I was sitting around, lying flat on my back due to recent surgery, reading Chuck Klosterman's book Eating the Dinosaur, and he had a good piece on the liberal/conservative nature of football. Without getting into too much detail, he argues that football is actually run by radical thinkers, mainly concentrating on offensive innovations as crazy as the A-11 and as simple as the read option run play, which didn't exist ten years ago. However, for such an innovative sport that is constantly adopting innovations both tactical and technological, football has a reputation for being conservative, even fascist.
**Not so brief aside. Feel free to skip this part as it will have no actual football content.
I disagree with Chuck Klosterman on a fairly regular basis. In fact, my normal reaction to one of his essays is that he is completely off base. However, I believe this is his appeal to me. I often disagree with him, but I don't think he's wrong per se. It's like having an argument with myself. Most of writing is the act of lying, but I think Klostermans seems like someone I would like hanging out with, as we could argue about meaningless crap incessantly. He's obviously a bright guy, and I think he's often wrong in an interesting way, which is much better than simply being an idiot or even worse, just regurgitating a talking point I already agree with.
As an example, Klosterman is perhaps the only music critic who hates punk rock and actually defends hair metal. It's clear he's quite agitated by the fact that hair metal has essentially been eradicated from pop culture and that the descendants of punk and indie are now ascendant (though I would completely agree with him most of the bands coming in Nirvana's wake were pretty friggin' terrible - I still can't believe people ever listened to Creed). One of his central arguments has, and this is overly reductive, is that popularity validates a piece of pop culture.
A lot more after the jump. I might even get to the point.
Now, we all know that's not entirely true, and Klosterman wouldn't argue that it is. The Macarena is an awful, awful song but it became wildly popular because, well, sometimes silly crap becomes wildly popular for reasons no one understands. But he would argue Motley Crue is better than Husker Du, and part of his support would be album sales. I would argue that Motley Crue sold a bunch of albums precisely because they are so terrible. Motley Crue sold brainless misogyny and guilt-free excess to nerdy teenagers and assorted losers. It was extraordinarily depressing escapism as it was party music for parties that would never actually occur in your real life (unless, of course, you are a member of Motley Crue).
Pittman and I were once discussing music, and he described the difference between Van Halen and the Violent Femmes as the difference between the way a high school kid thinks he's like and the way he actually is. This analogy equally applies to late 80s hair metal and punk. Kids want to view themselves in the prism of how awesome they are and how the good times are never gonna end (usually defined as sex with lots of attractive women and ingesting large quantities of drugs). In fact, most of us are not attending those sorts of parties (maybe you did, but I didn't), so the constant reminder that you aren't ever going to be a rock star is sort of the underlying assumption of hair metal. Hair metal was indirectly telling its listeners they were a bunch of losers who would never be as cool as this band. Punk and indie of that era spoke to the inner loser in all of us, and the fact that while we desperately want to be cool, we probably aren't, or at least we don't feel cool all the time. And the band itself wasn't cool either. It wasn't the affection of cool, it was the breaking down of the division between artist and audience that truly appealed to me.
Now that the slacker/loser thing is a coordinated marketing ploy and just a stance that bands take to seem cool, it has stopped meaning anything. Which is why most current punk bands suck. They are doing a paint-by-numbers of a Jackson Pollock painting, which might reproduce the picture, but completely misses the point. What had once been sharing a dirty secret about ourselves ("I'm not cool") it is now a plot to seem cool. So maybe Klosterman's right. Maybe hair metal did win because the division between artist and audience is as great as ever (which explains why no one feels bad when they openly steal from musicians by downloading their back catalog for free). But I digress.
Back to football.
One of the ideas Klosterman mentioned in his essay but failed to explore is the concept of the football coach as a near fascist dictator. Let's call it the Woody Hayes model. Woody Hayes openly berated people, hated anything remotely modern, ran the football every down to avoid risk, and eventually lost his job for punching a player. On another team. During a game.
What's interesting is that the game has moved forward due to crazy iconoclasts from Bill Walsh to Gus Malzahn. If a coach tries something different, he is given a short leash and is quickly dismissed for the smallest failures (while other more acceptable coaches copy the basic tenants of his philosophy). However, if a coach models himself on Woody Hayes, he is given a wider latitude. That is a football coach.
Essentially, we expect our football coaches to be assholes and dictators. Dictators win. Dictators are what coaches are supposed to be. But is that actually true? Do dictators win more than other types of coaches?
Let's look at the BCS conferences over the past decade. I looked at the conferences champions and tried to classify the coach one of three ways: Dictator, Genius/Crazy Person, and Everyone Else. The "genius" is in quotes, it's either a tactical or strategic innovator or, well, a crazy person. Also, no multiple champs, I'm only recognizing their official BCS representative.
