Satisfaction not an option at the superpowers

Urban Meyer is getting a religious education as the new coach at Florida. His SEC baptism by fire has been fueled by journalistic heat, competitive pathos and stout opposing defenses. The young man has spent his life in the Midwest and the Rockies. He ain't coached ball in the South until here lately. On Monday, he remarked as to how he was being reminded regularly about the importance of whuppin' those Dawgs … this while he was at church. That indicates that he is closing in on understanding what coaching ball means down here in our strange brew of religious fervor, humidity, barbecue and gnats. And Football.

I cannot help but remember what Bart Starr told me when I asked him whether it were true that Vince Lombardi went to church every day. I said, "Come on, Bart, no way Coach goes to church that much. He doesn't seem particularly religious on the practice field." Bart said, "Well, he does go to Mass every morning, and is very devout. But there is one thing you need to know. When you have been working for this man about three weeks, you will realize this man needs to go to church every day!"

Maybe Meyer needs to go to church every day, but for a different reason from Lombardi's. He is dealing with our culture's irrational compulsion to create and destroy football messiahs. Presidents, popes, politicians and entertainers have long understood this bloodletting, but notoriety and dollars only recently have brought college coaches into the laserlike focus of our mob mentality.

Meyer is the most glamorous and nationally publicized of a long line of program savers in recent years. Fan bases enjoy creating football messiahs, then systematically dismantling them when that inevitable day comes. "Oh my, that rascal, the sorry son of a gun is human after all," they wail … or words to that effect.

This is the fundamental reality that must be understood by coaches who take over traditionally dominant programs. "Getting it" doesn't guarantee success, but being clueless on the subject assures immediate failure.

Football Monsters
Men such as Mike Price, George O'Leary, and Howard Schnellenberger are wonderful football coaches but ran into situations they simply could not have anticipated. I sat down with Barry Switzer after my first year at Alabama and asked what he could teach me about coaching at a superpower. I pleaded, "Come on, Barry, tell me the whole truth." What a dumb thing to say to Barry Switzer. What you see is precisely what you get.

That bootlegger's boy gave me a passionate hour-long lecture, one of the most fascinating I have ever heard, and one I never forgot. In essence he said, "Bill, we have created these 'football monsters,' and no matter what you do, you will never be able to satisfy that creature. Understand that at the outset, forget about pacifying the boosters and you can survive. You better win most every game, and even if you do, the Monster will keep chomping. If you get caught up in trying to feed that thing, it will eat you up, too."

The syndrome reminds me of children at the beach, those who spend hours constructing the most complex sand castles only to kick them in as the tide gets close. The big difference between the kids and the illogical fans is that the children don't act surprised -- by their own destructive urges or by those of Mother Nature. Destructive fans prop up their coaching regimes, ensure the failure of the staff with their impatience, then act as if they have been terribly wronged somehow. Meanwhile, they begin their next messiah search … and so the beat goes on and on.

If you doubt the merit of the last sentence, consider the fact that the FireZook Web site at Florida was promulgated long before the new staff had coached a game. If you think that has no effect on players, coaches, prospects, families, parents, students and media, you have picked up entirely too many blitzes.

I saw an interview with the originator of the site after Zook was released. The arrogant chap was very proud to have initiated such a wonderful venture without a thought as to the consequences for the players he claimed to love, the coaches' families or the university at large. How's that for rational thought?

Messiah Progression
What is required of thinking people is an understanding of the Messiah Progression. In its inexorable wake crumble all but the strongest men, and even they require a thorough understanding of it. Below is a descriptive phrase to name each stage, then a few thoughts to put it into perspective. Space does not permit a complete analysis, but here goes with the short version:

Parochial Glee: Characterized by grown men and women shouting at the top of their lungs, "We got him! We got him! Notre Dame did not get him and we did!" The World War II-sized headlines run to such hyperbole as "Urban Renewal!" or "Urban Reclamation Project Under Way!" The mood is one of hysteria and the assurance of multiple national championships.

We Gonna: A much-practiced Southern custom, often used when the next football guru is hired, the "We Gonna" crowd is celebratory for months on end, with such assurances as "We gonna win the national championship every year now!" and the ever-popular, "Wait till those Seminoles and Dawgs see this -- We gonna kill 'em!" The mood is one of ecstasy and the assurance of multiple national championships.

In Praise of Discipline: The new staff is noted for "zero tolerance," and "no incidents with the law" at alumni cocktail parties. The assumption is that there will never be another brush with the law. It usually lasts six to eight months. The mood is one of smug assurance of multiple national championships.

Cold Sweat on Upper Lips: The season has begun; the hated Vols have been vanquished, sort of; but the vaunted offense looks funny, especially when Chris Leak is being drilled on most pass plays because the offensive line has been overrated and underprepared. The mood is one of disquiet. Those national championships look a little tougher.

Waves of Nausea: The truth is out. Alabama and LSU present the facts. As Coach Meyer has been saying all along, this is going to take awhile. The FireMeyer Web sites are being readied by the lunatic fringe morons (who probably did not attend Florida or any other college). The mood is one of shock and awe, shock that the results were so pronounced and awe at the possibility that some humility might be required. There is no talk of national championships.

I am not jabbing at Florida people here. I have seen this happen so many times at so many places that it has become a predictable litany. I happen to have fallen into the trap this year. I am such a fervent believer in the talent of Leak, the Florida defense and Meyer that I picked the Gators to win the SEC before the season. It is going to take awhile, as Urban Meyer tried to tell all of us.

Of course there are exceptions to my little sequence, the most notable being in 1990, when Steve Spurrier showed up in Gainesville, immediately exceeded expectations, then continued to do so for 12 mostly long years for SEC competitors.

Now coach Meyer and the rest of the new SEC messiahs not only have to deal with their always brutal league. They have to beat Spurrier, too.

ESPN college football analyst Bill Curry was an NFL center for 10 seasons and coached for 17 years on the college stage. His Center Stage examinations appear each week during the college football season.