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Archive for Saturday, October 4, 2008

Commentary: Coaching legends are getting scarce

October 4, 2008

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A survey of the college football landscape reveals the presence of only two larger-than-life coaching icons.

Fitting that mold are the famously moldy Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, a couple of household names starring in college football's version of the "Bucket List."

Neither Paterno, 81, nor Bowden, 78, is what he once was. Neither is their profession. When they exit the game, the age of the coach as titan will have passed once and for all.

From before Knute Rockne and up through the years to include Bud Wilkinson, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Darrell Royal, John McKay, Ara Parseghian and Bo Schembechler, college football was once recognized for its legends. During his memorable stint at Notre Dame, Lou Holtz brushed up against legend status; at the very least, he was a magnetic, easy-to-distinguish personality. More infamously, so was Barry Switzer at Oklahoma.

But coaching profiles aren't what they used to be. No one has come along to replace Eddie Robinson and Tom Osborne.

Steve Spurrier had developed an iconic image before he derailed his career by jumping to the Redskins. Back in the game at South Carolina, his aura is severely diminished.

Had Spurrier remained at Florida, his stature might be larger now. Years and years of service to one school is an integral component to the creation of a legend. It's what helped define Paterno and Bowden. But longevity and coaching are as antithetical today as the concepts of athlete and Rhodes Scholar.

Out of 120 Division I-A schools, only 11 head coaches have held their current jobs for 10 years or more.

Did you realize that, in terms of attachment to one school, Frank Beamer ranks third among active coaches?

Beamer might not be an iconic figure beyond Virginia's borders but, after Paterno's 43 years at Penn State and Bowden's 33 at Florida State, his 22 seasons at Virginia Tech represent the longest tenure among big-time coaches.

The next longest term at one school is Phillip Fulmer's 17 years at Tennessee. After that, you drop down to Oregon's Mike Bellotti and Jim Leavitt of South Florida, with 13 years each.

In another era, Beamer might have been a titan in training. But the landscape is so much different than it was when Paterno and Bowden forged their reputations.

The 24/7 media, combined with an Internet that traffics in skepticism and unfocused rants, overpower the mythmaking machinery that served coaches from earlier eras. At any rate, in almost every walk of life, we just don't revere public figures the way we once did.

Beamer's longevity puts him in a special category at a time when some of the brightest lights are relative newcomers to their schools. Proving that it's a young man's game, Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Jim Tressel and Bob Stoops are among the sport's top CEOs. Will they stick around for another 30 years at the same institutions until, like Paterno and Bowden, age becomes an issue?

The clock is ticking: College football is down to its final two old-fashioned titans.

Don't hold your breath waiting for someone to take their place. Football isn't in the legend business anymore.

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