Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quittin' time

Maybe the man's just tired.

Steve Spurrier's 70 years old and he's been coaching for about 65 of those, or so it seems, and maybe he just wants to get off his feet for awhile. Take the damn visor off. Open his mail. Catch up on back issues of Wisecrack Monthly (for whom he's a regular contributor, as Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn and various other schools he's snarked could attest).

Or maybe it's this: He just doesn't want to lose to Vanderbilt.

That's who his South Carolina Gamecocks play this weekend, and, yeah, they'll probably lose. They've already lost to Kentucky, Georgia, LSU and Missouri. They've beaten only North Carolina and Central Florida. If this were 20 years ago, he'd gut it out and at least finish the season. But this isn't 20 years ago.

This is Spurrier at 70, and this is college football at the highest level, and that is a grind like few others. If you're not X-and-Oing, you're lying at wake at night thinking about Xs and Os. If you're not begging some entitled 18-year-old to come play for you, you're putting the gentle arm on well-heeled boosters to build you better facilities so you won't have to beg the entitled 18-year-old so hard. If you're not winning, the well-heeled boosters want to know why; if you are winning, you feel good for about five minutes and then start wondering how you're gonna do it again next week.

And at some point, enough is enough. Or too much.

Hard to say where that tipping point was for Spurrier, but it arrives for everyone sooner or later. College football is no longer Knute Rockne drawing up plays on a cocktail napkin and then sending the boys out to surprise Army under the blue-gray October sky; it's a multi-billion dollar business now, and the head coach is the CEO. If he fails, an entire financial empire fails with him.

And so Spurrier is walking away, and if you want to ding him for quitting on his team, go ahead. But the demands of his job are crushing enough without being 70 years old. Look at what happened on the opposite coast from Spurrier yesterday.

To  be sure, the circumstances of Steve Sarkisian's firing at USC are yea different, but maybe at bottom they're not much different at all. It's problematical at best to say Sarkisian's obvious issues with alcohol stemmed in any way from the pressures of being a major college head coach, especially a major college head coach in a cauldron like USC. But it's not problematical at all to say those pressures likely didn't help him confront those issues.

In the end, he had to be pushed to do so by an athletic director (Pat Haden) who should have seen the signs earlier but chose not to. In any event, this might be the best thing that ever happened to Sarkisian. One can only hope.

The bottom line?

Two notable men of notable skill and standing are no longer coaching, as of today. One walked away voluntarily. The other did not. But maybe both, in some form or fashion, were looking for an escape hatch.

One tragically. The other, perhaps, simply inevitably.


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