Paul Johnson - 2009 - Genius/Crazy Person
Frank Beamer - 2008, 2007, 2004 - Genius/Crazy Person
Jim Grobe - 2006 - Dictator
Bobby Bowden - 2005, 2003, 2002, 2000 - Everybody Else
Ralph Friedgen - 2001 - Everybody Else
Not a true dictator on the list. Paul Johnson is probably the closest, but I think he's more of a mad genius, not so much for being a tactical innovator, but for being such a throwback. Johnson uses the triple option without apology, which is like someone winning the Indy 500 with a Model T. Beamer is a bit of an innovator on special teams, but he's certainly no dictator. He's an affable players coach. Bowden is the classic players coach, with his folksy charm. Jim Grobe is about as close as you get to a dictator type, but that would be a real reach. But you know what, let's give it to the Dictators, just for his dictatorial control of the redshirt program.
Big East (4/3/3)
Brian Kelly - 2009, 2008 - Dictator
Rich Rod - 2007, 2005 - Genius/Crazy Person
Bobby Petrino - 2006 - Genius/Crazy Person
Walt Harris - 2004 - Dictator
Larry Coker - 2003, 2002, 2001 - Everybody Else
Butch Davis - 2000 - Dictator
This is where I want to be clear that being a dictator doesn't mean you're a rulebreaker or even a complete jerk. Butch Davis was a guy brought in to Miami to bring some much needed discipline after the previous scandals. He shockingly made players go to class and things. Brian Kelly controlled the entire Bearcats program and built them from nothing. Walt Harris, on the other hand, is a dictator who we all pretty much agree sucks. People hated him everywhere he went and as soon as things went south, his players revolted. Larry Coker is the ultimate substitute teacher, but he did win three conference crowns, just no one gave him any credit for it. Miami has won precisely squat since he left. Petrino is about the craziest human being to ever be allowed to coach young men. Which also gets me when Arkansas fans bash Les Miles (or LSU fans bash Petrino). Glass houses, you know?
Big Ten (4/5/1)
Jim Tressel - 2009, 2007, 2006, 2002 - Dictator
Joe Paterno - 2008, 2005 - Everybody Else
Lloyd Carr - 2004, 2003 - Everybody Else
Ron Turner - 2001 - Genius/Crazy Person
Joe Tiller - 2000 - Everybody Else
The Sweater Vest's complete domination of the Big Ten this past decade is a major point in the Dictator Coaches' favor. I like Tressel, but he's pretty much Woody Hayes without the whole hitting people thing. Remember when Ron Turner was considered one of the smartest coaches in the country? Actually, he's now the WR coach for the Colts and is still considered a bit of a guru. Tiller and Carr were nice guys who won some games, but not enough. Joe Paterno can be prickly, but really, he's got about as much day to day control over the Nittany Lions as I do. He's the ultimate CEO coach now.
Big 12 (6/2/2)
Mack Brown - 2009, 2005 - Everybody Else
Bob Stoops - 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000 - Dictator
Bill Snyder - 2003 - Genius/Crazy Person
Gary Barnett - 2001 - Genius/Crazy Person
While Les Miles is sometimes "ha ha" crazy, Gary Barnett was sort of a frightening crazy. He presided over one of the most corrupt programs in NCAA history, which is a tough trick. He dismissed allegations that a player raped his female kicker with the observation that she couldn't kick, which wasn't just insensitive, it was incredibly stupid. And a total non sequitor. Bill Snyder is the guru of JUCO transfers, it's hard to think of someone who has gotten more out of the JUCO transfer rules. Brown is sort of a non-crazy Les Miles. But the Dictators score big here, as Stoop has won over half of the conference crowns this past decade.
Chip Kelly - 2009 - Genius/Crazy Person
Pete Carroll - 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 - Everybody Else
Mike Price - 2002 - Everybody Else
Mike Bellotti - 2001 - Genius/Crazy Person
Rick Neuheisel - 2000 - Everybody Else
There just isn't a Dictator to be found, and none are that close. Pete Carroll brought Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell to the sidelines, for crying out loud. He's the most chill successful head coach ever. Price is a football lifer, but he's not a stern disciplinarian or anything. Neuheisel isn't as hopelessly corrupt as some other former Colorado coaches, but he's not a Dictator either. I love the Oregon coaches, who are both offensive whizzes.
Nick Saban - 2009, 2003, 2001 - Dictator
Urban Meyer - 2008, 2006 - Dictator
Les Miles - 2007 - Genius/Crazy Person
Mark Richt - 2005, 2002 - Everybody Else
Tommy Tuberville - 2004 - Genius/Crazy Person
Steve Spurrier - 2000 - Genius/Crazy Person
There's football and then there's Southern football. While they can play that namby pamby crap in Hollywood, we like our coaches to be mean sumbitches down here in God's country. And if you're not gonna be mean, please be crazy. We like the Mad Hatter and the Riverboat Gambler, if we can't have an honest God tyrant. Then again, everyone loves a good God-fearing man like Mark Richt.
Dictators - 20
Geniuses/Crazy People - 19
Everybody Else - 21
An almost even split among all three categories. Now, you can quibble with how I've classified each coach which is why I showed my work, feel free to change the classifications yourself. But what I hope this shows is that dictator coaches don't win any more than any other kind of coach. We give the dictators a wide latitude because that's what a coach seems like he is supposed to be like, but those big bullies don't win any more than anyone else. It's just another method of coaching. But it is no more, or less, effective than any other.
Nice guys don't have to finish last.