If you’re a college football fan like me, then there’s nothing you like more than taking in the action each and every Saturday. It’s a ritual whereby you park yourself in front of the TV at noon and move only for bathroom breaks and hot wings until midnight. An increasing part of the Saturday ritual for many though is commenting on Twitter and it may be ruining the game.
Coaching pressure is nothing new but the level and scale has increased dramatically with the advent of message boards and social media, most specifically Twitter. As the results poured in last Saturday, the messages from fans were loud. “Get rid of Butch Jones” and “How much is Ed Orgeron’s buyout?” Orgeron is in his first season as head coach of LSU and Butch Jones has produced winning seasons in three of his last four years and is yet to lose a bowl game at Tennessee. Last week it was those two guys, in weeks before, it has been Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Mike Riley at Nebraska and Jim Mora at UCLA. What has happened to us? I realize that social media is a medium for the loudest and a lot of times the most ignorant amongst us but one can not deny it’s increasing power in decision making these days. My message here to the college football programs is turn down the volume, perhaps even mute it.
Many of the fans of these programs lack a general understanding of the game of football to begin with. Second, they largely have unrealistic expectations for their programs. Let’s take Tennessee for example. Their coach Butch Jones may be sitting on the hottest seat in college football after getting dunked by a pretty strong Georgia team 41-0. Should Tennessee be losing 41-0 to anyone, probably not but sometimes things happen. You want to know what drives performances like that one? Pressure from a fan base especially with unrealistic expectations drives those type of performances. It seems Vol fans have learned nothing from their previous misdeeds. They pressured the program to get rid of the most successful coach in their history Phillip Fulmer in 2008 and things have not been as golden ever since. They did so because Fulmer couldn’t pile together national titles after winning one in 1998. What in God’s name did they expect? 113 seasons of college football and Tennessee has one national title. Fulmer ran a clean program that produced high quality young men and NFL football players. This seems to be the same situation for Butch Jones but Tennessee fans don’t want that. They want what Alabama has. Alabama has Nick Saban and he’s not coming to Knoxville. Tennessee fans want the next Nick Saban. Ok boxing would like to have the next Muhammad Ali, I guess they grow on trees.
Nick Saban wasn’t even Nick Saban before he became Nick Saban. College football’s greatest coach had to do some growing before he became college football’s coaching statue. Mixed into that long resume for success for Nick were some very mediocre seasons like 6-5, 6-6, 8-5 at LSU and 7-6 Alabama. College football fan bases now won’t even allow the next Nick Saban to develop. Butch Jones is undefeated in three bowl game trips for Tennessee. Last Saturday aside, one thing I have noticed about Jones’ Volunteer teams is that they will fight you all the way back into the tunnel. I’ve also noticed that he has not been wrapped up in any NCAA scandal nor has he had a long list of law breakers. Does that mean anything to the fan base? Fans are quick to criticize when the youngsters act up but are blind to the factors that lead to such a situation. Maybe this is just a bad season for the Vols. There are things known as cycles in life. What about the core principles under which Jones was hired in the first place? Do all those things evaporate under the weight of a 41-0 loss to Georgia?
Programs thrive on stability. When unnecessary fan pressure starts, then the decision making and attitude within the team begins the downturn. Team and player development gets sacrificed as the coaching staff goes into win now crisis mode. Players lose focus as they really begin to wonder about their future. Trying to beat a division rival is tough enough without having to wonder about the fate of an entire coaching staff that brought you out of high school.
Ed Orgeron just got on at LSU. Give him some time to catch his bearings, craft the new direction for LSU and make adjustments. Orgeron’s predecessor Les Miles went 8-5 in 2008 and 9-4 in 2009 after producing three straight 11+ win seasons. This new era of cranked up social media sports fan would have called for his head and missed out on four more 10+ win seasons including one 13-1 season in 2011. F0r most programs, the performances are cyclical. As long as there aren’t consecutive tragic seasons, scandal or moral abandonment, most programs would do well to be patient and provide resources for coaches they had ultimate faith in at the hiring announcement press conference.
Nick Saban may be the best thing to ever happen to Alabama but he may end up being the worst thing that ever happened to the SEC. These rabid fan bases running around comparing their programs to Alabama every week deserve the same fate as a husband who compares his wife to a stripper with a pair of DD fake breasts. I think we all know what happens there.
Texas A&M’s R.C. Slocum went 6-6 in 1996, his 14th year on the job. He then went on to produce 9-4, 11-3 and 8-4 seasons for the Aggies. In his fourth year at UCLA, Terry Donahue went 5-6 to captain the first losing season for the Bruins in 8 years. He then went on to become the most successful coach in the program’s history winning seven of eight bowl games over the next nine seasons including six 9+ winning seasons.
Only one team is going to win it all every year in the conference and in the NCAA. I get that every program thinks it should be them but I would say a revolving door of coaches decreases that chance dramatically. Let the programs build, let the coaches coach and allow them the opportunity to overcome adversity. If you find that to be too much to ask please save me your outrage when the hookers, boosters, paid recruits and overzealous shoes companies run amok, they’re only catering to your hyper-inflated expectations.