Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Worth his weight in goad

     Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney have so much fun coaching football that they would probably do it for free. But because they take their rivalry so doggone personally, they won't do it for less than $7 million.
Defending national champions are 0-3 in Death
Valley, as my son-in-law Pat and son Hall
witnessed in 2011 against Auburn. Here's
hoping that USC will make it 0-4 in 2016. First,
Spurrier has to win the 2015 national title.
     The stakes were raised after South Carolina and Clemson decimated the Big Ten in their recent bowl games. In a poll of their coaching peers, Spurrier's Gamecocks wound up ranked fourth in the nation, their highest finish ever. Swinney's Tigers were seventh, their best since 1981.
     Even in the nationally televised glow of their crowning victories, the coaches couldn't leave each other alone. 
     "Two Capital One bowls are pretty nice," Spurrier told Gamecock fans, "but the state championship ain't bad, either." 
     Two days later at the Orange Bowl, Dabo had his say: “We’re the first team from the state of South Carolina to ever win a BCS game."
     Dabo should know by now: Never try to outwit Spurrier. He unwittingly walked right into the Old Ball Coach's trapthe same way his teams have for the last five years.
     “I called Danny Ford," Spurrier responded, "and said, ‘Danny, does Dabo forget that Clemson in 1981 went down to the Orange Bowl, won the national championship and went undefeated?’ They didn’t call it a BCS bowl back then, but it was the same bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Orange Bowl has always been a major bowl.”
     So the Old Ball Coach goaded Dabo into dissing Danny.
     Well played, sir.
     Two weeks later, they made headlines again. On Jan. 16, after going 11-2 for the third straight season and 6-3 against Clemson, Spurrier got a $700,000 raise to $4 million. On Jan. 18, after going 11-2 for the second straight year but 1-5 against USC, Swinney got a $1 million raise to $3.1 million.
And if his paycheck doesn't beat Spurrier's, at least his contract does, eight years to five.
     Tell me those deals had nothing to do with each other.
     And tell me this: Did Spurrier just goad Clemson into a long-term commitment with a coach he knows how to beat? Or in his own wincing words: "They're a good team that continues not playing very well against us."
     We don't need to debate whether a football coach is worth all that money, compared to the 150 teachers you could hire for $7 million. This is show-business. Coaches pay for themselves. Tickets sold at one home game will pay the head coach's salary.  After that, it's almost all free money, right? 
     Nor am I here to raise doubts about the longevity of the perpetually boyish Old Ball Coach, who will be 73 when his contract is up. He is already older than Woody Hayes was at his demise or Danny Ford is on his farm. Next year, Spurrier will be as old as Bear Bryant was when he died.
     Bobby Bowden was 70 when he won his second national championship. Reckon Spurrier would like to one-up him one more time? 
     The next time he beats Clemson, Spurrier will have as many victories in the state championship as Ford did. And he already told us he has Danny's number.
     Don't misunderstand my fascination and grudging respect for Spurrier. My heart is with Clemson, where I grew up. I believe in what Dabo's doing. I admire his passion and values. Someday he will put USC in its place. But right now, Spurrier owns the stage. He has earned the last word.
     It's not like he's just picking on Clemson, of course. Spurrier still loves to needle Tennessee, where he grew up as the son of a Presbyterian preacher. Even his own players are not spared. 
     Enjoy this list of Spurrier's zingers from the past season, and these revealing comments at his daddy's funeral
     In the out-of-proportion world where Spurrier rules, there is never a shortage of fresh material.
     Here's some more: Over the next eight years, Clemson will pay Dabo $4 million just for the license to use his trademarked nickname on coffee mugs, poker chips, and other merchandise. That's the same price USC will pay Spurrier to coach next year.
     Tell me the Old Ball Coach won't have a field day with that.
     Tell me which is the better investment.
     Or as they say down at the Capital One Bowl: What's in your wallet? 

  • The Capital One Bowl seems a lot nicer to Spurrier now than it did back when the game was called the Citrus Bowl (the stadium still is) and Peyton Manning was playing there. You can't spell Citrus without UT? Well, the same goes for USC. I was surprised Dabo let that one pass, especially since Tennessee is a sore spot for Spurrier and ruined his shot at the SEC and BCS championship. 
  • Anybody remember the last coach to beat Danny Ford at Clemson? Yes, Spurrier got the last word there, too. He was 4-2 against Ford, 1-2 while at Duke and 3-0 at Florida.
  • The best record of any long-term coach in the state championship is 7-2 by Bobby Bowden's boy. Tommy Bowden went 5-1 against Lou Holtz and 2-1 against Spurrier. And it was his team (under Dabo's interim command) that owns Clemson's last victory against Spurrier. He beat the Gamecocks so often that he got taken for granted, and then he lost to Wake Forest and got fired. 
  • Coaches' records in the state championship (updated through 2014 and ranked by winning percentage; counting ties the same as losses): Pell 2-0, Bowden 7-2, Hatfield 3-1, Ingram 2-1, Enright 9-4-1, Ford 7-3-1, Spurrier 6-4, West 3-2, Dietzel 4-5, Parker 2-2, Howard 12-16-2, Bass 2-3, Morrison 2-3-1, Woods 2-4, Swinney 2-5, Carlen 2-5, Scott 1-3, Giese 1-4, Holtz 1-5, Bell 0-1. 

Frank Howard once told me the most he ever made at Clemson was $25,000. That would have been about four times what teachers like my mom earned during his final year, 1969. Coach Howard used to joke that he had a lifetime contract, but after he lost his last two to USC the administration declared him dead. We remember the Baron of Barlow Bend as an old man, but he was just 60 when he stepped aside as coach. 

Here's a bit of Tim Bourret-esque trivia: William Christopher Swinney was born just two days before Coach Howard's last game in 1969. They would have liked each other. I often heard Coach Howard refer to "dat boy," the same Alabama colloquialism that got Dabo his nickname. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Let freedom ring!

The way history has worked out, I sometimes share a birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We were actually born 26 years and 3 days apart. Today on his holiday, let's all try to honor and fulfill the dream of equality, opportunity, and freedom that he articulated so well. For those who "aim high," as in climbing mountains, here's a wild idea from a blog I wrote on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech: 

August 28, 2013

     The dream declared by Dr. Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963 resonates today in so many ways.
     One way I'll bet he never envisioned? As a hiking guide.
     Remember the crescendo of that speech? 
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
     In memory of Dr. King, wouldn't it be fun to climb the highest peaks on that list? 
     If you say yes, you might be a peakbagger. 
     To glimpse the possibilities, click on this list of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" peaks.

     Dr. King reached another rhetorical peak on April 3, 1968 in Memphis—a terribly prophetic speech the day before he was assassinated. He alluded to Mount Pisgah (also known as Nebo) and the farewell vision of Moses in Deuteronomy 34: 
     "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't really matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop.
     "I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.
     "And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. 
     "So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!" 

UPDATE 2018: A few days before the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's death, I "climbed" Lookout Mountain, so I am halfway through this list. At the same time, my friend Charlie Zerphey became the 29th person to complete the list. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

'I've had ruder'

     Phone calls from telemarketers bring out the worst in me. Reflexively, I dig in my heels and oppose whatever they are selling. Sadistically, I like to toy with them.
     None irks me more than Charter cable, which employs legions of demons-on-commission to cold-call citizens and try to re-sell us on services we have cancelled:
     “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of Charter—may I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Layton?”
     Now if Mrs. Layton calls Charter, they won’t speak to her, because the bill is in my name, not hers. But the phone-bombers are under no such restrictions.
     “This is Mr. Layton.” I know what's coming next. 
     “May I verify that you are at least 18 years old?”
     Charter obviously doesn't know me, even though I have been a customer for most of 30 years. That should be verification enough. 
     Thirty years represents necessity more than loyalty. U-verse hasn't made it up my hill yet, and Dish can't see over my trees. Charter has a monopoly on ESPN and TBS, which is about all the Laytons watch, though we have to take several hundred others in the package. Occasionally we cancel some services, such as Internet or free HBO, which is our way of squealing when the monthly price ratchets too high. Right now, I am tolerating slower Internet from AT&T just to teach Charter a lesson.
     “Why do you need to verify my age? You don't ask if I'm 18 before your commercials try to sell me a beer. Besides, if you were really from Charter, you would know that I have been a customer more than 18 years.”
     “Sir, I am just following the script.”
     So I’m part of a script, playing a bit part in some drama that for all I know, is being broadcast live right now on Channel 942.
     I’ve gotten this call enough to know how to answer. I could tell them an age, but what does that verify? I could tell them I’m 17 and escape the call right there, but if I was really 17 I would pretend to be 18, so where does that leave me? 
     So I play along and ask the caller, “Can you verify how old you are?”
     The first time I tried that, the young man on the other end confessed that he was just 17. I was immediately embarrassed to be taking advantage of a kid trying to earn an honest buck. I simmered down, politely expressed my frustrations with Charter and asked him to relay my comments to management. He admitted that he couldn’t really do that, because he doesn’t actually work for Charter. He's just an independent salesboy. 
     I hung up the phone and hung my head in shame. Mrs. Layton may not be authorized to speak to Charter, but she has earned the right to tell me when I'm being childish. At that moment, I don’t think she would have vouched that I was acting 18.
     Just the other day, I got another call from a lady representing Charter. When she asked me to verify my age, I went off-script and asked her how old she was.
     “I’m 41,” she replied. 
     Well, shame on me. I meant to just ask her if she was over 18, but now I’ve gone taboo and asked a stranger her age.  So I took a deep breath and tried to muster the manners of a Southern gentleman. After all, I'm the last daddy in America who taught his kids to say “Yes Sir” and “No Ma’am” and don't call a policeman a cop.
     “Begging your pardon and bless your heart, ma'am. I know that you’re just doing your job. I’m sorry if I was rude.”
     “Oh, I’ve had ruder.”
     Well! I expected her to politely say, "That's okay" or "Apology accepted" or the ubiquitous "No problem"which can stand in for everything from "You're welcome" to "You're rude."
     I never expected her to acknowledge my rudeness and then rank it as inadequate.
     Yet for the way I treated her, I deserved worse.
     If a telemarketer can bring me to shame, then what can I do but repent?
     Never again will I ask a telemarketer her age.
     Call me.