Starkey: The gods of college sports
By Joe Starkey
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 10:38 p.m.
Coaches, even relatively humble ones such as Paul Chryst, have become the gods of college football. It's embarrassing the way these coaching dramas take fans hostage across the country year after year.
In the social media-sphere, the one unfolding at Pitt has been dubbed the “First Temptation of Chryst.”
Coaches rule college sports. They reap most of the revenue. They ride the backs of unpaid student-athletes to untold fortunes. Even when they're fired, they flee in golden chariots (Gene Chizik's $7.5 million buyout at Auburn will be paid in monthly installments, thank you).
Their wishes are college presidents' commands.
Athletes, fans, administrators, they all bow at the altar of the coach/king, who can be blamed only so much for his institutional infidelities. His power, after all, is conferred upon him. There are no rules. Spineless school presidents (which is to say, the NCAA) sit idly as the college sports landscape grows from unchecked greed to outright mayhem.
Behold the surreal absurdity of the Chryst situation.
Pitt's football coach, who has not even completed one full season, is considered an obvious candidate to fill Wisconsin's sudden vacancy. Hard to feel sorry for Pitt, which stole Todd Graham from Tulsa, saw him flee, and employs an athletic director who abandoned Pitt for his “dream job,” then was rehired when the dream turned into a nightmare.
Pitt has called five men “head coach” since Dave Wannstedt was fired two years ago Friday. It now is at risk of further embarrassment. If that's possible.
Wisconsin is said to be Chryst's dream job. He really does have family there. He grew up there. Played football there. Ran the offense there. His mother lives there. One of his daughters goes to school there. All of the local columnists are saying his return would save the program there.
Pitt tried to put a poison pill in Chryst's contract. It's more like a placebo. I don't care if it's an $6 million buyout. What's $6 million in college sports?
A $50 million ACC buyout couldn't keep Maryland from bolting for the Big Ten (and who's not excited for that Maryland-Minnesota rivalry to spark up?). Wisconsin will reel in $24 million annually in Big Ten Network money. If it wants Chryst — and he wants them — nothing will stand in the way.
Chryst released a statement saying he is “committed” to Pitt. He did not deny interest in the Wisconsin job. He did not say he is staying.
We've seen this movie before. We'll see if it ends differently. Ben Howland, after signing a seven-year extension, stood in the Petersen Events Center media room and said, “I will be here for the next seven years, without question.”
Howland was gone within a year, bound for his “dream job” at UCLA (how is that turning out?).
Pitt insulted the masses when it created the impression that Wannstedt resigned voluntarily.
Chryst, if he so much as interviews at Wisconsin, should be labeled a two-timer: You can't “commit” to a relationship one day and go on a date the next.
If Chryst stays, he will be hailed a hero — a good god, merely for honoring some-340 days of his contract.
Is the bar that low?
I'm betting Chryst stays, either because Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has a better option or because he really is the rare coach who believes in honoring a commitment.
Meanwhile, some poor souls continue to live under the illusion that there are coaches who would never leave. Take Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon, who has used interest from other schools as leverage for contract sweeteners.
Would he ever leave?
Of course he would. I'm not saying he will. But one situation to keep an eye on is USC. It has wooed Dixon before. Dixon does not want to coach against his close friend Howland. That is certain. But if Howland is fired at UCLA and the USC job opens again, who knows?
Dixon's wife attended USC. He might even have family there.
Meanwhile, what if Alvarez hatches a plan to return to the sidelines for a few years, then pull Chryst from Pitt?
Could that happen?
Of course it could.
You'll just have to wait. The gods are busy.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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