Josh Kendall

Why college football coaches can't zing their rivals anymore

The spring college football speaking tour is winding down, and it’s been another boring year on the one-liners front. If you’re of a certain age and personality bent, that makes you a little nostalgic for college football as it used to be.

The (Insert Team Name Here) Club speaking gigs used to be some of the best fun of the college football season. It was at a Gator Club meeting in the offseason of 1994 that Steve Spurrier dubbed Florida State University as Free Shoes University thanks to a scandal involving star wide receiver Peter Warrick.

And there’s another reason to get all wistful about college athletics’ past. Remember when someone getting free shoes was the scandal of the day? But anyway…

Spurrier called the Seminoles Free Shoes University, and it was funny. Coaches were preaching to their choirs, and they felt free to take a few shots at their rivals when they did it. It was harmless, and it helped give college football the personality that separated it from the professional game.

And now it’s gone, the victim of the sport’s media saturation and the increasing desire of its most high-profile coaches to "NFL-ize" the game, polishing off all the rough edges and exerting control over every aspect of what they often refer to as an “organization.”

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp finished his Spurs Up Tour on Tuesday night with a speaking engagement in front of the Florence County Gamecock Club. At every meeting, he was met by multiple reporters and did a short media session (excluding a Spartanburg trip that included a travel snafu). And then he took the podium knowing there were media members in the room and anything he might say about, say for instance, Clemson would end up in headlines by the time he was headed home.

At the Gaston Country Sports Hall of Fame ceremony in April, Muschamp was speaking about his time as a coach at LSU and said, "We were at the real Death Valley, not the one somewhere else.” That was clearly a (very slight) dig at Clemson, and it ended up on social media and in headlines almost immediately.

Is that the fault of a media that now operates as if every word out of football coach’s mouth is news? You’ll be surprised to know that I don’t think so. At least not entirely.

We’re all to blame to some degree for a collective loss of sense of humor. A barb can’t be a barb anymore. It’s all got to be bulletin board material. It’s got to be a thing that gets hashed and rehashed as if it’s actually important.

Some night, someday down the line, somewhere on one of these speaking tours across the nation, someone is going to slip up. Maybe it’ll be a position coach without enough experience on the circuit to know any better. Maybe it’ll be a head coach who’s a quart low on give-a-darn or a quart heavy on whatever was served at dinner that night.

Somebody will mess up and say something interesting.

And you know what? It’ll be funny, and college football will be better for it. And the old folks will get wistful all over again for what the sport used to be.