Is Coach Joe Tiller Right About Modern Day Players?

Roy LaFaverCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2008

Joe Tiller, head football coach at Purdue University, is retiring.  On ESPN during the broadcast of the Purdue-Penn State game, he was quoted as saying the retirement was precipitated by frustration with today’s college players.

Tiller said—and I paraphrase—that college players no longer perform consistently from one game to the next.  They “take a day off” occasionally, so a coach cannot be sure what he will get from all 22 players on a given Saturday.  He supports his contention by pointing at all the wild upsets over the past few years.

If you disagree with his assertion, then you are left to explain inexplicable upsets, like those suffered by USC, OSU, LSU, Oklahoma, and a host of other overwhelming favorites in recent campaigns.

The common term to explain them has been delivered weekly on ESPN: parity.

Me, I don’t buy the parity thing.  How can parity explain that USC loss to Stanford in 2007 and then their subsequent blowout of Illinois in the Rose Bowl?  How about LSU’s loss to Arkansas, followed by a SEC championship and the blowout of Ohio State?

There is an 800-pound gorilla in the corner that was not there in times past.  The gorilla comes in the form of ridiculous NFL money, and I don’t think you can minimize its effect.

Many players on each of the top teams were bound for the NFL when they signed out of high school.  The only question is when to come out for the draft.

Sometimes you will see players who could go to the NFL early opt to remain for more college ball.  The reason might be simply love of the game, but more often they stay to elevate their stock and draft position, which translates to more money.

A young man 19 or 20 years old can’t help but have thoughts of an NFL future, especially if he comes from an impoverished background—and many players do.

College coaches, if they are worth their salt, will consider a young man’s future in the NFL when they make decisions on injuries or how to employ a player in game situations.  They do it because the money is so great that just the signing bonus can set up a young man for life if he receives sound financial advice and follows that advice.

Think about the mental condition for a player who knows the coming NFL draft might be financially comparable to winning the lottery, and consider the stress involved.

That player might become overwhelmed at times: completely understandable.  That player might even be too distracted to pay attention to game preparation: also understandable.  And that player might go into a game with his head totally into the coming spring.

Now consider some of these teams might have as many as 15 such players on their rosters, and consider what might happen if eight or 10 of them suffer from this “distraction” malady on the same day.

There is an additional possibility in the mix for players today.  They get to watch ESPN at any time they are conscious.  They get to hear they are the greatest in history so often, so they might forget that the 300-pound player across the line from them isn’t exactly chopped liver.

That opponent was recruited because he showed ability in high school, and while he might not be a top caliber player, he still weighs 300 pounds, and he still possesses skills.

I don’t believe Tiller would subscribe to any of my suppositions.  I think he simply means the level of dedication is no longer there for many players.  Young people are different, just as we were different from the generation before us.

Self-gratification has gone to a whole new level, even for we who are older.  Alcohol and drug consumption have possibly increased, but the primary hurdle is simply that we want more, more of anything and everything.

What you might think of as just a DMB song was really a well thought-out commentary:

“The hunger keeps on growing
I eat too much
I drink too much
I want too much
Too much”

The next time you see a team go into a game as an overwhelming favorite, only to sleepwalk throughout the proceedings, remember what Joe Tiller said.  You might agree.

Oh, and by the way: I wanted Tiller to remain at Wyoming, so maybe I’m just as greedy as anybody else.  But boy, were those some great Cowboy teams.