close as he could get to excitement. "He worked for me."
Barry hopped up when he heard this. Perhaps because he never receives credit for his own former offensive coordinator, a guy named Mack in Austin who won a national title last season.
"You seen that schedule Cholly played last year?" Barry asked. "It was weak. And if anyone knows a weak schedule, it's a man that used to own the Big 8. It was us, Nebraska, and a bunch of schools that was out there just to make us look good. Was like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren hangin' out with a bunch of cafeteria ladies. Anyway, Cholly shoulda hung half a hundred on all the teams he beat last year. Might not have been enough to win with his defense, but it is what it is.
"But that ain't no knock. Just the way it is."
A white-haired gentlemen then rose to speak. When he stood, the reverence from his peers was palpable. Nearly all the geniuses looked as though they wished for nothing more than to be invited to his daughter's wedding.
"My name's Bill, and I started this genius thing," he barked. "The West Coast offense is all me. I invented the scheme that made the world go 'round. My genius has made geniuses of scores of others."
"Sorry, Billy Boy," Switzer said. "I may look drunk, but I ain't drinkin'."
White-haired Bill huffed with exasperation. "What are you talking about?"
"Not drinkin' the Kool-Aid, Billy Boy. Before you, offensive gurus weren't called geniuses. They were just mad scientists. So Billy Boy, tell me the difference between you and that Coryell fella? There's a guy that looks like my granny that did a lotta damage with his scheme the last few years."
"I won. Coryell didn't."
Switzer cackled, each laugh louder than the one before. Then he abruptly composed himself.
"That was a good one, but you can't fool me. You had defenses. Coryell didn't. That's why you won. You can prove me wrong if you can tell me what part of your genius got four DBs in the Pro Bowl in '84. Or made that Haley such a scary sumbitch. And while you're at it, tell me what kind of genius it takes to light up the scoreboard with the greatest quarterback and receiver ever. Show me the way, Billy."
Switzer had committed an act of heresy. No one had ever challenged the genius of white-haired Bill. Not even hooded Bill.
"Well, lemme take you back to '84," he said.
"You can't do that," shot a voice from the back of the room. A peculiar-looking gentleman stood, the first break he had taken from frantically scribbling mathematical equations in his notebook. His disheveled hair made him look like a hobo. Perhaps he was looking for a meal, not the GA meeting.
"Hi, I'm Albert, and it seems you guys need to consider the limitations of time and space. You can move forward through time, but backward? It simply won't work."
Hooded Bill looked at white-haired Bill. Both then looked at Charlie, who was as perplexed as they were. But to their surprise, Barry knew just what was going on.
"Theory of relativity, boys. Like my man Al, I got my own theory of relativity. Goes something like this: If your players are relatively better than the ones on the other side, you'll move forward down the field. If not, you'll wish you could go back to better days."
As he spoke, Albert nodded.
"They don't get that, and they're supposed to be geniuses," Albert said. "Barry, that is irony, indeed."
Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at firstname.lastname@example.org.