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ALWAYS A DULL MOMENT AN INTREPID VIEWER WATCHES COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES' SHOWS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AND FINDS THEY'RE A GREAT CURE FOR INSOMNIA

Nov. 24, 1997
Nov. 24, 1997

Table of Contents
Nov. 24, 1997

ALWAYS A DULL MOMENT AN INTREPID VIEWER WATCHES COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHES' SHOWS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AND FINDS THEY'RE A GREAT CURE FOR INSOMNIA

After several mind-numbing, eye-glazing weeks of watching
college football coaches' television shows, I feel I have earned
the right to speculate on the exact moment when the ground
stirred at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham and Paul William
(Bear) Bryant turned a restless one-eighty in his grave. It had
to have been Sept. 28, when Rick Neuheisel, the preternaturally
youthful-looking Colorado coach, trudged into the Buffaloes'
locker room after practice with a camera crew. As Neuheisel
draped an arm around one of his charges and stuck a microphone
in the kid's face, several other Colorado players, off camera,
began lobbing a small barrage of towels and tape into camera
range, forcing the coach and player to duck a few times and
adding a peculiarly juvenile, boys-will-be-boys atmosphere to
the proceedings, all of which were shown in living color later
that night on the next episode of The Rick Neuheisel Show.

This is an article from the Nov. 24, 1997 issue Original Layout

On those Sunday afternoons when the hourlong Bear Bryant Show
brought the great state of Alabama to a screeching halt at 4
p.m., preempting the first half of an NFL game in most markets,
nary a 'Bama player appeared on camera, never mind
towel-throwing reprobates. Bear didn't need players. Bear didn't
need anything except good-natured host Charley Thornton, a few
glasses of ice-cold Coca-Cola and some Golden Flake potato
chips, which he picked out of a silver bowl and munched on
during the show, microphone be damned. In his gravelly baritone,
he would occasionally analyze the action on the ever-rolling
game film with a comment such as, "Nobody blocked anybody on
this play." Most of the time, though, he rambled on about the
"good mamas and papas" who had entrusted their boys to him.

Bryant wasn't the first coach to have a TV show--it is believed
that honor goes to Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma, who went on the
air in 1952, sponsored by the Oklahoma Milk Producers
Association. But it was Bear who perfected the art form, such as
it is. His magnetism, coupled with the hold that Crimson Tide
football had on Alabama, made his show among the most popular in
the state from his first season in Tuscaloosa, 1958, until his
last, 1982.

Few coaches' shows today get the treasured football-fever time
slot that Bear had (one station airs the not-quite-eponymous
show of the current 'Bama coach, Crimson Tide Football with Mike
DuBose, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays), and many are just programming
fodder for cable companies or regional cable sports networks.
Some coaches maintain that the shows help recruiting, but
presumably most high school players are at practice when the
shows air, typically in mid or late afternoon on weekdays. Don't
ask me where the blue-chippers are when The Matt Simon Show
(Simon is the coach at North Texas) kicks off at 1 a.m. on
Saturdays.

Certainly no coach's show succeeds in mythologizing the coach as
The Bear Bryant Show did, but these are not mythologizing times.
Still, there are alumni to please, players to praise, alibis to
be presented and, best of all, dollars to be made. Some coaches,
such as Neuheisel, Florida's Steve Spurrier, LSU's Gerry DiNardo
and Clemson's Tommy West, make as much as $200,000 a year from
their media duties, which usually include a TV show and a radio
show. In most cases, though, it's the viewer who should be paid.

WHAT IS THE MOST FREQUENTLY USED WORD ON COACHES' SHOWS?

I have never heard a basketball coach say, "We have to shoot the
basketball better." Nor have I heard a baseball manager say, "We
have to pitch the baseball better." But football coaches love to
say football.

A coach never has a good team--he has a good football team. The
man on the opposite sideline is never a great coach--he's a
great football coach. The team never plays a terrific game--it
plays a terrific football game. A quarterback is never an
outstanding passer--he's outstanding at throwing the football.
(This also clears up the confusion for anyone who might think
quarterbacks throw manhole covers or buckwheat pancakes.)

The following, from The John Blake Show, is an example of this.
In talking about Oklahoma defensive tackle Martin Chase, Sooners
coach Blake said, "He's really been a plus for this football
team, not just on the football field. The character of this
young man is outstanding. His leadership, his presence, have
been tremendous assets to this football team. I think he's going
to be really missed for so many other things besides football."

SO WHAT IS THE SECOND MOST FREQUENTLY USED WORD?

Football coaches don't love special quite as much as they love
football, but they do find something special in special.

--Northwestern's Gary Barnett: "Ann Arbor is a special place and
[the Michigan Wolverines] have a special team this year."

--Baylor's Dave Roberts: "What a special group our assistant
coaches are."

--Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer after he was cited on his show
for being the winningest football coach in Hokies history: "To
be in there with coach [Jerry] Claiborne...and Bill
Dooley...that's special. More so than the record is what we're
in the middle of is what's really special."

I waited for someone to talk about his special special teams,
but nobody ever did, at least not while I was watching.

