When Gamecock fans want to fire a coach

October 1, 2017

What I know about football is not much, and I learned it playing football in high school. (Hadn’t planned on revealing my age, but it was 1978-1980). High school football meant a lot to me because it was very hard. Every team has an opponent, and every player is competing against (at least) one other player who is trying their hardest to do the opposite. It’s hard, it’s competition, and sometimes the worthiest wins, sometimes not. In a sport with 11 players on the field, sometimes 10 do their job, one does not and that dooms the play to failure; 100% failure not 10% failure, not 90% winning. Likewise in a game a team can win 90% of the plays but lose the game. (NB: I know the math is off I don’t care). In my case the plays had symbols where I, the “O,” was to block the “X” but always X didn’t want to be blocked. Sometimes I managed to get in X’s way for several seconds in a row, but then he would get loose and go blow up the entire play.

Watching a sport, in this case football, like every fan I know what I like and what I don’t. When I see things go on that I don’t like, I want them to be different. And I mull a lot more after a loss than after a win. (According to an excellent essay in today’s NYT Book Review, politics can be that way too). Being a Gamecock fan since I showed up in Columbia for classes in the Fall of 1980(and not before, it was my choice), I have mulled over quite a few losses in various sports.

One virtue I have as a fan is a sense of the limits of my knowledge. My experiences playing (the best I could, but often poorly) in high school inform me there’s a lot I don’t know. That is one reason why it really bugs me when fans of the same team I root for claim to know more than the coaches of the Gamecocks who earn their living at that particular sport. Coaches make mistakes. But it is almost never because they miss the obvious, as some fans think. It is not because they are stupid at their sport, although implying so makes some fans feel better (It doesn’t, but they think it does, almost as important to them).

What I know about football is that better players, playing together, beat an opposing team of players not as skilled, or do not play together as well, nearly all the time. Players doing what they are capable of, that which they have practiced to do, beat opponents trying to do something they have never done, or are not accustomed through practice and experience at doing. And sometimes the margin between winning (a one-on- one, a play, a drive, a game) and losing is very small.

A little more concrete: Football is fundamentals, blocking and avoiding blocks, throwing and catching and defending throws and catches, running and tackling, turning the ball over and sometimes creating turnovers (but more often, recovering the gifts that are given). Football is also “mentals” as my coach loved to say and as the guys on the team liked to mock behind his back. But mostly the physical fundamentals.

Football is not a Coach calling brilliant plays. This is what most fans seem to think and talk about. This bugs me. If this was true, then teams would find some braniac who learned how to call plays by playing Xbox. The most basic offensive play is the straight ahead run, in our high school veer we called it “dive,” and if it is executed perfectly it’s a great play. A triple reverse pass, if it fails, is the worst play. A play that works is good; a play that fails is bad. But the outcome of no play is determined before it is called.

Another thing I learned about a team is there is so much more going on behind the scenes than any observer (fan) can know. Players get hurt. They just aren’t playing well for any number of reasons, and there isn’t always a suitable replacement.

As a Gamecock fan I’ve spent the years since 1980 often pondering what makes one coach successful and others not. Obviously some people are better than others at certain things and coaches are no exception. In life, bad things happen to good people and obviously that is true in sports.

Why coaches calling for the firing of the coach bugs me

So here’s my point of this piece. Fans feel bad when their favorite team loses, that’s universal. The depth of their feelings vary. Deeper feelings are not always a virtue, is something I didn’t know in 1980 but I have learned or decided or been taught over the years.

In the age of the Gamecock Internet, I have gotten myself kicked off of every Gamecock sports web board that regulated admission (they kindly kept my subscription money each time, which should have been a valuable lesson to me). The reason was that people bad mouthing coaches and players bugs me and I cannot let go of it.

Why do I care about other people’s God Given Right To Bad Mouth? Two reasons.

I played high school football because it was hard. The overwhelming majority of males at my school did not, and I feel safe saying the same is true everywhere. The number of men who have actually played high school football (the majority of those, like me, had no possibility or hope of playing in college) is very small compared to the number of fans who directly express their public opinion that they know more than the coaches. Where did they supposedly pick up that knowledge? Is it possible without coaching, much less actually playing the game?

Note: Tackle football hurts. If you have never put on a helmet and driven your head into the head of another human being wearing a helmet, then you have no idea what that is like. If you have been in a violent car wreck, you have some idea what it sounds like, at least.

My other reason is even more personal. My high school team won just slightly more than it lost (which is slightly better than the history of Gamecock football). After every game, win or lose, my dad would express some form of the following: “you played hard and I am proud of you, but your coaches are terrible.” My dad himself did play in high school. But this criticism bugged me; although I did think my coaches made mistakes, some obvious, some subtle, some inconsequential, some costly, I knew what their plan was because I knew the work we all put into the games in mind and body numbing practices. (I was the worst practice player ever — all I wanted to do was survive and move on).  So that is a reason why people ranting in public bothers me so much that sometimes I cannot put it away.

