There are a lot of words in the dictionary. Many are quite common, but some are obsolete, such as “typewriter,” “VCR” and “scurvy.” There’s another one that is becoming useless, too: “contract,” particularly as it applies to coaches in big-time college football and the NFL.
Lane Kiffin’s departure from Tennessee after just one season shows that not even something in writing will stand in the way of someone’s intent to leave, or another school’s intent to lure a coach away. In recent years, Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban are other examples.
Instead of contract, perhaps it should be referred to as “guideline” or “intent.” There obviously is language in there to protect both parties, particularly if the school’s boosters get on a witch hunt for the coach.
College football, simply, is pro sports taking place on a campus. It compensates the players in the form of tuition and housing, as well as meals when the team travels. It gets millions of dollars from television and product endorsers (notice the logos on coaches’ visors and headsets). So it is subject to the same cutthroat pressure as the NFL.
Kiffin leaving Tennessee for USC is leaving much the same sour taste as did Saban when he left the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Kiffin’s move is understandable, as he has strong ties with the Trojans and USC is a more prestigious program. But the hard feelings he leaves behind also are understandable. He had no real legacy in Knoxville, and quite a few parents are probably upset about entrusting him with their children. All I can say is that people need to understand that the primary obligation for the children should be the school, not the coach. When I attended journalism school at UGA, it was not because of the professors.
Petrino leaving the Atlanta Falcons during the 2007 season for Arkansas also was a nasty flap. Again, in the wake of the Michael Vick disaster, one could understand Petrino for being overwhelmed by the chaos as well as adapting to the NFL. The other side of the coin is that if he had stayed with Atlanta and had another bad year, he could’ve been fired and therefore deemed undesirable by almost any team. Gotta take care of yourself. Lou Holtz lasted all of one season with the New York Jets, yet won a national title with Notre Dame.
Veteran NBA and college coach Larry Brown is another who has gotten the reputation as a wanderer. However, he also has won an NBA title with Detroit and an NCAA title with Kansas, so he can point to some stellar achievements. Saban flatly denied he would become the Alabama coach, yet he now is a rich man with a national title. This is not a black and white world, and football is, after all, a game. Sometimes the ends do justify the means. Lane Kiffin can do a lot to erase criticism by establishing a Pete Carroll-like legacy at USC. If he doesn’t, then Tennessee will have gotten the best of the deal.