Monday, June 01, 2020

The Tiger In Winter

In November of 1993, maybe 90 minutes after Auburn beat Alabama 22-14 to finish that season undefeated, a small crowd had gathered in the old Plainsman Park parking lot, surrounding a single animated figure.

It was an ebullient Pat Dye, holding forth among the tailgaters.  I had just finished my education, and had just started writing my first book.  In both, Dye was a pivotal figure.

One guy in the crowd (at the time I thought of him as "an old dude," but I am very likely older today than he was then), who obviously knew Dye, remarked that he’d been scared to death at the half, when Auburn had gone into the locker room trailing by a touchdown.

Dye fixed him with a baleful glare. “That’s cause you ain’t a coach.” He paused for a bare moment and went on: “Any coach would’a looked at that first half, saw we had the ball for damn near 20 minutes, and knew we was gonna win.”

For some unknowable reason, Dye’s gaze shifted, and he looked me straight in the eye. Pat Dye did not then (and never did) know me from a mud-encrusted pair of plaid pants, but he fixed me with that coach stare and demanded, “What did we beat them by, six, seven?”

I managed to stammer, “Uh, I think it was eight, coach.”

Immediately:  “Well that ain’t no indication of how bad we whipped their ass!”

The rest was lost in the whoops of the surrounding crowd, and the mile-wide grin of Patrick Fain Dye, living in the moment and entirely in his element, one last time.

Dye wasn't able to coach that game for a multitude of reasons, most of which are not worth recalling today.  But the most important was one that only he and a handful of his family members knew: in late 1992 his doctors had told Dye that if he didn't get out of coaching, he'd be dead in a year.

And so he got out, and lived for another 27, along the way becoming an elder statesman of the game and the college that he was forever bound to in love and glory and (yes) loss. 

Pat Dye was a man who knew more than a little about how to beat long odds.

Patrick Fain Dye, 1939-2020

Now on the day that John Wayne died
I found myself on the continental divide
Tell me where do we go from here?
Think I'll ride into Leadville and have a few beers
Think of "Red River", "Liberty Valence" 
Can't believe the old man's gone 

But now he's incommunicado
Leaving such a hole in a world that believed
That a life with such bravado
Was taking the right way home

--Jimmy Buffett

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Auburn Tickets and the WSJ

Hmm, is this thing still on?

For anybody who's been checking back here over the last year-plus, my apologies. I haven't had a world of time to write about Auburn (or really anything) outside of my weekly Rivals columns. I didn't see any point in maintaining this blog as as a series of "Hey, go read what I wrote somewhere else" notices, and Twitter has served me well for making contemporaneous observations.

But today, I've got a few things to note that aren't going to fit in 140 characters. Last night, a long-rumored story about allocations of Auburn football tickets was published by the Wall Street Journal. It's an interesting piece, and I recommend you read it.

While the nominal premise of the story is the difficulty of turning a profit in big-time college football, the underlying notion, that there are dozens (or hundreds!) of unsold prime seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium for any game, forget the biggest games of the year, stinks to high heaven. Everything in the lower bowl has been officially sold out to season ticket holders or visitor allotments for decades.

Even in "bad" years, the only unsold seats in that stadium should be in the upper corners of the decks, or from unsold visitor seats (the latter of which doesn't exist for any UGA or Alabama game). If somebody between the 30's dropped their tickets because of a bad year (or any other reason), all that should have caused is a ripple of people with lower priority than them moving over to take those seats. Under no circumstances should they be showing up as "unsold," especially after the season starts.

The only way there are that many tickets available between the 30's is if those seats have been removed at some point from the priority pool. That could happen when a long-time season ticket holder either stops buying, or dies and his/her priority is wiped out (that was a policy change about 10-15 years ago, up until then priority could be handed down to children). In those cases, the following year there's nobody there to say, "Hey, what happened to my seats?" and it would be possible for somebody in the ticket administration to route them elsewhere without anyone on the outside noticing.

The question becomes, who removed those tickets from the pool, and why didn't the next person in line (and the person behind them, and the person behind them, etc. to the end of the priority list) get bumped up to better seats? I feel safe in guessing that an awful lot of people who've been in the end zones or nosebleeds for decades would like that have that question answered.

And that doesn't even touch on the Athletic Director's lake-house buddy getting the option to buy 60 face-value tickets to the Oregon BCS game in 2010 (market value well into the six figures) or 118 extra Georgia and 62 extra Alabama tickets in 2013... that's way beyond the pale. A lot of people who read this jumped through a great many hoops and paid a great many dollars just to get one or two tickets to those games.

They deserve a much better explanation than, "Well shucks, this was just a good way to keep opposing fans from getting them."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Benediction

This is from an old column by Geoffery Norman, who also wrote Alabama Showdown back in the '80's. It's one of my favorite pieces. I usually bring it out this time of year, and I wish I'd written it. Norman is recalling meeting with an old writer friend in Montgomery, many years back:
We were supposed to be talking politics but we couldn't help ourselves. It was hot. It is always hot in the black belt of Alabama in the middle of August, and it feels like it will be hot for all eternity. So we talked about sports for some relief.

