By Terry Boers–
(CBS) — Ara Parseghian’s recent death at the age of 94 marked the end of an era for me that has spanned more than 50 years. I’ve noted repeatedly that Parseghian was the only Notre Dame football coach I ever truly liked, and I feel safe saying that’s never going to change.
After all, when Parseghian took the job on Dec. 18, 1963, I was 13 years old and didn’t really know anything about anything. But he certainly seemed like a personable enough guy (he was), and his stay was remarkable, including two national championship teams.
Sorry, there’s no way to like current coach Brian Kelly, who just might be gone soon enough anyway; or Charlie Weis, who brought a New England attitude and mainly Jacksonville results; or Tyrone Willingham, whose three seasons deteriorated rapidly after his first team started 8-0. Willingham finished his career in South Bend at 21-15 and always looked like he was being put upon. There was talk that he received the quick hook because of race, although his final two recruiting classes were middling at best, as was his record. Willingham should just thank his lucky stars he wasn’t Gerry Faust, who I once interviewed.
Going straight from a high school job to Notre Dame, Faust seemed like an OK guy, but he was an excitable fellow who’d wear out your eardrums in roughly 15 minutes with his rapid-fire nonsense. And nothing he said was all that interesting.
Need I go on? But I’m not just picking on Notre Dame, although I don’t mind doing that. The pious attitude exhibited by many around the Fighting Irish football program has long given me the creeps, especially considering that big-time college football is the sleaziest game in town, followed closely by big-time college basketball.
So why, I wonder, do we continue to put these coaches on a pedestal? To turn them into larger-than-life figures who can do no wrong.
Wait, this just in from Alabama: Nick Saban is God.
Why are we worshipping guys who will do anything to win, including forgiving the sins of their players, no matter how egregious?
You could call former Baylor coach Art Briles and ask him, but I’d sooner have my fingernails removed with a screwdriver than waste my time with a guy who presided over a football culture in which his players committed 52 rapes in four years, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this year.
For his part, Briles says he wants to coach again, but thus far no one has dared make the move. Just floating his name in conjunction with any university is still a sure way to draw fire. But will it always? Does a scumbag like Briles have more shelf life even after the atrocities his players committed and his ability to feign any notion of culpability?
Sadly, he just might. Briles remains convinced he’ll coach college ball again, saying at a coaching clinic in Birmingham, Ala. earlier this month that he figures he’s got “another decade” to coach.
If he’s right, shame on all of us.
And while Briles is the current poster boy for his tone-deafness and generally reprehensible behavior at a school where religion is supposedly of the utmost importance, the one thing about college coaching is there’s always somebody else coming right along who’ll take some of the heat off.
Take, Hugh Freeze. Please, somebody take him.
While we should all be familiar with the cutthroat recruiting of the Big Ten, there’s nothing quite like the wars of the SEC, where being known as the best college football conference in the country has proved enormously intoxicating for everyone from fans to school officials to just about anyone involved with the universities even in the smallest of ways. I don’t want to remove that rush they all feel, but can I come down and take away a few more statues depicting Southern heroes of the Civil War?
No? I didn’t think so. But I had to give it a shot.
As it turns out, Freeze, who abruptly resigned in July, had built himself quite a reputation amongst the other conference coaches, not to mention the phone numbers of “escorts” he piled up, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Freeze was known by many of the coaches as Jimmy Swag. For those of you who don’t remember history well, that’s not a good thing. Funny, but not good.
That name, which fit remarkably well, came courtesy of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who ran into a little trouble back in the 1980s when it became known that all the while he was praising the Lord on Sundays and raking in the cash with his grubby little fingers, he, too, had a little prostitute problem. As in, he spent far too much time in New Orleans, apparently believing that he was invisible, even though he’d been doing his TV show since 1971.
This is the same Swaggart, by the way, who once called fellow TV evangelist Jim Bakker “a cancer on the body of Christ.’’ Swaggart’s ministry was raking in more than $140 million a year, reaching audiences in 142 countries.
For good measure, Swaggart, who was married, also admitted to having a fling with a church secretary just because he could.
Freeze, it turns out, exhibited that same kind of piety in everything he did, letting the world know he was a devout Christian, living that life with his wife and kids. Maybe he was in some alternate universe. Just not this one.
Freeze, who couldn’t wait to pass along his beliefs to his players, managed to continually ignore his players’ transgressions, including a bunch of them allegedly yelling gay slurs at fellow students who took part in a production of “The Laramie Project.’’
That wasn’t serious to Freeze. Nor, apparently, was his players’ drug use, which manifested itself on more than one occasion, including the now infamous shot of Laremy Tunsil smoking on NFL draft night. That Laremy project led to NCAA investigators taking a much closer look at the Rebels’ program and to Freese’s ultimate downfall.
The bottom line here is that Freeze couldn’t have been anymore disingenuous about his team or anything else in his life. But just like Briles, there will come a day when he’s job-hunting again because that’s what these guys do.
Here’s what Freeze should get: the cold shoulder.
Terry Boers was a longtime sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and a host on 670 The Score from the station’s inception in 1992 until he retired in January 2017.