Aside from the beard he apparently has chosen to grow during the same coronavirus quarantine most of us are experiencing, Roy Williams’ appearance Tuesday on a computer chat with reporters offered nothing unsettling. He even delivered a moment of inspiration:
“As I was growing up, and even until the last several months, all of my heroes — my biggest heroes — were my teachers that I had all the way through high school and college, and mentors that I’ve had,” Williams said. “But now my heroes are all those health care people and providers. I just can’t imagine those doctors and nurses going to work every day worried about their own health and how it’s going to affect their families. And yet they still keep going.”
Late last month, Alabama football coach Nick Saban put on one of his best red blazers, stood in front of some sort of camera and, after thanking medical providers across the nation, declared that the staff that has produced five national champions since 2009 was back at work but doing it from home and “obeying all social distancing guidelines.” He went on to ask those who might be inclined to follow the coach’s advice, which is a huge chunk of college football fandom, to stay at home if possible and to be smart about any public interactions.
“And together we look forward to all that is to come, including the opportunity to play college football this fall,” Saban said. “But the best and safest way to ensure that happens is to listen to the experts, follow their guidelines and take care of each other.”
We offer you this as evidence that not all college coaches are talking like fools.
Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy should be viewed as the exception, not the rule. And yet, when Gundy spoke boldly and peculiarly on a teleconference with college football reporters on Tuesday, many analyzing his statements chose to ascribe their bizarre contents to the entire coaching community.
Seriously, though, even in the warped world of college football coaching, you couldn’t find more than a handful that would sign off on this statement:
“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now, and we need to start coming up with answers," Gundy told reporters. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18-, 19-, 20-, 21- and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy.
“A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
It's crazy — everything he said, and how he said it. It’s a word salad that would be darned near impossible to penetrate if he didn’t toss in several buzzwords that make clear his intention: test, healthy, antibodies, sequester and — yes, the big one — money.
He said he thought the Oklahoma State football operation should be back at work on May 1, even though there’s a pandemic that is not yet close to being under control and even though the Cowboys are not scheduled to play a football game until Sept. 3.
Many coaches, perhaps most of them, are using their amplified voices to call for the American public to advise people to stay at home, shelter in place, social distance — whatever you want to call it. TCU football coach Gary Patterson donated to a program providing snacks and activities to school children in Fort Worth. Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl and his wife donated $100,000 to help fund scholarships for seniors in spring sports wishing to take advantage of the NCAA’s offer of an extra year of eligibility because their 2020 seasons were canceled. Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal and his wife donated lunches to the Eugene police department.
Proof that America can be a great country is right there in Gundy’s $5 million annual salary, paid to him though he has won double-digit games only six times in 15 seasons and hasn’t even won 70 percent of his games. He has coached in a major bowl game twice.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is a far better coach, though no great example of how to comport one’s self in a pandemic. He and his family took a recent vacation to Florida by private plane when others elsewhere, even others of great means, were obeying shelter-in-place laws or stay-at-home admonitions. South Carolina had no rule in place, instead depending on whatever common sense its residents chose to exercise. Swinney’s decision showed that wasn’t 100 percent a safe bet.
When Swinney said last week, though, he fully expected — “zero doubt,” he said — that there would be college football in the fall in front of stadiums full of fans, he merely was exercising his right to be optimistic. He was not declaring himself to be the art of some reckless plan to lock up Tigers football players in their weight rooms and have them train in quarantine.
Not all college coaches are like Mike Gundy.
Thank heavens for that.