November 22 - The Fall Guys
It happens every fall.
Coaches at Nowhere States and Mid-Major Techs lose their jobs because they just
can’t compete with the big boys. Men who were once up-and-coming names fall
victim to the inability to turn chicken excrement into chicken salad.
Most of these job changes likely never amount to more than a blip on many of your
radars. I could say much the same, until yesterday.
You see, Middle Tennessee fired Andy McCollum (left).
In the interest of disclosure, I attended Middle Tennessee, so my interest in (and
passion for) their athletic program is obviously more considerable than…well, just about anyone who
reads this piece. I can spare you the gory details of McCollum’s tenure by stating that he replaced a
legend in coach James “Boots” Donnelly, who helped engineer the transference of one of the nation’
s winningest I-AA teams into a I-A school. McCollum went 8-3 with Donnelly’s players in his first year
at Middle Tennessee, and the program has “enjoyed” a steady decline ever since.
McCollum’s teams never beat North Texas, the four-time Sun Belt champion. They had four straight
losing seasons. They went 1-4 at home in 2005. All of these helped seal McCollum’s fate, despite
his stewardship of the program to the I-A level.
Oh, and the person McCollum beat out for the job? You might know him. His name is Rich
Rodriguez, and he’s won a few games at West Virginia.
Reaction to this dismissal was mixed, ranging from disappointment and anger to sheer jubilation,
even to the point of insults and name-calling on both sides. That’s the good thing about mid-majors;
they can sling mud just like the “big” schools.
The usual deluge of 1572 coaches’ names has come flowing through the
streets of Murfreesboro, Tennessee like so much rainwater, and fans will have
everyone from Joe Paterno to Joe Schmo taking the job. They’re likely doing
the same in Buffalo right now, where their coach Jim Hofher (left) was fired.
Meanwhile, a head coach and his assistants are scrambling. They are trying to
balance the dichotomy of being disappointed in a goal not realized, and the
resolve of going forward and finding a new challenge. They battle the fear of
the unknown their family endures while putting on a brave face and moving on.
That’s the joy of coaching. Despite all of the joys you experience on the
sideline, in the dugout, or on the court, somehow, somewhere, you’re going to be fired. Someone will
want to go in another direction, and you’ll be the victim. It’s just not as easy to find that next challenge
when you’re the victim at the mid-major level.
If you’re ever planning to go into coaching, don’t count on that walk into the sunset at the end of the
day. Unless your last name is Paterno, it’s not happening.