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From The Sidelines

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 28, 1998

It was kind of ironic that Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s coaches appreciation day was last Thursday. Because last week wasdefinitely one in which coaches, especially two in the SEC, were anything but appreciated for what they have accomplished.

The news came over the radio Friday evening – Terry Bowden had reportedly resigned as head coach at Auburn University. A few hours later,the news had been confirmed. The man who had won his first 20 games ascoach of the Tigers and had taken them to the SEC Championship Game a season ago was out of work after opening this season with a 1-5 record.

Never mind that Bowden’s Tigers were facing one of the toughest schedules in the country, one that had already included Virginia, Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Florida.

Never mind that the Tigers had lost their starting quarterback from a year ago, Dameyune Craig, to graduation, and its top defender, Takeo Spikes, to the NFL. Or that one of its top defensive player this season, MartaviusHouston, had been dismissed from the team before the season started. Orthat a rash of injuries had decimated the team. No, it was what have youdone for me today, Mr. Bowden for Auburn fans.Bowden’s resignation came during the same time that his SEC counterpart at LSU, Gerry DiNardo, was undergoing his greatest criticism as head coach of the Tigers. The talk shows were a buzz with callers questioningthe Tigers play calling with some even calling for DiNardo’s resignation.

Who cares that DiNardo had won seven, 10 and nine games his first three years? Many of these same people were the ones who had called for the resignation of LSU’s most successful coach, Charlie McClendon, in 1979.

I have been reluctant to call these people “fans.” Fans are not those thatcall for the dismissal of a coach whose longest losing streak has been three games after the team had suffered through six straight losing seasons before he took over.

They do not make racist remarks about the team’s quarterback, one that is the second winningest in the school’s history and has led it to three straight bowl victories. Or wish that the team’s best player, one thatbypassed the NFL draft and millions of dollars to come back to earn his degree and try to lead his team to a championship, had foregone his senior year. But all of these words have been spoken by people sitting in TigerStadium on a Saturday night.

While I was attending LSU during those dismal days of the early 1990s, I heard fellow students say during the course of a game that they did not spend $2,500 to watch a losing football team. To quote a history professorI had in college, these people need to “Get a life, get a clue, get a wardrobe.” They spent that money to get an education (now there’s a novelconcept), to prepare for life not live it precariously through a sports team.

And nobody put a gun to their head for them to shell out $26 for a ticket.

The last I can recall, you can do that under your own free will.

I have a hard time accepting alumni who donate money to an university or athletic department having the right telling that university or department what they should do with that money, i.e. hiring or firing coaches. Hasanybody recently checked the definition of a donation – the act by which a person transfers his title to anything to another” (Webster’s Dictionary)? The best thing a coach can do is come in, lead a team to a championship his first year and then resign. Because if he coaches a second year, he isdoomed to fail in the eyes of both his critics and his so-called fans.

Supposedly, Bowden was forced out for reasons that had nothing to do with his win-lost record. He had his critics and they were just waiting forBowden to fail to kick him out on his ear. It would no be the first time.Just look at the cases of McClendon, Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, George Seifert in San Francisco and Jimmy Johnson in Dallas.

Grantland Rice is famous for writing that “When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, it is not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game.” In today’s athletics, the game has changed andit seldom has anything to do with happens on the field.

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