Saturday, January 30, 2010


If I ever doubted that Knoxville was football country, the local depth of passion for the game was driven home in the mid-1990s.

The television show I was watching one afternoon was interrupted with a special news bulletin that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had begun bombing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As I listened for details, the national bulletin was in turn interrupted by the local station to cover some detail of then-University of Tennessee quarterback, Peyton Manning’s career.

I don’t remember what Manning had done to trump a national news bulletin, but I understood from then on the priority of news in Knoxville. I’m not criticizing, just putting it out there.

Football has been in the news so much lately that even a non-fan like me couldn’t help but notice what has been going on. I know, it’s practically un-American, but I didn’t get the gene.

As I listened to the debate going on around me – in grocery stores, barber shops and the doctor’s office – it occurred to me that a college football coach, these days, has less job security than a demolitions expert with shaky hands.

There are a lot of variables in putting together a football team over which a college coach has no control– the scramble for recruits, the number of injuries sustained by players, whether the recruits measure up to the promise they showed in high school and even the character of individual players.

Apparently, coaches are now held responsible for such things – no excuses allowed. Nor does an exemplary career make much difference these days. Winning is the bottom line.

Take Johnny Majors, for instance, who was from a family football dynasty every bit as impressive as the Manning’s.

After a stint at Iowa State as head coach, he went on to lead the University of Pittsburgh to a national championship while he was there, before returning to his Alma Mater, UT. While here, he took the Vols to three Southeastern Conference ((SEC) championships.

In 1992, after coronary bypass surgery, Majors was forced to resign and was replaced by his faithful and loyal assistant, Phil Fulmer. Recovery from bypass surgery can take months and some people were resentful of what they perceived as the abrupt and shoddy treatment of a hometown hero – including yours truly.

Phil Fulmer had a successful career with three SEC championships and a national championship. However, after a 5-7 losing season in 2008, he was replaced with Lane Kiffin, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

It seems that what goes around really does come back around.

Few individuals, with the possible exception of Barack Obama, have ever been the focus of such high expectations as Kiffin. Had the new coach walked into town across Fort Loudon Lake, I would not have been surprised.

Things, however, are what they are, not what we want them to be.

After a controversial year and a mediocre 7-5 record, Kiffin did to his bosses what they had done to their last two coaches – and he didn’t even kiss them or take them to dinner first.

When it comes right down to it, whether it’s a relationship between individuals or a coach and his school, loyalty must flow both ways to mean anything.

Or put another way, we should dance with the one whom we take to the prom, even if our secret dream lover comes by and tries to lure us away.

It’s the only decent thing to do. Decent behavior counts for a lot. Or least it once did.

No comments: