Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Help Wanted: Must Win Big

Coaching sports in college is a tough business. Think about it. You're supposed to get a group of 18 to 21 year olds, to do what they are SUPPOSED to do, ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Tougher still, when you have so much pressure to make them do just that.

Phillip Fulmer is out as football coach at the University of Tennessee. His crime was a losing record this year, and not winning a national championship in 10 years. Pretty tough for Phil. You have to consider though, that he was so well compensated over the years that he's a millionaire several times over. It costs $6 million just to fire him! So why fire him? You have to consider this. The University of Tennessee football program brings in about 68 million dollars a year through ticket sales, concessions, souvenirs, media rights contracts and the league's annual distribution checks. That money supports almost all of Tennessee athletics programs, and needless to say how much Tennessee football means to the economy of the city and the region. If the Vols aren't winning, that figure goes down in a hurry. Way down. So much so, that the $6 million buyout, doesn't seem like much at all. They simply cannot afford to field a loser. Even for a short time. Of course the trick is, hiring a winner to take his place.

Kentucky's basketball program got rid of Coach Tubby Smith for much the same reason, except he wasn't a loser. He just didn't make it to the Final Four in the last few years. He won only 1 national championship too, and had only made it to 2 Final Fours during his tenure. Sure he won 20 games each season, but that's not good enough for the boosters with the fat wallets and fat egos. They're not contributing to a program which is really good. They're paying for really great, and if it's not there, the money stops coming. Kentucky basketball, like Tennessee football measures its sucess not by how many games they win, but by how few they lose. The wins are measured by how many points. If it's not enough, in many fans and boosters' eyes, it counts as a loss, even if it's a win.

At Kentucky, they were sure they'd get Florida's Billy Donovan, the Rick Pitino protege with a national championship under his belt. Of course, he'd leave Florida for a chance to coach the Wildcats! If he turned them down, there were some who felt sure they'd get Rick Pitino to leave Louisville, and return to Lexington. Whoops... neither happened. Maybe one or both realized how good they had it, and how quickly it could turn at UK should they not make a Final Four in the next two years. Kentucky settled on Billy Gillispie, an "up and comer" who had a good run at Texas A&M. But already, in Lexington, after a loss to little VMI at Rupp Arena, there are those who are screaming to jettison BG, and of all things, bring Tubby back! Can Gillispie get the Cats back to Final Four? Who knows. The only thing certain is that he does not have the luxury of time.

Remember Nebraska, when they fired Frank Solich, after a 9 win season to hire Bill Callahan, who came closer to losing 9 in one year? Remember Syracuse, when they fired Paul Pasqualoni for only winning 8 or 9 games a season, only to find themselves with a program that turned into a perennial doormat? Better get it right, or set your program back another 10 years, or more.

That should be on the minds of those at Tennessee in replacing Fulmer. They need a superstar coach, and they need him now, but is one available? Plenty were touting Texas Tech's Mike Leach, until the Red Raiders got shellacked at Oklahoma. What about Steve Spurrier? or Tampa Bay Bucs Coach Jon Gruden? Not interested. Some were pushing Butch Davis, until North Carolina got smoked by unranked NC State. Uh oh. Who do they hire now? I don't know, except that whoever they hire better win, win big and win fast. They simply cannot afford anything less.

No comments: