I was still basking in the glory of our Christmas windfall. The Malzahn-Taylor coup. What the hell is happening on the plains? I leave the blAUgosphere for a few weeks and this is what happens.
First: the guy I don't miss.
This (courtesy of the JCCW.)
Now I'm not one to assign all sorts of moral imperatives to the coaching of college football. It's a business, bottom-to-top. The players are there either to be millionaires or to get college paid for. The coaches are there to be millionaires. The stadiums are there to provide the millions. And even more than that - without the millions, the young men who have the talent simply don't have access to the kinds of facilities and staff to even make use of that talent. Without the money, there is no football as we know it. No Michael Crabtree. No Reggie Bush. No Jordan-Hare. The whole system is steroidized by the sordid grubbing of money at all phases of the game. No illusions here, folks. Ayn Rand would be tickled pink (if she could be such a thing.)
And yes, the green, well-grubbed heart of NCAA football does imply that all coaches are in some sense mercenaries. They're in football and not something else purely because they love football - I wager that if you took a bunch of business executives, football coaches, and cardiothoracic surgeons, scrubbed their resumes of all references to specific industries, and shuffled 'em up in a big pile... no one could tell the difference. Assistants especially. While a head coach could find the right place to settle down for a legacy-building longhaul, no boy ever dreamed of growing up to run half a football team the rest of his life. They're all hunting the next big thing, looking for the next stepping stone to a bigger future and a bigger paycheck. In the immortal words of Dwight Schrute,
Would I ever leave this company? Look, I'm all about loyalty. In fact, I feel like part of what I'm being paid for here is my loyalty. But if there were somewhere else that valued loyalty more highly, I'm going wherever they value loyalty the mostFor the successful guys, the real eye-on-the-prize movers, that also means they've probably got the next step planned out long in advance. At least, they've got to have the general idea hashed out. Think Muschamp, Gibbs and Rhoads didn't at some point remember Chizik's leap to the media-friendly digs at Texas in choosing to come to Auburn? Think again. Muschamp is heir to the throne of Longhorn and Rhoads has a coaching gig practically in his home town. Seems to have worked out the way they'd hoped.
What really sucks is that Willis has probably been thinking about leaving for a long time. Hanging out with the BBQ Crew is bound to take its toll on any upwardly mobile, dedicated coach. In fact, it's likely only to accentuate that mercenary tendency that drives these guys to do what they do. Moreover, I can see how position coaches such as Willis would never be able to make the next jump when the head coordinator has been jumping off so often lately. It's like trying to jump off a trampoline in the split seconds between Andre the Giant, Casey Hampton, and Dog the Bounty Hunter making their farewell leaps. I guess he didn't want to take his chances, with the next gorilla probably using him as a springboard, too. If I was him, I would probably take the first good opportunity1 to make my own way. In this sense, Willis is simply the last rat to jump ship from the HMS Live To Punt.
All's needed is for Saban to play a little Mephistopheles to Faustus James and boom! A back is forever turned. And as such, I can't entirely blame Willis for leaving. But that still leaves the question of why James Willis bailed for the Tide. The only conclusion that I can come to is, he doesn't think it makes much of a difference whom he solicits.
I've struggled to say exactly why - outside of Auburn-ness2 - that matters so much. The only way I can really address it is through the inevitable comparisons that have circled through the blAUgosphere. He's not, as some suggested, Cypher: Cypher wanted out of the game entirely. And he's not really Lando, either: Lando wasn't given any choice in betraying his friends. It honestly matters to me that Willis would leave our institution, a place that has been home to him for years and years, only to willingly embrace our enemy. The best comparison, I think, is Sal Tessio. Willis was, after all, a great soldier. He even bad-mouthed the Tide program to recruits, like, less than a week ago. But I guess he was too smart.
"Tell Mike it was only business."
Don't get me wrong - college football is not the Mafia, and Saban, really, is no Don Barzini. But the same complex regionalism, the deep sense of terroir and historical justice and injustice that burn in Sicilia, those same things saturate college football and make it the sport of America. Nothing else expresses our particular national pride and fervor quite like the sport played on Saturdays. It's why college players are all amateurs, why we have honest-to-God fight songs that people actually play and sing, why we hate Bama, why I can hardly stand to see the Crimson Tide on the field playing anybody, why people like me say "we" when they refer to a team they've never played on and will never seriously affect. It's that blinding, clenched devotion to family that made a Don Corleone out of Michael, and yet it's the reason why The Godfather is so compelling. These ferocious, violent people are so deeply sympathetic because they cling so tightly to one another with that that unspeakable, fervent, gnawing us-ness that drove our very ancestors to these shores.
And James Willis - who has been sheltered by his alma mater for more than a decade as an athlete and a teacher - doesn't think it matters. Moreover, he doesn't seem to think any of it really matters, except on the recruiting warpath. What kind of talk is he going to talk about Auburn next year? What things did he say about Bama that he will he recycle into lies about us, to feed that next high school senior linebacker? Like Sal Tessio, he'd probably say that he does like us, likes Auburn, and appreciates all the good it's done him - it's just business. Business that left him behind, and business that led him to a Tuscaloosa welcome.
James Willis truly belongs where he landed and he doesn't belong at Auburn.
I'm with the rest of the blAUgosphere: good riddance. I can't wait for Malzahn to make your boys sprint back and forth across the field over and over and then hit 'em right in the mouth.
And next: the guy I fear we will miss for a very, very long time:
This is a decision I just can't understand. Why we let go of our starting punter is absolutely beyond my comprehension.
I can think of, basically, three reasons why you cut a college player's scholarship. The first is discipline and unless we're counting his propensity get sick once at a particularly bad time as misconduct, the guy squeaks.
The second is the "system." There are "system" wide receivers, running backs, linebackers, etc. If you plan to structure the offense around a guy like Jacquizz Rodgers and the guy competing for scholarships was struck from the mold of Ron Dayne, well, decisions might need making. But punters? What special teams strategy can not make use of a rocket-legged punters? FAA-defying walkons who soundly thump their pre-season all-SEC-as-sophomore competition and start every game but one? NASA-themed punters whose very presence could have won a hotly-contested heartbreaker in Death Valley? I mean, really, where are the X's and O's in this decision? There doesn't seem to be any strategic reason why Clinton Durst wasn't a keeper. No, more than that - a downright classic-Tuberville diamond in the rough.
The third is a Sabanistic cull, getting rid of the dead weight to make room for the blue chips. But if there was one single player on our team this past season who never once qualified as dead weight, it was Clinton "Saturn V" Durst. He could be more accurately described as "lynch pin" or "keystone" or "our entire special teams." Just for a moment consider the LSU game, and the cost to our season of that lone weekend of fever. How desperately we needed him, and how wrenchingly awful was our punting. And not only was it bad, it was despairingly terrible at the worst possible moment. And what gratitude we show now.
War Damn Eagle, Clinton Durst. The low-flying airplanes won't miss you but I sure will.
1 IE, the first time when Tommy Tuberville isn't looking you in the eye and saying "James, you're an Auburn man. Please, just stick around a little while longer and help us transition with this new guy."
2 Of course, the Auburn Family factor is no small thing. Or, if it isn't, then there is something very out of sync between the Auburn higher-ups and the rest of our nationwide community.