Originally created 08/27/99

Today's college coaches juggle numerous duties



Colorado coach Gary Barnett chatted with a fan in New York, an alum in Chicago and a booster in Denver, all within the span of 25 minutes.

Maryland's head man Ron Vanderlinden went through a similar Q-and-A routine the day before, his session reaching Terrapins fans as far west as Honolulu.

You're a football coach heading toward the new millennium. Do you have your own Web site? Are you aboard the Information Highway, speaking with fans in online chat sessions?

Also, are you reaping major royalty checks from a weekly television show? Do your motivational speeches warrant five figures an appearance?

It's a new era for the men leading the college football programs. Before they get to the X's and O's of the weekly game plan, they've got a checklist of duties to complete.

"There's so much more we're involved with than football," Miami's Butch Davis said. "When I was a defensive coordinator (at Miami and with the Cowboys), I worried about one thing, and that's finding a way to get my defense to stop other team's offenses. Now that I'm a head coach, I'm a father figure to my players. I'm a requested speaker to alumni groups. I've got a radio show, a television show. I've got to worry about my players getting in trouble and all that's involved there.

"There are 115 to 120 kids and an entire program that I'm responsible for. It's an awesome responsibility if you think about it."

Today's coach is stretched in so many different directions, it's hard to distinguish him from a Gumby doll sometimes.

"I remember starting in this profession thinking I would be a football coach and nothing more," said Virginia's George Welsh, who became a head coach in 1973 at Navy and is entering his 27th season.

"There's so much money invested in the game -- be it from television, from the crowds, the boosters, the university -- that it's hard to just think of yourself as a football coach. You're more like a CEO."

Knute Rockne and Paul "Bear" Bryant were football coaches. Welsh, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno started as coaches and became conglomerates. Today's coach is more mogul than role model.

"We get pulled in so many directions that the contact we have with our players is not the same," Georgia's Jim Donnan said. "I made that mistake my first year. I tried to drum up (so much) support all over the state that I neglected the people who needed me most. But now, when I get asked to speak here or there during the season, I say no."

Coaches are no longer canonized and placed atop pedestals like they were in Bryant's and Rockne's days. You don't see many George O'Leary Boulevards in Atlanta. With more money made and more media attention comes more scrutiny, which begets more pressure to perform.

It seems every coach's decision is over-analyzed, whether it be on radio, by a cable show's talking head or at the corner barber shop. There are no secrets in college football these days, because if you think you have one, pretty soon some computer whiz will post it on the World Wide Web.

Rockne and Bryant might have had detractors, but they didn't hide behind sign-on names like "Mighty Dawg," "QuarterPoundDawg" and "Wonder Dawg," in various Internet chat rooms.

The days of Rockne were the days of college football's innocence. Football was played on Saturday afternoons, without television determining starting times. Rockne probably never had to worry about agents contacting his players and offering under-the-table possessions like Florida's Steve Spurrier did.

Rockne would ask his players to "Win One for the Gipper." Bear Bryant would stand in a locker room, looking as sullen as can be, and inspire his troops with whatever words would drip from his lips.

Today's coach, all polished for his post-game appearances, fresh from his 90-minute chat, asks his players, "Please don't represent yourself as a handicapped person for the sake of a parking permit" as UCLA coach Bob Toledo probably had to do to his offending players this summer.

It sure is a different day.

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.