Football coaches at any level, from little boys’ flag football to the NFL ranks, are a different breed.
I have known all kinds, from the greats to some absolute nuts: Paul “Bear” Bryant to Blanton Collier, Frank Camp, Lee Corso, Charlie Bradshaw, Roy Kidd, Paulie Miller, Homer Rice, Bill Curry, Howard Schnellenberger (and Beverlee), Fran Curci, and, yes, Bobby Petrino.
I “coached” for one of them, Fran Curci, who kept after me until I agreed to “coach” one of the teams in UK’s Blue-White spring game. My “team” won, which got me a ride off the field on the shoulders of two huge tackles. If you ever wonder what that feels like, it’s bumpy and scary. I just hoped that they would keep going in the same direction. About that victory: The referee was a former high school coach whose team I had covered, and we were buddies.
‘Git your a— back’
When I reported to one of Curci’s offensive coaches, Perry Moss just before kickoff, I told him that I wanted to start with the Statue of Liberty play.
He looked at me, let go of a stream of tobacco juice that landed right between my feet and said, “Git your a— back there, and be ready if a play comes in this direction.”
Bradshaw threatened to whip me because I told him I was going to break the story of Rick Norton’s decision to play for UK.
Curry got red-faced at me, because after a loss he said that his quarterback had been booed when he took him out of the game. I told Curry that the crowd wasn’t booing the QB, but him. Curry didn’t like that one bit, but I made sure that I was at the Monday media luncheon, where he apologized.
Johnny Carrico, who preceded me as the high school editor at The Courier-Journal, taught me to be sure to face, as soon as possible, anyone who had a complaint about something I had written.
A Petrino story
Since Petrino has been in the news recently, I’ll tell you a story about him. He showed up at Audubon Country Club to speak to the Louisville Quarterback Club about his University of Louisville football team’s prospects.
I pointed out a table where some of my black friends were sitting. I told him that I would be glad to introduce him, which didn’t make him happy.
Petrino didn’t have a bad or a good personality; he didn’t have any personality at all.
When my friend Tom Jurich, director of athletics at UofL, hired Charlie Strong as head coach for the Cardinals, he sent word via a mutual friend that he wanted me to schedule a meeting with his new coach.
I sent word back to Jurich that a mutual friend, Seth Hancock, had already told me all about how impressive Strong is.
Back to Strong
This brings us full circle to Strong. He is still at UofL and, as far as I know, had never had a serious complaint about media coverage of his Cardinals – until he made a doozy.
Amid the worst possible timing, the coach complained about the lack of coverage of his spring practice!
Spring FOOTBALL practice. During the same week that UofL and UK were playing in the semifinal of the NCAA basketball tournament (and in the final, which UK won).
Spring football practice is a huge sport in the Southeastern Conference, except for when you cross the Tennessee-Kentucky line, where basketball always has ruled and probably always will.
Coach Strong could learn a valuable lesson from former UofL basketball coach Denny Crum, who won two national championships and still is the most popular coach of any sport in the history of UofL.
Denny said that he learned early not to pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.
P.S. to Coach Strong: I would try opening all of your practices to radio, TV and newspapers. I’ve never known but three or four sports reporters who knew enough football to transfer what your team is doing to report it.