The best scenes in the film "The Blind Side" (and there aren't many) were when Michael Oher, the giant football playing teenager adopted by the Tuohy family, is being wooed by college coaches.
Showing up at the Tuohy's doorstep is an all-star cast of football's best known coaches at the time -- Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Phil Fulmer, Houston Nutt. All made promises to "take care of" the future NFL first round draft choice, standard dialogue in the fraternity of college coaching. But what made these scenes authentic was how the coaches played themselves. What made them equally authentic is how none of the coaches in the movie are currently with the colleges they represented in the movie (set in 2005). Two of the coaches, Fulmer and Holtz are out of coaching altogether. Nutt just got fired by Ole Miss, although in the movie he was coaching Arkansas. Saban is still contending for national championships, only for Alabama. In the movie, he was wearing a purple and gold tie, the colors of LSU, where he also coached.
Confusing? it should be. Fast forward to just this past Monday. A rash of college football firings -- six altogether, most at BCS brand schools such as UCLA, Arizona State and Kansas -- made me think about that scene from "The Blind Side." It made me think more deeply about the business college football has become. Coaches are under more pressure today than in 2005 to win, and win now. Million dollar television contracts make it less painful for athletic directors to buy out contracts of underperforming coaches. Heck, at Kansas, Turner Gill got two years before he was canned. He has $6 million left on his deal.
No worries: two phone calls, a direct deposit from ESPN and all is forgiven.
While these events are low hanging fruit for the media, who they demand the attention from are teenage football players and their parents. In the late-1990's, I was working at television station in Georgia. I interviewed the mother of a "five-star" recruit (very much like Oher) who had chosen another college over his home state Bulldogs. When I asked him why, he said "the coach promised he would be there for four years." History proved him wrong. In fact, this kid had three coaches in his five years at the school.
Bless his heart. He did get his degree though, which I know made his momma proud.
All that's changed in a decade are the stakes. They are higher in college football than ever before. This requires a level of sophistication from the wooed. Instead of caring whether a coach will stay (because he won't), kids and parents need to be asking questions more in line with the culture of today. Here's one: how much actual time required to play the sport? I don't mean practice, which is capped by NCAA rules. I mean weight lifting and film study, which are "hidden" hours vital to performance, but can take away from studies. And what about the academics? If the coach gets fired or leaves (which he will), where is my true interest? Can I graduate in four years? What about the campus? Can I live here? Can I get along with my teammates? Knowing with certainty the answers to these questions for yourself is more important than what any coach says.
Michael Oher currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. He is in a fractional minority -- less than one percent of college football players make it the NFL. His story is a real life fairy tale. Most of us breathe the same air as the rest of us, not manufactured on a Hollywood set. And as we watch the nomadic climate of college football play out at universities all over the country, I just hope more are putting down the popcorn and watching with a more critical eye.
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