"HI, COACH. YOU'RE DOING A GREAT JOB!"

Few coaches take live call-in questions on their shows. Too
dangerous. The queries used in ask-the-coach segments are mostly
culled from letters or E-mail. That became an issue this fall at
Colorado, where Neuheisel, who was enduring a mediocre season,
went to great lengths on his weekly program to insist that he
was "not afraid to answer the tough questions, contrary to
popular belief." Then he took the tough presubmitted question of
the week: Coach, what are the chances of a very small guy
playing ball for you?

FROM THE CLIPBOARD TO THE SANDWICH BOARD

While watching The Auburn Football Review with Terry Bowden, I
got to see the Tigers coach rap with a rotund parcel of
cholesterol named Jimmy about Osmose-treated wood, shill for
Golden Flake snack foods and Winn-Dixie supermarkets, and do two
spots for Coke. Say this for Bowden: He shills without apology.
When cohost Phil Snow asked him why he didn't wear his Russell
Athletic cap on the sideline during the Tigers' Sept. 27 game
against Central Florida, Bowden said, "You know how it is with
your people. For a TV game you have to wear your apparel. When
you're not on TV [and the game with Central Florida wasn't], you
don't have to wear it."

Nebraska's Tom Osborne peddles Personal Edge, a line of sports
nutritional supplements; praises a local bank; does a spot for
J.C. Penney; and pushes $1.66 Cornhuskers commemorative glasses
from Phillips 66. The most embarrassing spiel was by Clemson's
West, who is shown in a locker room giving a supposed pregame
pep talk: "Running backs, I want you to run through those lines
like a Ford Mustang! Defense, I want you to break through their
line like a Ford F-150 pickup!" That's not the end of it, but
it's all I can bear to repeat.

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO

Coaches shows are about nothing so much as image. The
gopher-ball questions lobbed up by sycophantic sidekicks, the
soft features about inspirational team chaplains and loyal
trainers, the back-slapping visits by assistant coaches--all are
designed to present the school as a magical kingdom populated by
Up with People kind of folk.

At odds with that message are some of the commercial sponsors.
Beer companies buy time on, among others, the shows of DiNardo,
Neuheisel, Notre Dame's Bob Davie and Mississippi's Tommy
Tuberville. Worse, Players Club International, a national travel
outfit that packages excursions to casinos, is one of the
sponsors of Blake's show. One might assume that somewhere in its
537-page rule book, the NCAA must have a provision prohibiting
such relationships.

"No, there's nothing against it," says Bob Oliver, the NCAA's
director of membership services. Oliver goes on to enumerate
other commercial prohibitions--no member school can carry an ad
for tobacco or hard alcohol in its game program, for
example--but admits that the NCAA has "very little hold over
coaches' shows."

WHY DANNY FORD SHOULD KEEP HIS DAY JOB

Like many other coaches, Arkansas's Danny Ford tapes his show
immediately after a game or the next morning, before he has had
the opportunity to pursue that most treasured pastime of all
football coaches: studying the game tape. But Ford's bewildered,
first-time-I've-seen-it "analysis" makes it sound as though he
were pulled in cold off the street. Here's some of what viewers
learned from Ford following the Razorbacks' 39-13 loss to South
Carolina on Oct. 18: "Their quarterback throws it in the flat;
their fullback drops it; number 11, our guy, picks it up; we got
something going on." And after a Gamecocks interception: "Sudden
change. We don't get sudden change. Boom! Good block by their
guy. Boom! 'Nother good block by their guy."

Boom! Get this guy off the air!

It's not just losses that give Ford trouble. While discussing a
17-13 win over Louisiana Tech, Ford said, "Right now we done
been on the field too long." And "here they make a third-down
play. This was a big play right here. I don't know what
happened." When in doubt, which is much of the time, Ford goes
to an all-purpose adjective. As he watched Arkansas drive for a
touchdown, his commentary during a 35-second span included "good
move by our coaches," "good block by our guard," "good run,"
"good, hard running," "good blocking at the point of attack,"
"good sprint-out," "good pass," "good catch," "not good blocking
on the corner" and "good catch." Good Lord!

Ford reserved his most pithy commentary for the arrival of Hogs
superfan Bill Clinton at the game against Tech. As the
President's limo pulled into the stadium parking lot, Ford
offered this insight: "There he comes in there."

SONGS OF MYSELF

A feature about Vanderbilt coach Woody Widenhofer on The Woody
Widenhofer Show included an interview with his son Ryan. ("He's
an all-round good guy," Ryan said of his dad.) The Spike Dykes
Show approached coaches from several of Texas Tech's upcoming
opponents to get comments on--you guessed it--Spike Dykes.
"Coach Dykes, he does a great job," said Baylor's Roberts. "I
mean, that's one of the best coaching jobs in America."

Dykes couldn't have said it better. And didn't have to.

SAM DONALDSON NEEDN'T WORRY

Player interviews generally enliven coaches' shows, unless the
coach feels compelled to step into the role of interlocutor.
Neuheisel, who used to strum a guitar and sing on his show and
who seems to be perpetually auditioning for a network job, is
somewhat of a natural when he's chatting up one of his guys,
even with towels flying. But Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary
follows a rather scattershot path with his questioning, as this
exchange with senior wide receiver Derrick Steagall shows.

