Coaching Lite®: What’s Killing College Football

31 Aug

August is packing it’s bags and September’s ready to move in. That means college football’s 2015-16 season is about set to kickoff.

For the big boys (FBS), 127 schools by Wikipedia count, the start date is the 3rd of this month that nationally recognizes honey, Hispanic heritage, California wine, potatoes, mushrooms, bacon, labor, cancer awareness and religious observances in Hindu (Kumbh Mela), Judaism (Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur), Islam (Hajj) and Chuseok in Korea.


But college football is like a jock on steroids: looks fit as a fiddle on the outside, rippling & raucous, makes all the plays, pulls in the cash, cuties & camera, but inside, the joints are inflamed, electron transfer chains are askew and the flora – motility all catawampus.

The campus hoedown, where American football is rooted, will draw in 30 million TV viewers each weekend through December (50M CFP) and likely somewhere in the billions ($) for schools and ancillaries at the networks, merchandisers, snack & beverage, travel industry, etcetera. It’s egg-in-the-beer. Cha-ching!

But it’s fast losing the feel & flavor of sport, spiritually and in substance.

Sure, part of the student body get jacked-up for Saturday’s or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday‘s game, depending on Disney’s (ESPN) fat schedule, and gamblers (+ fantasy) have their eyeballs peeled and pesos parlayed, but it’s like that routine romp in the hay, fine fun but not much heart & soul. An expectancy.

And it’s not the pretense of amateurism that’s killing the mood, either.

The student-athlete charade has been sold to the public ever since the rah-rah-sis-boom-ba began to bring in the big bucks (1910s). The athletes are the actors in a pretty predictable play directed by coaches, co-eds, cut-men and cufflinks.

Coaching Lite® or Do Your Thing!

Watch the experts on the plasma and it won’t take long to spot the problem.

Example: Back in July (7.24), Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema was making the rounds and appeared on Disney (ESPNU, bumped my Classic into oblivion) and gave his 2-cents on this query: ‘What’s the mark of a great college QB?’

His reply: “What he does when the play breaks down.” And there it is in a nutshell, what’s killing college ball: Coach don’t coach anymore.

His quarterback is a free-lancer with license to flash, anywhere, anytime. I wouldn’t say the “break down” is by design, not necessarily, but it’s viewed in a whole different, more accommodating light than it was the 60 years prior.


Brett didn’t say, ‘a QB who can execute the playbook.’ Neither did he say ‘a strong, accurate arm w/mobility’ nor ‘a quick-thinker who can lead, audiblize and wherewithal to hang tough in the pocket. No he did not.

He didn’t specify “does,” either, but he didn’t need to.

Today’s college QB rabbits at the drop of a hat, then runs again and by season’s end Johnny Run-Around’s got 1000 yards on the turf. And it pays dividends.

Because amateur defense is not equipped to handle today’s typically big, fast, athletic flash-QB, he will run-at-will. And when he does the wins & titles come in bushels, not to mention a big salary for coach who finds his award-winning lepus.

Young, Newton, Tebow, Manziel, Mariota, Jones are all part of a new generation of college signal-caller, what they used to call a single-wing tail-back in the 40s.

Names like Staubach and Douglas (KS) tore it up in the 60s but were anomalies when run-backs still ruled the roost (See; Brown, Sayers, Cappelletti & Griffin).

But if you like a diversity, variety, a little surprise, some dimension, like a good “Vegan (“functioning on multiple levels and in multiple dimensions (“Hadden (Contact ‘97)”),” run-QB and his one-dimensional game can leave you wanting.

The synergy – symbiosis that normally flows from sharing-of-pigskin with your typical ball-carriers (RB / WR) will dissipate, while the element of surprise in play-call becomes an after-thought. And it all cuts into entertainment value.

Sure, handoffs still happen, passes get thrown, but appears only to give Sir-Runs-Alot time to catch his breath. And when he runs off campus for greener pastures (NFL), he’ll leave one big void in the program and coach scrambling for answers.

