Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Great Expectations

So how you'd do it, Coach?

How'd I do what, now?

You know. How'd you get the job? What makes you special is what I'm trying to ask.

I don't know about special. Coaches aren't special, I know that. We're just there when good things happen on the field and then we get the credit. Maybe we should get some of it. I won't say "deserve" though, because then that would mean that it was mine...the credit, I mean. What does that mean? I don't even know, do you?

Do I know what "credit" means?

That's right.

Well the dictionary says...

What dictionary?

Well, any dictionary really. Say, the OED.

Why not. Lloyd used to have one of those in his office. Good, fundamental dictionary that was. Lots of tradition there.


Right. I don't want the dictionary definition. What does it mean to get the "credit" for anything good that happens out there. [Coach gestures widely out his window at nowhere and everywhere]. As long as it gets done, that's all that matters.

Well what then?

What's the idea behind the thing? I bring them in and I tell them what to do but how can I take credit for it? It's partly built upon the past and everything that's come before me, but that's obvious. If I claim credit for a win or developing a kid so that gets drafted in the first round then I have to give part of that to those who came before me, those who paved the way and made this place what it is. No matter what they say, this is still Michigan.

The idea? I don't know. The idea is that someone must take the credit for running things the right way, of guiding the program like Virgil through the fires of division amongst our constituents and failure. Well, you know, it's the praise from the media, the legacy of everything that you do here--if you're lucky enough to get that far, because not everyone does--and all the other positives that may or may not mean anything to you or to anyone at all.

Should it? I don't know. What do you think--does it matter?

It's really up to you. Why do you care what I think anyway?

I care what everyone thinks. The stadium ushers, Dave, my assistants, the students, the media, the boosters. Everybody has a say, even you. How you handle things off the field is as much of a game as the games played over there are games.[Coach smiles and points out the window where the Sun shone especially strongly]. I think I've done alright so far.

When you said you would've walked here for this job, did you mean it? Would you have actually done that?

Yes.[He said this without hesitation while holding an air that was part honest disbelief at the audacity of the question and part amusement at his own cleverness thus far].

Really? Why?

That's a question that has a long answer or a short one and nothing in between. Which one do you want? The visitor looked at his watch and decided that he had time and that things were going well so far.

The longer response will be just fine.

That's what I thought. Well I'll tell you this: I was here once before and you can tell. Things are different around here and I mean that. People say that about a lot of places but it's very rarely genuine or even true. When I say I would've walked, I meant it. I went down and bought myself a new pair of tennis shoes and was ready to head out the door if I didn't get that call. I waited by the phone and thought about what I would do or say if Dave decided to offer me the job. When Whitlock said I would crawl over hot broken glass to get to this very spot right here, this very piece of earth under the blue Ann Arbor sky...I was insulted. I would've done much more than that. The visitor's eyes widened. You look surprised but it's true. I wanted it more than anything. I knew I wasn't the number one guy. Dave said I was his guy after the fact, but I don't know. I don't even care. Les and Jim can coach and they're bigger names. I know that, but again, I don't care. I know for a fact that they don't love this place like I do. They're not here after all. No offense to Jim and Les, but I plan on being here for Michigan, for the long haul. Bo's office was five doors down from mine when I was here the last time, and I don't know if anybody loved Michigan more than that man. I've always measured myself up to him. It's about this place. This is Michigan. [Coach's breathing was heavy, each breathe a heavy salvo piercing the silence in the room].

What's the short answer?

This is Michigan.

The visitor looked at his notepad and he had written a good bit down but still felt that he didn't know the man quite yet. He loved Michigan, sure, but what was he about? What was he like when everything wasn't going according to plan? The visitor furrowed his brow and thought about it. 

I see you're not convinced by what I've said. I understand; I haven't done a thing yet. I haven't coached a game yet for Michigan. That is an undeniable fact.

It's just that everything has gone so well for you so far. It's almost too good to be true, don't you think?

There a many things wrong with what you've just said. First of all, nothing is too good for Michigan. Nobody has more wins than the football program in this town. Second, it only seems that way because of how things have gone lately. We've forgotten what it means to be winners. It's something you feel in your bones. It becomes a part of you and you don't even have to think about it. I'm not in the business of pointing fingers at anybody, but that has been lost. You know when it's there just like you know that gravity's there, keeping you grounded.

It used to be there?

Of course. It's everything. People talk about "knowing how to win" and all that. The media thinks they know what they're talking about but they don't (you still humor them, though). People are worried that my philosophies on the goal might be, let's say, antiquated. I hear those concerns loud and clear. I realize this isn't the 1970s and it's not just us and Ohio and everybody else. I know that you've got to do some things that you maybe didn't have to do twenty or thirty years ago on either side of the ball. But I won't bore you with scheme and tactics...those don't matter. They never do. Programs are lost or reclaimed on their adherence to a code, a basic operating imperative that has driven them to success in the past.

Like what? A motto, a phrase, a slogan? An idea? Coach Rod had his "hold the rope" mantra, is that what you're aiming at?

Let's put it this way. When everything is falling apart around you, what do you fall back on? What do you believe in? For me, that thing is Michigan, and not the inevitability of victory but the assurance that it will always be there, waiting for you to come back to it.

So we gravitate toward the familiar within us?

I can tell you're saying that as if it's a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with the familiar. People say it was broken before and that we needed change--and maybe we did and maybe it could've worked--but sometimes a change is just a tweak, a slightly different face or a slightly different outlook on things. Sometimes that's all it takes. We've strayed but I don't think we're too far away from where we once were...I know people want more than that, too. But you've got to start somewhere.

How far do you have to go?

It's an irrelevant question. Remember, I'm the guy who'd crawl over hot broken glass. "Far," the way you put it like that in question form, is a meaningless word, an adjectival hanger-on bringing out the assumption that we have a long way to go. Half the battle is getting people to remember that this is Michigan. It seems stupid, but you asked me for a motto, and that's the closest thing I could offer you. This is Michigan. Anyway, far only matters to people who are worried about the distance. I am not.

Very well. Do you have anything else to say before we finish up here?

I've come away with this feeling like there's some more to do. You are representative of everybody; you want to see proof. I can't give you that in my record or my work history.

I see that you are very passionate about Michigan.

Well, I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. [Coach smiled and the visitor got up and said his thanks; there wasn't any more to say. He shook the man's hand and walked out the door and into the street, curious but with a calmness that he maybe didn't have before this meeting. He left Coach sitting there, looking out the window, waiting for the first chance to prove himself, waiting like he waited for that call. He looked like he might have been just as nervous too, but a kind of nervous that was good. He couldn't wait for everything to start.]

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