Coaches, Players, and Respect

I enjoy college sports. There is an escape in watching such gifted athletes pushing themselves to the limit. Doing everything they can to win the game. The line from the introduction to the Wide World of Sports sums it up best “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.” It is more fun to watch when my team wins, less fun when they lose.

But, more than anything I feel bad for the players. They have worked so hard to get there, and once they are there they arrive the real labor begins. Two-a-days in the brutal heat of summer, spring practice, the long grind of the season. Watching them is all you need to understand commitment.

This weekend my favorite college team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, lost. The Cornhuskers are struggling to win enough games (I think the magic number is 6) to be allowed to play in a post-season bowl game and this loss makes that much more difficult. There are some tough games ahead.

It was a hard-fought loss that could have gone either way. Which, to my way of thinking makes it even more painful. You could see it in the faces of the young men as they trudged over to shake the hands of the winning team.

In the post-game press conference the coach, Scott Frost, seemed angry, disillusioned, at a loss for answers. He talked, at length, about how “just good enough” was not good enough for him. He talked about letting the fans down, and he actually said: “nobody is more disappointed than me.”

I have my doubts.

Maybe the players could have played better, but that is really an issue with the coaches. Maybe the plays were not called at the right time, or in the right sequence. Again, that would come back to the coaching staff.

From what I saw the Hoosiers just had better players; maybe not every player is better, but they had more good players. And that is a problem for the coaching staff, too. I know Frost was disappointed, he wants to win, he is paid a king’s ransom to win, and you don’t get a contract that ridiculous without being a fierce competitor. But, he needs to shoulder some of the blame.

Most of the blame, probably.

I have always questioned the wisdom of paying a coach so much money. It doesn’t really matter to me how many games they win. Scott Frost might be a very good coach, and will probably win a lot of games. People tell me that is what it costs to get an “elite” coach.

Why does anybody think they should pay anybody that much for anything?

My wife used to work for a man, a man who was more at home laboring in the peace corps with all the sacrifices that requires than tromping the sidelines of a football field. When he found out how much college coaches make he was shocked.

“How hard can it be?” he asked, he meant coaching football, but in all fairness, he would probably feel the same about basketball coaches. I have taken that as a call to arms, how hard can it be?

How hard can it be? Indeed. I know, week after week answering the same questions would be tiresome, tedious, awful. Moreover, watching your team getting pushed around week after week would be terrible, fans can attest to that. But, $5,000,000.00 a year would soften the blow, at least a little.

I am only one fan, and I am not even that rabid. I don’t even watch the games if something important, like Street Fair, is happening. But, I have gone from “this will be an undefeated national championship season” in August to “We can still win the conference championship” in September.

To “just wait until next year” sometime in the last couple of weeks. But, the whole thing always comes back to the players, trying their best and falling short and having to live with that. Living with the risk of serious injury, the criticism of fans and journalists, knowing they are only as good as their last game. Those players deserve our respect and our gratitude.