College Football's Grumpy Old Men

BabyTateSenior Writer IJune 17, 2009

There seems to be a transition during the 21st century regarding coaching personalities and behavior.

We no longer have a number of the more irritating characters to deal with. No, that has long since been taken care of by schools more interested in image perception and fundraising.

One can only grimace at the thought of a George Welsh or LaVell Edwards entertaining thousand dollar a plate dinner guests and convincing them to raise even more money for "good old State U."

Oh, they were winners. They resurrected programs, but personality? Forget about it.

The following is a small list of some of the current decade's most irascible leaders of young men on the gridiron, and the analysts who tell us what went wrong or right.

11. Joe Paterno, Penn State Head Coach: Age 82

He's a favorite among all the coaches on the scene today. When he speaks, people listen. He tells the truth based upon his coaching experience.

He may infuriate some of the tender-hearted with his seeming pioneer ways, but he is a living legend.

10. Beano Cook, Analyst: Age 78

A favorite among all commentators on the scene today is Carroll H. Cook. Why? Because he remembers more about football than most will ever hope to know.

Talk about a nickname following you—Cook moved to Pittsburgh when he was seven, and his friends called him Beans and Beano because he moved from Boston. I'd say the moniker stuck!

9. John Cooper, Member of the College Football Hall of Fame: Age 71

One of the finest players to come out of Iowa State, Cooper began and ended his career as a bellowing iconoclast who selected great talent and expected it to win.

Although he is remembered as an outstanding coach in 49 of the 50 states, he will always be the subject of misery by fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

8. Dick Tomey, San Jose State Head Coach: Age 70

Tomey is the current President of the American Football Coaches Association.

He first came to the attention of sports writers 44 years ago when he was the outspoken coach of the quarterbacks at Davidson College, serving under the highly respected Homer Smith.

Tomey doesn't take any lip from anyone, and if you cross him, you will pay the price.

Despite his sensational background and impeccable credentials, this Hoosier state native doesn't go out of his way to endear himself to the public.

With Tomey, what you see is what you get.

7. Lloyd Carr, Retired Michigan Head Coach: Age 63

This is possibly the most misunderstood person on the list.

Carr was born near the Big Poor Valley area of Tennessee during an era when the region lived up to its name. His family moved to Michigan, and that is where he played high school ball before going on to college at Missouri.

Carr is a fine game coach who possesses an excellent mind, but is among the worst at communicating his ideas to the youth, the media, and college fans throughout the country. He is not a particularly engaging man, but he is a man who speaks his mind.

Give me Lloyd Carr any day as the coach for my team. In fact, that's not a bad idea!

6. George O'Leary, Central Florida Head Coach: Age 62

This native New Yorker is about as cantankerous as one can get.

When approached on the sideline for an interview, he behaves as though someone is trying to pull the secrets of the Manhattan Project from his lips.

There's no doubt that he knows defense. He does have a way of disciplining his troops that endears him to his young players for many years after they leave his influence. But he seems constantly unhappy and appears upset about the results of every play on the field.

Because of his demeanor, some local fans have taken to calling O'Leary "The Lemon."

5. Tom O'Brien, N.C. State Head Coach: Age 60

Now, here is a man who will be proud to be on the list. This Irishman is a graduate of Annapolis and a former Marine. He is as solid an "X and O" coach as there is today.

O'Brien is the long time assistant to George Welsh, and he has every bit of George's colorful personality.

O'Brien may not be the personable interview, but he is among the best football coaches you will find. The list of great coaching minds he has defeated is quite impressive to probably everyone but O'Brien, himself.

4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina Head Coach: Age 64

Only his uncanny knack for turning a phrase and making a "silk purse out of a sow's ear" prevents him from being on the top of the list.

Love him or hate him, this man has left his imprint on the game of college football since he splashed upon the scene in 1964 as a sensational quarterback for the Florida Gators.

If Steve Spurrier doesn't like you, he lets you know it. Of all those in the game today, he stands among an elite group of men who know how to do it and get it done. They do not coach to impress the media or the fans—they coach to please themselves. 

3. John L. Smith, Arkansas Assistant Coach: Age 60

This person could easily make the top of the list. Writers and those close to the programs where he has journeyed describe him as arrogant and aloof.

Smith created a reputation of cockiness by sticking close to his mentor, Dennis Erickson, for seven years before winning at Louisville on his own.

Unlike several other coaches discussed previously, Smith does not have a following and appears to be at the end of his meteoric rise to fame.

2. Al Groh, Virginia Head Coach: Age 64

Al Groh was born in New York City. For many, that entitles him to his high position on the list of Grumpy Old Men.

This man is described as a protégé of Bill Parcells, having worked with the great large one at the Army, the Air Force, and for many years in the professional game.

Let's just say he got all of his good humor and warm personality qualities from Parcells. That pretty much sums up our No. 2-ranked candidate.

1. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State Head Coach: Age 62

Maybe you were expecting his high school teammate Mike Price?

Coach Erickson is one of the most successful coaches and has left a lasting impression everywhere he has ever been. But to many, his name might as well be "poison."

With a luggage rack of baggage that follows him too numerous for detail, suffice to say that Coach Erickson has been one of the most controversial figures in college football for the past 25 years.

With so many wolves at the door, it would seem to be more reasonable for Erickson to be outgoing and sharing with the local media. However, his entire history reveals a man who closes ranks, turns inward, and resents any outside perception of his operation.

Erickson remains an enigma—the big-time National Championship winner who seems to waste all of the goodwill he creates.

College football fans may never understand what forces motivate Dennis Erickson.

So, there we have it, for good or bad, a list of some of the most contrary individuals of 21st century college football. We can only wonder: who will be next to join the list?


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