"You know," the man said wearily, "I just can't wait until they kick it off again. I mean, I feel like if I can just make it for another two or three weeks, then they'll be playing football again and then everything will be okay."
Hallelujah, amen.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New at Rivals: Time Loves A Hero

Here's my last Monday-morning column for the 2012 season, just posted at Rivals' Long-time FTB readers will recognize the opening theme; I really didn't figure on returning to it this soon, but it still applies. Here's a preview, the rest is on the subscription side this week.
Coaching is a very odd profession that, like politics or entertainment, tends to attract personalities who tend to do things that are inexplicable to, well, normal people.

Success is rewarded with big money and, more insidiously, adulation wildly out of proportion to the actual importance of a coach's place in the real world. Only a few can handle it. Many can't. Gene Chizik wasn't the first coach to decide, wrongly, that his own brilliance was the primary reason for his early success only to wind up alienating both the people who helped get him there and fans who briefly (and foolishly) viewed him as infallible.

He also won't be the last, although many would do well to learn from his example.

His last game was pretty much what everyone expected. Auburn played reasonably tough, if not particularly well, for about a quarter and a half before reverting to 2012 form. The rest was what tends to happen when really bad teams play really good teams.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New at Rivals: A Win Is Good, But Cronyism Isn't

My Monday-morning column for the Alabama A&M game (at least partly; most of the column looks at Auburn's near-future personnel decisions) is up at Rivals' This one is also on the free side, and you can read the whole thing here. A preview:
The number of people associated with Auburn who still support [athletic director Jay] Jacobs is vanishingly small, and those who support Gene Chizik smaller still. If anyone actually supports Tim Jackson, those individuals are doing a remarkable job of hiding from public view. All you need to do to get a rise out of pretty much any Auburn season ticket holder or donor is to mention Jackson's name in passing.

Chizik's support at this point consists of Jacobs and Jackson, but hardly anyone else. The mere suggestion that he might return in 2013 at this point is enough to generate genuine rage among Auburn fans of all ages and backgrounds. I don't even care to think about the real-world reaction (forget what the internet would look like) if Chizik were inexplicably retained for more than a few days beyond this coming weekend.

Support for Jacobs comes mostly from his former teammates and other personal friends. Fortunately for Jacobs, those friends have the ear of Jay Gogue, and their influence far outweighs their numbers. While it's hard to fault anybody for sticking up for a friend, Jacobs' defenders ought to be asking themselves some tough questions as they consider whether or not they're doing the right thing in backing his continued tenure.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New at Rivals: Dismal and Dysfunctional

My column on the Georgia game and what Auburn ought to be doing to rectify the current sorry situation is up at Rivals' This one is on the free side, you can read the whole thing here. A preview:
It's not worth arguing any longer if Gene Chizik's tenure will end this year. No Auburn coach could -- or should -- survive going winless in the SEC, mostly by blowouts, young players or not, change in coordinators or not.

To put it bluntly, Chizik has been forgotten but not gone for over a month now. The last two epic SEC debacles only served to display just what a terrible job he's done during the past two years.

But Auburn will fail badly if head coach is the only position that gets a new occupant. Plenty has to change off the field before anything substantial is going to change on it.

Auburn is suffering from a failure of leadership at every level. President Jay Gogue continues to dither, offering only an anodyne press release and acting as if he'd rather just muddle through until his own retirement with as little actual effort as possible. Gogue's well-known dislike for firing subordinates and unwillingness to make difficult decisions is harming both the athletic department and the university as a whole.

Gogue and his predecessors failed to reform the athletic department when they had the opportunity. Too many people in power at Auburn still wish the department could be what it was in the 1970's: A sleepy office that prints tickets, books travel and provides cushy sinecures for old buddies and former teammates.

A prime example is Jay Jacobs, who never had any business being athletic director.
Last week's column on the Homecoming game (sorry for not posting an update, but I was on business travel all last week) can be found here, on the pay side. Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New (and Not-So-New) At Rivals: The Walking Dead

My post-game column for the Texas A&M game is up at Rivals'  I neglected to post a notice here for the previous week's column about the Vanderbilt game... but let's face it, they really aren't all that different at this point.

Anyway, here's a preview of the A&M column:

I didn't think I'd ever say this again after surviving the 1970's, but this is probably the worst Auburn team I've ever seen. They can't tackle. They can't block. They can't cover. They can't line up properly, and they don't follow their assignments. Of the three quarterbacks, the only one who's shown any fire or consistency is Jonathan Wallace, an unheralded true freshman, and he only did so against Texas A&M's backups.

This is a team that has a knack for penalties and turnovers at the worst possible moments. There is no fire on this team, very little toughness, and to cap it all off, its coaches are seemingly determined to put the players in bad situations as often as possible. The one and only bright spot is the kicking game, which is, a few shanked punts excepted, as good as anybody's.

Remember when we used to solemnly note that Vanderbilt always has a great kicking game?
The rest is on the subscription side, but Rivals is offering a free first month to new subscribers coming over from FTB.