Coaches have to be the most hang-dog, pitiful lot in all creation. With the sumptuous remuneration they receive, their jobs are hardly thankless, yet you rarely hear them sounding thankful for their blessings.
To hear coaches tell it, there’s always some hellish new adversity to overcome; so many injuries, bruises and, for collegiate coaches, academic maladies to be gotten over; game plans to be hatched; and new opponents to fret about. (After hearing two masters in this last category, Bear Bryant and Darrell Royal, tut and cluck about the dangers posed by their team’s next foe, you’d almost wonder how the Tide and the Longhorns would manage to escape against powerful Vanderbilt and mighty TCU.)
It’s not their fault, of course. It’s the environment. Coaches are conditioned by us fans to remain unsatisfied, lest they become complacent.
We know that these people aren’t ingrates. Even during Thanksgiving week, however, they can’t afford to tell us how much their cup runneth over without running the risk of losing their finely honed edge.
So, in order to fulfill the media’s appointed role as purveyors of truth and justice, we’ll just have to rely on conjecture. Ififsome of the coaches and players around here and elsewhere could tell us what they’re really thankful for this year, knowing they’d never be quoted, here’s what they might say.
♦ Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans: “I’m thankful that my team finally has a beautiful stadium and fans who actually give us a real home field advantage for the first time since Bruce Mathews was a teenager.
“I’m thankful for back surgeons. I’m thankful to have just about the only quarterback around who can pancake linebackers. I’m thankful that our recent draft picks are making us look like geniuses.
“But most of all, I’m thankful we play in a division with four crappy teamsand I’m including Pittsburgh hereand not among some killer outfit like the AFC East. Can you imagine what things would be like if we actually had to play as well as we possibly can every single week?”
♦ Woody Widenhofer, Vanderbilt Commodores: “We ought to be 7-3 and headed to a bowl, but being at Vanderbilt teaches you to look at 5-5 as a half-full season instead of a half-empty one. I’m just thankful we didn’t lose to Ole Miss, South Carolina and, oh yeah, Northern Illinois. We could easily be 2-8 right now, and, instead of extending my contract, Todd Turner might be opening the door and extending his foot toward my butt.”
♦ Steve Spurrier, Florida Gators: “I’m just so thankful for me. Of course, I’d be more grateful if I had a quarterback who was worthy of my abilities, but I’m just so glad we have genius on our sideline.”
♦ Bobby Bowden, Florida State Seminoles: “I’m just daggum appreciative for the great legal system in this country of ours. I tell you what: plea bargains and ‘mismeanors’ are better than catfish.”
♦ Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators: “I’m grateful again to be in a situation you’d really have to screw up to perform below expectations. Not many coaches outside of youth leagues get a free ride for two straight seasons. The fact that we’re actually semi-respectable is a bonus.”
♦ Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee Vols: “Speaking for my squad, our collective hineys are thankful we don’t have to play Alabama again.”
♦ Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt basketball: “I’m thankful I won’t be pulling my hair out over this team.”
♦ Gerry DiNardo, late of the LSU Tigers: “This year, I’m thankful I’m not the poor deluded sucker who’ll have to follow me into that purple-and-gold monkey house in Baton Rouge. Oh, and did I forget to mention my $600,000 severance package?”
♦ Jerry Green, Tennessee basketball: “Thank the good Lord above for athletic department tutors.”
♦ Clem Haskins, formerly of the University of Minnesota, and recently implicated in a tutoring scandal: “Thank God for the Fifth Amendment.”
♦ Bobby Knight, Indiana basketball: “I’m thankful I still have one star player, A.J. Guyton, who hasn’t transferred or quit to get away from me. Also, thank God I didn’t take A.J. on any of my hunting trips.”
♦ Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves: “I don’t want to take my great pitchers for granted, but I’m primarily thankful this year for Bobby ‘Stratego’ Valentine, who always makes me look like the Oracle of Delphi every time we play the Mets.”
♦ Phil Jackson, L.A. Lakers: “I’m thankful my old teammate Bill Bradley has promised to name me as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs if he’s elected, so I can get away from coaching this bunch of brick-laying, uncoachable lunatics.”
♦ Terry Bowden, formerly of Auburn, now a network football commentator: “Thank God I escaped! Thank God I escaped! Thank God I escaped!”
♦ Mike Dubose, Alabama Crimson Tide: “I’m thankful Shaun Alexander reminded me at halftime last week that my Heisman Trophy candidate running back is supposed to run with the football. Otherwise, we lose to those uneducated outlaws from Auburn, and suddenly everybody remembers that I’m a lying, backsliding two-timer instead of a division-winning coach.”
♦ Bruce Coslet, of the 1-10 Cincinnati Bengals: “Only one or two more weeks until I’m liberated from the Siberia of the NFL!”
♦ Pete Rose, ex-manager of the Cincinnati Reds: “During this holiday season, I’m thankful for Jim Gray. I wish every interviewer could be like him. Then the public would beat down the doors of the Hall of Fame to get me in.”
How It Looks From The La-Z-Boy
Tennessee 20, Vanderbilt 10
When everything goes just hunky for them, Vanderbilt can absolutely beat Tennessee. Now that we have duly resolved the academic question (and provided some Vanderbilt fans with enough satisfaction to sustain them through the winter), let’s discuss Saturday’s game.
For the Commodores, this is an excellent time to sneak up on Tennessee and plant a dagger squarely in the back of their rival.
For one thing, the Vols may still be a tad short on motivation. Oh, sure, they should be attracted by the possibility of a berth in the Orange or Fiesta Bowls. But, for all practical purposes, Tennessee’s season still lies buried in the mucky hog wallows at Arkansas.
What’s more, a 56-21 rout of a more than respectable Kentucky team may allow the Vols to settle again onto a cushion of complacency against Vandywhich, after all, hasn’t defeated Tennessee since before any of the current freshmen learned to toddle.
But Vanderbilt requires about as much motivation to play Tennessee as Bill Clinton before a fundraiser. And here’s another plus for the Commodores: They’ve had an extra week to get over their emotionally devastating loss to Kentucky and get their squad healthy.
Most of all, they’ve enjoyed an extra week for Woody and his boys to screen their late-night film festivals, starring UT. Widenhofer, whose defensive schemes have vexed far more powerful minds than Phil Fulmer’s, will doubtless spring a well-devised game plan on the Vols on Saturday.
These all are reasons not why Vanderbilt will win (puhleeze!) but rather why they’ll play much closer than the 24-point spread foreordained by the official handicappers in Vegas.
As an ancient French commander once observed, “God is usually on the side of the heaviest battalions.” This weekend, the heavy battalionswith the power running game, the punishing defense, and all the depthwill be wearing orange.
Titans 27, Cleveland 14
TSU 34, North Carolina A&T 24
Mississippi State 17, Ole Miss 14
Arkansas 26, LSU 13
Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31
Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 17
Texas A&M 24, Texas 20
Nebraska 41, Colorado 14
Stanford 34, Notre Dame 24