Commentary

Debunking the Cult of Coach

Originally Published: September 8, 2009
By Tim Keown | Page 2

College football season means college football coach season, which means every telecast and every newspaper story extols the virtues of the almighty men in the headsets. The Cult of Coach doesn't exist as much in the NFL, unless you're talking New England, but we're guessing Josh McDaniels would like to import the idea to Denver.

You know the routine: A quarterback goes back to pass, avoids the rush, scrambles to his right, reverses field to avoid another rusher, then throws the ball across his body over the middle to a receiver who has broken off his route and come back across the field after seeing his quarterback improvise.

And the announcers tell you what a great play call Coach Cerebellum Grande came up with in such a crucial moment.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCoaching tip: If you don't want to see your player's eyes -- don't look at them.

And since the coaches get all the credit, what is their responsibility? In many cases, these guys are the highest-paid public employees in their states. Is the responsibility commensurate with the pay, and the amount of credit they get for doing their jobs? They undoubtedly take their recruiting and play-calling duties seriously, but should it stop there? Should they be held accountable for guiding their young men toward making smart decisions regarding the public perception of both themselves and the program/university they represent?

This week's discussion group topic: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. It's pretty much understood that he doesn't go overboard when it comes to crossing his star players. If they play and play well, he's usually good with that. That way, the Buckeyes win, more top recruits come to Columbus and everybody's generally happy. If the occasional Maurice Clarett strays off course and starts talking, then it comes down to Tressel's word versus Clarett's. It's a pretty easy call. The Cult of Coach takes care of that.

But on a smaller scale, here's a question: Should it be Tressel's responsibility to tell his high-profile quarterback that it's not the best idea to take the field in a nationally televised season-opening game wearing eye-black that reads "Mika" -- supposedly for his sister -- under one eye and "Vick" under the other? We can all agree on the importance of self-expression and yet still wonder if the most visible student in the university should be sporting a shout-out to a convicted dog abuser/killer under his left eye.

And yes, Vick served his time and deserves to return to his chosen field of employment and all that. No problem there.

But if the player, a sophomore in college, takes the field boldly proclaiming his support of Vick, is it the obligation of the coach -- the highest-paid employee in Ohio -- to instruct the player to take a different course? Is that part of teaching?

At the very least, Tressel should have coached Pryor on how to address the eye black after the game. It didn't take much forethought to understand that Pryor was going to be asked about Vick and his reasons for the memorial. Pryor said he's always been a fan of Vick's, which is fine, and he said everybody deserves a second chance, which is fine, but then he said this:

"I mean, everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever." Well, no, and I'm thinking we don't have to call Elias to double-check Terrelle's stats on that one. For the most visible student at Ohio State to (1) wear the "Vick" deal in the first place, and; (2) ramble on about "everyone" being a criminal, seems like something a coach -- especially an upper-case Coach like Tressel -- might want to stop before it starts.

Then again, how could he? Tressel said he didn't see what Pryor had under his eyes, citing his lack of height. Strangely, Tressel said, "I'm not tall enough to see his eyebrows."

So everyone watching on television saw it, but Tressel didn't?

Oh, that's right, he couldn't see his eyebrows.

Whatever.

This Week's List

Before they come and shove me off this soapbox, here's another thing: If you outfit your team like every game is prom night and turn the locker room into a monument to excess and athlete-worship, how can you be surprised when your star running back -- we're talking LeGarrette Blount and Oregon, obviously -- doesn't accept post-loss trash-talking from some loudmouth defensive lineman with grace and dignity?

Seriously, this could go down as a record every bit as unbreakable as DiMaggio's hitting streak: Even as someone who grew up living and dying with the immensely entertaining Pirates teams of the '70s, I have a hard time seeing the record streak of losing seasons (17) ending before it reaches at least 20.

For all those who always say, "You go because you could get hurt": Sam Bradford.

Is it any surprise? Richard Seymour is taking his time reporting to the Raiders.

The Bill Walsh of his time: Bill Belichick is becoming a master at getting rid of guys while they can still play well enough to lure something in return but who don't have enough years left to make it worth his while.

This week's installment of "Geography is for Sissies: Making Sense of MLB's Blackout Policy": Josh Gerfen writes, "Living in Charlotte, and having Time Warner cable, the following games are blacked out on the Extra Innings Package: Atlanta (understood, they are on local TV), Baltimore, Washington and Cincinnati?!? So every night there are 4 games I don't even get. Being a Phillies fan, I can't even watch the divisional games vs. the Nationals ... it's ridiculous, something needs to be changed with these rules. ATL 4 hours, BAL 6 hours, WSH 6 hours, CIN 6 hours. I don't get it."

Just for the heck of it: Buddy Biancalana.

Bigger than U.S. over Russia in Olympic hockey, bigger than Villanova over Georgetown in '85, this is the biggest upset in sports history: Vicente Padilla pitched for the Dodgers on Monday in a game that included a protocol-related hit batter (Max Scherzer to Russell Martin after Ronnie Belliard apparently admired a home run) and Padilla did not retaliate.

He had a huge June, though, which soothes some of the pain: The Raiders gave defensive tackle Terdell Sands a $1.9 million signing bonus last spring and cut him last week.

In a little-known fact, Brett tore up so many ACLs that Wrangler hired an on-site orthopedic surgeon when the commercials were filmed: Brett Favre's cheap, illegal and weirdly inappropriate crackback block on Eugene Wilson.

Turk Schonert, fired by the Bills as offensive coordinator presumably because his offense didn't score a touchdown this preseason: Said his problem was refusing to dumb-down the offense enough for head coach Dick Jauron.

And that, my friends, is by far the worst kind: Miami quarterback Jacoby Harris, asked by Erin Andrews about a hit he took on his arm, described it as "a bad funny-bone incident."

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com