Tuesday, January 05, 2010


From the Houston Chronicle, some sports analysis on the recent firing of Texas Tech's football coach Mike Leach:

It's a dumb move by a smart coach in the wrong era

Information from e-mail and statements in support of Leach by players and coaches (current and former), would lead you to believe James, the son of former Stratford High School and SMU star Craig James, is a whiny sort who didn't work hard and walked around with some sense of entitlement.


It doesn't matter how whiny James is or who his father, now an ESPN analyst, happens to be. If you do what Leach did, you are asking for trouble.

We want our football players to be nasty and tough and to run through a brick wall for the old alma mater. But if a coach requires one of them to actually try to run through a brick wall it could cause problems, especially if the kid complains. Kids complain these days.

Old-school coaches tell stories of everything from water deprivation to physical and mental torture that if players were prisoners of war would violate the Geneva Conventions.

That was the old days. You have to be more careful now. You must be smarter.


I played football for two years in middle school and for about five minutes in high school. That is, I went through high school two-a-days and played in a preseason scrimmage my freshman year before it became achingly evident that there would be no way that I could play football while attending debate tournaments and acting in plays. So I quit the Kingwood Mustangs before I had ever played a game. This was a tough decision. I loved, and continue to love, football, and for the next three years I would occasionally entertain the notion of trying to get back on the team. But there was just no time, and I was doing well as a debater and actor, and involved in what seemed at the time a million other extracurricular activities, so I never thought about going back for more than a few minutes at a time.

"Besides," I would think to myself, "jocks are assholes."

Now, it's obviously a much more complicated picture than simply saying that jocks are assholes. I have friends to this day with whom I played football. A coach I had in middle school, Coach Camps, showed up unexpectedly at my mother's funeral, a couple of decades after I had last spoken with him, which I found to be incredibly comforting. It's probably more accurate to say that jock culture is about being an asshole. Indeed, Noam Chomsky asserts that American sports, most notably football, are about indoctrinating people into irrational attitudes of submission to authority. And my own experiences as a jock showed me that a lot of that indoctrination is about both being, and dealing with, assholes.

Often, but not always, the biggest asshole on the team is the coach.

That was clearly the case at Tech. Mike Leach was the asshole-in-chief. This is no surprise. I'm sure that lots of football coaches are assholes, even the guys who seem so nice in television interviews. I mean, if the whole football culture is about being an asshole, and a coach has to ride herd over a bunch of assholes, making them work effectively as a team, then he'd better be the biggest asshole in the room, or nothing's going to get done.

But now it appears that computer technology in the form of phone video footage uploaded to YouTube, intersecting with modern sports celebrity nepotism in the form of a disgruntled player with a famous dad, may very well spell the beginning of the end for the ascendancy of the football asshole. But I wouldn't bet on it. I mean, football is a bloody brutal fucked up sport. I don't think you can play without being a bigtime asshole, at least some of the time.

No, the problem with Leach is that he was so much of an asshole that he got caught. We've been here before, after all. In 1978, the great Ohio State coach Woody Hayes lost his job because he punched a player on the sidelines during a televised game. More recently, in 2000, the great basketball coach Bobby Knight lost his job at Indiana for going off on a sports writer's son. Neither time did jock culture move away from asshole-as-prime-directive. And I don't at all expect that to happen today.

What I expect to happen is that coaches are going to think twice before they let their inner asshole call all the shots. I mean, they'll continue to be big assholes, of course, but they'll realize, like pretty much everybody is realizing in the digital age, that you never know who's watching, never know who's looking at your asshole, never know when your asshole will be spread wide on ESPN and every sports page in the country.

The jock assholes are going to be with us for a long time to come, but they will most likely shrink a bit, as though they've been salved with Preparation H. And that's probably not a bad thing.