O'Leary: "You're from Newnan, Georgia."

Steagall: "Yes."

O'Leary: "All right, that's--what?--about 60 miles from Atlanta?
You get home very often?"

Steagall: "Yeah, sometimes."

O'Leary: "Your speed is what basically most athletes would die
to have. Have you always had that?"

An even more unlikely interviewer is the media-shy Osborne, a
man who does not push the dial into the red zone on anyone's
sizzlemeter. Osborne also follows a curious Q-and-A pattern,
which he demonstrated with Ahman Green, the Cornhuskers'
standout running back. The subject was Green's academic
major--of course, it was--though Osborne didn't stay on it for
long.

Osborne: "You gotta memorize a lot of stuff in geography, don't
you?"

Green: "You gotta make sure where's what."

Osborne: "Your first run, the counter cut for a touchdown, how
long was that? Do you remember?"

Green: "I don't know. Thirty maybe?"

I'll say this: The show wasn't scripted.

WHERE SELDOM IS HEARD....

So many bouquets are tossed around on coaches' shows that the
participants should wear helmets--excuse me, football helmets.
But the irredeemable lovefest that is The John Blake Show
deserves special mention. During a recent show that included a
feature called "Behind the Scenes of Sooner Vision," an inside
look at Oklahoma's scoreboard, host Steve Neumann praised the
Sooners' home field, Memorial Stadium, both for its new seats
and for having "the best lights in the nation," while Blake
opined that Oklahoma has "the best president, the best athletic
director, the best head coach and the best fans." Blake also
noted that thanks to Sooner Vision, "there's never a dull moment
during the game." Wish I could say the same for the show.

THE BEST COACHES' SHOWS

The successful ones conjure up in some way--albeit some small
way--the rambling brilliance of the Bryant show. I like the
coaches who are enthusiastic without being falsely boosterish,
the coaches who don't seem aware of being on television. Duke's
Fred Goldsmith, for example, gets so involved watching game
footage that, as former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer used to do,
he pleads with players as he narrates the action. While
describing a 60-yard punt a few weeks ago, Goldsmith suddenly
hollered, "We gotta cover better, men! Oh, we gotta cover better
than that!"

The Bobby Bowden Show is wonderful, if only for the Florida
State coach's struggles to remember the names and numbers of his
players while endeavoring, Bryant-like, to mention the hometown
and at least one relative of every Seminole who breaks a sweat.
As with Ford, I might not have known Bowden had been at the game
except for his frequent appearance in sideline shots. But he's
endearingly enthusiastic in his ignorance.

"Who got that sack back there?" Bowden asks host Gene
Deckerhoff. "It wasn't Larry Smith, was it?"

"Tony Bryant. Number 40. From Marathon," answers Deckerhoff,
also a geography buff.

"Tony Bryant," says Bowden. "I saw Tony's dad, by the way, and
his uncle. From New Jersey."

But the best coach's program is The Fisher DeBerry Show. The Air
Force coach is not overly telegenic, and his South Carolina
drawl can disrupt the vertical hold on your set. Nevertheless,
his over-the-top preacher's exuberance and runaway-train stream
of consciousness make his show a must. Some of DeBerry's best:

After host Brian Jerman asked him a question following a 24-18
overtime win over San Diego State on Sept. 27, DeBerry talked
nonstop for two minutes and four seconds, switching subjects
from the Academy's fervent fans to the festive atmosphere at the
game to the sterling play of his defense to a questionable call
to a blocked punt to a key fumble to the defense again to his
superb defensive coaches to a cornerback blitz to an 80-yard
interception return by cornerback Tim Curry to the death of
Curry's father in the preseason to the likelihood that Curry's
mother was watching in Seattle.

It's not only victories that get DeBerry revved up. Following
Air Force's first loss of the season, a 20-17 heartbreaker at
the hands of Fresno State, DeBerry interrupted Jerman's intro
and launched into a one-minute-and-fifty-two-second verbal
jitterbug that went from the loss's being "a bitter pill to
swallow" to the recent winning streak's being a "good ride while
it lasted" to the Falcons' five turnovers to their critical
penalties to their not being adept in the kicking game to their
not showing enough intensity, enthusiasm and confidence to his
realization that "the enemy is us" to noting that
"uncharacteristic things" happened to wondering why a team that
blocks three kicks "can't win the dadgum football game" to Air
Force's final missed field goal to the loss's being "a great
wake-up call" to the fact that the Falcons can still "attain all
our goals" to the coaches' "going back to the drawing board" to
the team's "making a recommitment" to the necessity of "taking
it one game at a time" to the realization that "we control our
destiny." Whew!

Cliches be damned. I just think there's something real special
about that football show.

TWELVE COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER [Series of drawings of disinterested man watching various college football coaches on television]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of Paul(Bear) Bryant discussing University of Alabama football game while eating potato chips and drinking Coca-Cola]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of Rick Neuheisel answering question on television show]COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of Danny Ford answering question on television show]