For Love of the Game …
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
I am just a simple football fan. I watch the game and pay heed because I truly love the game.
It is like a saga being told by an ancient poet. It is a story filled with heroes and villains, barbarians and patricians, soldiers and leaders. It unfolds before us on clear fall afternoons, with feats of heroism, tenacity, courage and skill that clutch our hearts, stimulate our minds, catch our breath, and forces us to believe, hope, and cheer at every turn. Thus we are drawn in year after year to seek out the best for our team, our people, our heroes. The stories are part drama, part tragedy, part comedy, and all consuming.
It is like no other entertainment I know. It is our Iliad, in every sense of the metaphor.
I didn’t study journalism in college. I’ve never written for a newspaper or any other media as a professional. Nor did I play a down of football above high school. I’ve never interviewed any official, player or coach of Auburn University. I only know what I read about the team, what I have seen on the field of play, and what I hear and see in the popular press, Auburn’s team videos and assorted blogs on the Internet. To these I give varying weight depending on my own set of values, education, and above all, experience.
That experience was gained on a number of amateur teams in a variety of sports and from service in the US Army where I was both a follower and a leader at various levels. I even taught leadership for a time, both in the Army and in a civilian management position.
Scratch that first statement. Let me clarify – In the Army I was a leader at various levels, but a follower at every one of them. It is one of the fundamentals of leadership: you are unfit to lead if you cannot adequately follow both the orders of your superiors and the general expectations of the organization. More on that later.
I may not be the best source of insight into football at the collegiate level. I’m not a semi-skilled weaver of innuendo, sentence fragments and poor grammar adequate enough for a full time job at a Birmingham newspaper. But I do know a thing or two about good leadership, maintaining your integrity and conducting yourself so that you are an asset to the organization and community you serve.
Gene Chizik accomplished all three of these while at Auburn.
He also brought a level of …
achievement to the program unknown in the last half century. He did not do so alone, or in the company of just one or two talented individuals. Anyone witnessing a single game of college football in the SEC will realize that no amount of success is possible without a slew of talented players, a solid coaching staff and tremendous amounts of teamwork at every level of the program. This was Auburn’s story in 2010.
2010 wasn’t all Cam Newton …
Or Nick Fairley, just like 2004 wasn’t all Cadillac and Ronnie Brown. We had some other guys playing in both years, and some quality coaches at every point of the compass.
Great teams have contributors from all sides of the ball. A talented player can make a difference, but clutch performances by the entire team and outstanding organizational skill are required for an undefeated season. As much as I hold Cam Newton in awe for his performance on the field, without an exceptional front line, dynamic defensive play and decisive skill in many key positions on the field and the sidelines, he would have been no more successful at Auburn than he has been with his current team in Charlotte.
One measure of a good leader is the faith his followers have in him. From what I’ve seen and read from sources I trust, Gene was genuinely respected by his players and coaches. Former players, recruits, and people associated with the program have time and again cited his dedication, honesty, integrity and candid approach to his players and coaching staff. He was an excellent ambassador for Auburn, who said the right things, and by any account I value, did the right thing.
So what went wrong?
Was it a loss of quality players? Was it lack of development in key positions? Were two coaching changes the reason? Was it morale/moral issues?
I don’t know and I suspect no one else outside of a very small circle of people on the Auburn staff know for sure. I’ll bet those who really do wouldn’t speak a word about it to Kevin Scarbinsky or any other journalist grubbing for latest scoop of dirt. That’s just a guess on my part, but like I said, I know a thing or two about organizations and leadership.
I further suspect that like other such collapses, they’ll be a lot of uninformed finger -pointing, recriminations and scapegoating to cloud the very real fact that a quality coach failed to follow his promise of consistent performance over time.
This is the crux of the matter.
In our conference, it is a death penalty of sorts to fail to do so. It was true for Tommy Tuberville, and it is now true for Gene Chizik. I doubt if anyone could continue to coach at Auburn after a season such as this one. Sad as it was for me personally, I know that Gene had to go. It would have been impossible for him to effectively lead this team under the scrutiny that would have ensued if he and his staff were retained.
In the SEC, you can do just about anything short of publically falling off a motorcycle with your mistress and lie about it. However, you’d better perform, improve, and challenge for the top of the conference every year, or risk being removed, no matter how fine a leader or person you are. That is the goal to be followed here, and at many other schools in the conference. At least, that is the one being publically portrayed by the fans, administration and popular press.
It is a high standard, to be sure. But I wonder where that sort of criteria will eventually lead us, and what we and our organization will have become when we get there.