If you must rant about the team, do it in private

Gamecock fans on the internet say they have a right to “rant.” As I am doing. But there is a difference between expressing emotion, and being negative. Being critical of a thing you claim to love is a perilous undertaking.

I don’t like it when a play in football doesn’t work. But I don’t think I know more than the coach did who called it. I don’t think the problem is that one play was called instead of a different one. Pretty sure that no coach in the history of Gamecock sports ever told the players to do something wrong.

The stupidest thing I ever read on the Gamecock internet was “the games mean more to us fans than to the players.” Second worst is fans that think they know more than the coaches. You don’t.

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What the Lamont Evans NCAA FBI complaint says about Player-3 from University-2

Source: What the Lamont Evans NCAA FBI complaint says about Player-3 from University-2

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Testimony by Scott Turow

Testimony 

I know that Mr. Turow isn’t a fan of Amazon because of the licensing wars, even though his characters dwell in Kindle County. So I tried to link the paper book above but failed because I dwell in the Kindle library.

This latest novel is very good for the reasons that all Turow books are. I am not a lawyer who thinks he could publish something, and so I don’t so much like the writers’ accounts of how their sausage is made. But Turow writes beautifully, and about once a page at least is a sentence that I just stop and read several times to marvel at how well it is crafted. His books are like a martini: the alcohol is the point, but sometimes you stop to think “this sure is a fine crystal glass.” With the e-reader I can’t help but draw e-highlights, something I never do with paper books because it feels sacrilegious.

I am pretty sure now on the evidence of his body of work and a very short but kind conversation with him at a book signing in Atlanta that Turow doesn’t hate lawyers. This is important to me in a writer if we are going to spend hundreds of pages together. There are fewer books that get legal dialogue right, the way so many books capture police jargon or medical lingo, but the Kindle county lawyers speak like lawyers everywhere. But Turow doesn’t idolize or idealize them either — this is the real deal. One fine observation is about how lawyers can stay friends even though they get cross with each other in the heat of battle.

Testimony has plot twists that are the Turow trademark. I guess most successful authors do, but there are also so many books that are “lawyer down on luck, lawyer gets case, lawyer has tribulation, lawyer wins trial, the end.” I read for escape so I am not very vigilant about what is coming down the road, or through the tunnel. Some of his other novels had mind-blowing twists; this one not so much although it was not exactly what I was predicting.

I don’t think Turow writes with movies in mind the way Grisham does and especially not to the extent Crichton did (digression: Crichton’s posthumous “found” short novel Dragon Teeth is the most ready for the screen thing I’ve read in a while). I read somewhere that Turow works very hard on his character names. Having grown up in the white and black South, that lacks the euroethnic diversity of Turow’s Midwest, his character names are foreign to me. So with all that in mind, who would play the characters in the cinema version of this one? Bill ten Boom (obviously he did not have Will Muschamp in mind) is kind of hard for me to picture. The black, mannish, lesbian Radar O’Reilly as Arms Dealer character is harder still. The female lead is also hard for me to picture. The barely-fictionalized war criminal is a scary charismatic figure that steals the scenes he is in. I leave all that to Casting.

A recurring theme for Turow is sexual obsession. To avoid the “fiction as autobiography” trap, suffice it to say that Turow characters have a complicated relationship with the theme. The pain of being spurned is one of the most powerful and effective things in these novels. Perhaps, the flights of ecstasy during a current obsession and the rationalizations it makes possible are less so. Such a terrific writer obviously can draw a sex scene with some skill, but some of these in Testimony seem pointless to the whole and a bit voyeuristic. (Is it correct to say that every sex scene in Turow novels is initiated by the woman? “Consent, The Novel?”).

I wish I knew more about how the New York Times picks reviewers for its Sunday Book section. Ben Macintyre, a British author who writes very well about spies, did a nice review in today’s section. Most interesting to me is his praise for a scene where Boom and his Aussie side-kick (great speechisms – Russell Crowe? Karl Urban? No Hemsworths please) are trapped on a salt mine tower of some sort. A Batman Scene (there must be a term of art for those) where the bad guys leave them alone, allowing them to make an improbable self rescue and escape. Macintyre praises the passage and I am certain he is correct. But I had a very hard time with that whole scene, it didn’t draw any word pictures in my mind. I found it bewildering. I think I may have been drawn into reading very fast to find out how the heroes escaped, and missed the visual cues.

I also found one annoying typo, but I am sure that was due to Kindleification of the novel.

This is a very good book that I finished looking forward to the next anything Mr. Turow cares to write. Even “Murder In The Kindle County Retirement Community.”

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