Continuity, sustainability of success (Alabama) are hard to come by. Ask the folks at Texas, Auburn and UF who saw programs nose dive, though, Urban “Renewal” Meyer seems to have a knack for finding the next great single-wing ball-hog.

I’m not alone in my disdain for college football‘s direction.

Jon Gruden spoke on College Football Live earlier this month (8.6) and a young analyst (?) made this comment: “The (high) level of coaching is off the charts!” Jon seemed not too impressed. His reply: He sees alot of “the same plays,” mostly run plays, even if initiated or disguised as pass.

Lost in Translation or Johnny Can’t Read

The run-QB conundrum is not confined to college. His draft dominance and then failure to easily translate to the pro game is a mushrooming problem, leaving the NFL with a dearth of pocket-passer prospects and excess of pro-style trainees.

Their success can vary as the rabbit-habit has been a vice of every highly-touted but unfulfilled run-QB that’s burst onto the NFL scene, including Camster-the-Hamster, RG3, Tebow, Vick, Young, Kaep Krusader and Johnny Renaissance.

For a time the novelty gave advantage in the pros.


Newton ran for a record 14td his rookie year (‘11), Vick made All-Pro (x4) and handed the Pack their first ever home playoff loss (‘02) while Colin “(ran) to daylight” versus that same GB franchise in two legendary PS performances (SB47-L).

But while they work mass muscle to Schwarzenegger state, the mind muscles, less applied in youth, respond slow in the NFL.

The so-called read-option is biggest misnomer going, after reality TV. Coach who relies heavily may be giving fleet-footed defenders carte blanche to wreak havoc with their QB, and tag themselves ‘gimmick-guy’ in short-order (Kelly (PHI)?).

You’re an old dog by the time you go pro, habit-wise, and new tricks, like a new language, don’t come easy, not for QBs having to learn to eat the fear and find pocket poise. And then there’s the ego that, for some (TT), won‘t change (TE).

The pro game, no matter what sabrheads claim, is no engineering schematic or 1+1 = 2. You can fool ’em once but rarely twice (See; GB). In time, NFL catches on. Short-lived successes aside, SWTB went out with Joe Kapp (See; KC SB4)).

GMs are finding that while run-QB garners wins and sells lots o’ jerseys, it works as a double-edged sword for those who seek championships. Kaep, with a top D and run-attack (Gore), did lead 49ers to threshold of greatness in SB47 but his (and Jim’s) foible was exposed in game’s critical end: red zone funk.

And those would might tag Seattle’s Russ Wilson a run-QB are mistaken. Like Tarkenton, Randall Cunningham, Roger Staubach and Steve Young, Russell is not flash per se. He’s a mobile manager with a great guiding guru in Carroll.

Flash QB ain’t going way of the dodo bird or 2-way player. Amateur coach banks on him which means NFL pipeline will be jammed with the lot of ‘em for years to come. But without the right accoutrements he’ll turn flash-in-the-pro-pan.

One Big (NCAA) Family

If on-call coach and ball-hog QB aren’t deflating enough, Boards of Trustees and college presidents who preside high above the tumultuous merriment and raucous rabble are smooshing out what little spirit is left in the pigskin.


Playoffs, championships, they’re fun, if you can get ‘em. But being rare commodities it is rivalry & regionalism that stoke fan’s fires, amateur and pro ranks alike.

Knowing this, or not, MBA’s in Suit & Skirt bust-up the conferences, kill-off generational rivalries and move memberships around like it were a game of musical chairs (b-ball, too). And alumni sit back and take it like it’s no big deal. Then it’s no big deal.

Soon the college landscape will show just three conferences: The Pac-Something, the Big-Something and Southeastern Something. It‘s “Something” those mop-topped lads from Liverpool, who appreciated a good football match themselves (rugby), would‘ve advised, “♫ get back to where you once belonged ♫.”

