Harvey H. Jackson: Wisdom of the football sages
Oct 02, 2013 | 2534 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Football season is underway.

That means my buddy George over in South Carolina has again sent me an email titled, “The Wisdom of Football Coaches.”

I always look forward to what George sends.

This year I have decided to share some of that wisdom with you, for in the observations of those great men one finds insights into how and why the game is played, insights not normally found in the sports-talk, call-in gibberish that passes for analysis on radio and TV.

In order to be a successful coach, the first thing you have to do is get the right players, and when it comes to recruiting, even the great can blunder.

Walt Garrison once asked Texas coach Darrell Royal why he didn’t recruit him to play for the Longhorns. Royal, a man of few words, replied, “Well, Walt, we took a look at you and you weren’t any good.” Garrison got better. He was an All-American running back at Oklahoma State and an All-Pro with the Dallas Cowboys.

Once the players are recruited, the coach has to get them ready to play.

Speaking on that subject, Lou Holtz, then coach of Arkansas, observed: “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.”

Bear Bryant’s process of elimination was something like this: “I make my practices real hard,” he told a reporter, “because if a player is a quitter, I want him to quit in practice, not in a game.”

Commenting on the importance of preparation, Frank Leahy of Notre Dame told his players, “Lads, you’re not to miss practice unless your parents died or you died.”

As for who plays which position, Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne reduced the matter to its essence. “The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb.”

It also helps, Bowden Wyatt of Tennessee told his defensive players, to “take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in a bad humor.”

As for the fans, great coaches try to keep hopes high but expectations reasonable. “I don’t expect to win enough games to be put on NCAA probation,” Bob Devaney of Nebraska told one group. “I just want to win enough to warrant an investigation.”

Hopes and expectations were on Shug Jordan’s mind when he told his Auburn players (probably before an Alabama game): “Always remember, Goliath was a 40-point favorite over David.”

Well, it may be good to have God on your side, as David did, but as Rockne noted, “prayers work best when you have big players.”

Nevertheless, Paul Dietzel from LSU noted, “You can learn more character on the 2-yard line than anywhere else in life.”

You can also learn, as SMU’s Matty Bell found out, “There’s one sure way to stop us from scoring ... give us the ball near the goal line.”

Duffy Daugherty reminded the big men of Michigan State that “football is NOT a contact sport — it is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.” Rockne said the same, only another way — “It isn’t necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it.”

When putting together a game plan, Darrell Royal’s approach was simple: Focus on the ground game, because “three things happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.”

After a game, especially a losing game, coaches had to explain. The best did it with remarkable candor.

Lou Holtz: “The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.”

Spike Dykes of Texas Tech: “They whipped us like a tied-up goat.”

USC’s John McKay: “We didn’t tackle well today, but we made up for it by not blocking.”

Looking on the bright side, Woody Hayes of Ohio State observed, “There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.”

Rockne wasn’t so sure. “Show me a good and gracious loser,” he said, “and I’ll show you a failure.”

On the other hand, Joe Namath (not a coach but a student of one of the greatest) understood that “when you win, nothing hurts.”

As for the relationship between college football and a college education, coaches left no doubt where they stood.

Leahy of Notre Dame spoke for so many when he said, “A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.”

Bear Bryant was even more blunt: “It’s kind of hard to rally around a math class.”

But neither Holtz nor Bryant nor Rockne nor Hayes nor any of the others quoted here went as far as the legendary John Heisman, who wanted his players to understand what he expected of them. “Gentlemen,” he told the squad, “it is better to have died a small boy . . . than to fumble THIS football.”

That says it all.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson was Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. Though retired, he continues as a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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