Removable Decals

To the same school identification topic, uniforms & logos have taken on the same feel of ephemeralia as conference alignments which seem to change yearly.


Big names like Adidas, Champion, Nike, Majestic, Reebok & Under Armour cuddle-up w/college Cufflinks & Heels and are fueling the fleet: 1) in the drive to youthenize the consumer market in the misguided belief kids have attention spans of a gerbil; and 2) agency-for-change to validate their own position in a volatile job market.

Like patience, appreciation is a judgment capability acquired in time. Youth can find it if given half a chance. Today it’s more like fat chance of it ever happening.

Though some new designs shine, the touchstones that had been familiar are now as changing & uninspired as each new season of Law & Order and The Simpsons.

Change has trumped continuity and it’s cousin, history, fares no better.

Ignored and under-fed, when history is finally called to the table it’s often only to be dressed-down and find fault in hope of removing traits / blemishes the finger-pointer in high-hat finds unappealing to its own limited historical sensibilities.

Change (refreshment) can be good, just as history can use a dusting-off to clarify. But not primarily to delete that which we dislike, to feed ADD or merely for the sake of change ($$). Then it’s not history, it’s profiteering & propaganda.

CFP: There’s a Heartbeat

Even though strategy, diversity & rivalry have all been taking it on the chin in today’s college football slugfest, there have been some bright spots.

Social progress has been achieved by mandates in desegregation of scholarship and employment (coach / admin) since the 1960s, while the long awaited college playoff format (CFP) finally arrived in January 2015 when The Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Oregon Ducks for the inaugural championship, 42-20,

My own preference was the old duel polling system (AP & UPI-Coaches).


The method pre-BCS, after bowling had concluded, as each group awarded their #1 ranking that, on occasion, differed from the other‘s, giving us two national champs. Where else could that’ve happened? The only comparable might be the winners of the respective NL – AL batting titles. If you didn’t have a dog in the hunt or were fan of a #1, you were content and that meant about 99% of college football fandom.

But schools with top marks who hadn’t climbed the polls enough and then missed out on a favored bowl slot were sometimes left out of the balloting altogether. Alabama (11-0) & MSU (9-0-1) in ‘66, ASU in 1975 (12-0), Auburn in ’93 (11-0) and Penn State twice (11-0 (’69) & 12-0 (’94)) were memorable overlookees.

The appearance of bias, prejudice or being uninformed in an age of exactitude (replay) made the duel polling highly vulnerable. But in ditching it for BCS and playoff we gave up the beauty of randomness and occasional spreading of the championship wealth to nearly all’s contentment. And who needs that, eh?

As close to fairness as any championship system would seem to be, the CFP is, nevertheless burdened with the same problem as prior polling in that seemingly deserving schools will still be left out of the playoff-by-poll mix, as we discovered in it’s inaugural season (’14) when toppers Baylor and TCU failed to get an invite.

Is a playoff the surest way to find the best team anyway? The professionals have shown us the answer is clearly, ‘no, it is not.’ As spunky a bunch as were the 2012 and 2008 Giants, no NFL fan in their right mind would attest either team the best team of their respective seasons. Opportune (hot), yes, but best, “maybe no.”

Playoffs, like bowls, are, to the fat-cats, mostly about money. Fans seem fine.

But expansion from a 4-team format to no-brainer 8 will fix one foible in a jiffy. You might have 6 top dogs but 8 makes it work and 10 will never be an issue.


Steven Keys
Brass Tacks
Photo credits: Meyer, wc, 11.13, Glanzman; Tx-Tech, wc, 07, Meircle; Bielema-Woodcock, wc, 2011, USMC, Firstbrook; Newton, 9.14, wc, Allison; Regions-NFL, Lokal.Proil.Astrokey44, wc; Nike, 1.12, JorgeCR7, wc; U-TX, 05, wc, Johntex; brass.thumbtack, Dalton, wc.
Posted: 8.31.15 @ 3:48pm EST; Copyright ® 2015


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