We wrote down our ten least likeable people in college football, so in order to balance our karma, we had come up with at least ten that we really, really liked. But such is the order of being a fan that you inevitably dislike more than you like, since an allegiance to one team and passing fondness for a handful of others makes the set of likeable things much smaller than the overall set of "BAD PEOPLE WHO COULD RUIN MY SATURDAY."
With that proviso, we did come up with eight that we really liked. We're sure some are hated, and that we've missed a few good ones on the way as well. Feel free to leave your own counterpoint, screed, and huzzahs in the comments section below.
1. Joe Paterno. An easy choice, but an inevitable one provided you admire longevity, spunk, dedication, charity, and drinking scotch, all things Joe Paterno stands for in over fifty years of coaching. Rather than running over the usual tired bunch of Joe Pa bromidesgobs of money donated to the uni, his remarkable record on the field, and the total team concept Paternos thrashed into the heads of Penn State players for decadeswed rather tick off a few less heralded things about Paterno that make him the slightly abusive and lovable great-uncle of college football:
Shoes: struts the same old pair of trainers hes been rocking for years: black Adidas with white stripes, his only concession to nouveau coaching fashion trends. Also the only guy besides 1983-era Michael Jackson to make wearing white socks look marginally cool.
Honest Grump. Theres got to be some media handling textbook circulating the rounds of ADs offices everywhere: the one turning coaches into bland boilerplate machines, taking few chances and refusing to heed Barney Franks political maxim: Never underestimate the value of speaking badly about someone in public. (Speaking of the openly gay Frank, our new blogad looks like something he'd approve of. We move further toward our goal of cornering the gay football fan market!) Paternos rundown of a ref following the _____ game, the gruff remarks about officiating and the NCAA, the understanding that when he speaks hes saying something straight up eighty proof curmudgeon well, it will get you on this list every time, since we have our own ambitions of being a cat-kicking, gin-swilling eighty year old bastard someday.
Resemblance to mafia capo. Paterno totally looks like one of the guys guarding Don Ciccio in Godfather 2. This alone earns serious cool points.
Likeable? Suck my ass, fanboy! JoePa, keepin' it real...old.
2. The Voice of ________ Football. College football without regional flavor wouldnt be college football, and the passions and agonies of most fans emotional histories is etched not by image, but by sound, most often through the inimitable vehicle of their teams radio announcers voice. Gene Deckerhoff for Florida State; the now retired John Ward for Tennessee("It's Football Time in Tennessee!" even gets us excited, and we haaaaaaaaate the Vols); Mick Hubert for Florida; their calls become part of team lore, the couplets and hysterical haiku of their speech summarizing a moment for history in the ears and minds of fans.
No oneand this is scientific fact, so dont even attempt to dispute itserves this role to the same extent as Larry Munson, the eighty-plus Minnesotan whose voice never escapes the label of gravelly in description. We would prefer to say that if youd never heard the oldest Norwegian bachelor farmer on earth broadcasting a football game from the bottom of a well after three or eight drinks, Munson would be the best simulation of this you could find.
And like many local, single-team devoted announcers, Munson happily breaks every rule of journalistic broadcasting: referring to Georgia as we, getting so nervous he resorts to drastic oaths and at times even desperate prayer, and wandering all over the broadcast like a woozy Bedouin in search of water. The sum total is a kind of grumbly grandeur whose best moments are summed up in single touchstone phrases known to every Georgia fan: Look at the Sugar falling from the sky, This place is worse than bonkers, and our favorite, We just crushed their faces. Hes unhinged, old, cranky, idiosyncratic
and everything you must love about local broadcast. Were Florida fans and we listen to his broadcast every year for the Cocktail Party; we cant think of a larger compliment than that.
Larry Munson: Unhinged. Unprofessional. Awesome.
3.Pete Carroll. What the hell is this guy doing at the party? Everyone else is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and hes chatting up the kids and playing solitaire on his cell phone. When others punt in national championship games, he screams damn the torpedoes and goes for it. He could have left after this season, but after a little contract finagling, just decided that the college game is too much damn fun. Participates in pranks involving dummies being thrown from parking garages, which betrays both a robust and sick sense of humor and a keen comprehension of young, potentially primadonna-ish athletes in college. Refuses to be boring; hopelessly aggressive at all times; oddly chipper no matter what the time. Hated by Bill Simmons, too, which gives him points.
4.Mark Richt. With a baseline heart rate of 23 beats a minute and a primo post commanding a rival team, why the hell is the thoroughly unexcitable Richt on this list? For a slew of reasons: he's genuinely likeable, wouldn't get agitated if a nuke went off in his pants, and took control over a program sliding into disorder under Jim Donnan and turned it into a lock for nine wins yearly almost overnight.
Coaching-wise, Richt also does as efficient a job grooming qbs as any guru in the nation, taking a diverse haul of signal-callers over the years--everyone from waterbug Charlie Ward to the lumbering Chris Weinke--and turning them into cool, efficient automatons channeling the iceblooded calm from the sidelines.
He's also humble enough on the offensive side to lean on his defense when he needs to, as he's done during his entire tenure at UGA, a wise move considering the school's become a prep academy for the NFL and a farm for world-ending safeties like Greg Blue and Thomas Davis.
But most likeable of all is Richt's unassuming commitment to his players and beliefs. While we think his mentor Bobby Bowden puts on a bit of a hallelujah circuit act for the recruits, Richt's personal faith and commitment to his players go hand in hand. He genuinely believes they'll go get licenses and keep their tags current, which is why Georgia has the most bizarre streak of traffic violations in the NCAA. Yet the same current is what's kept the team from ending up in really dramatic fashion over the term of Richt's stay, excepting Turdgate, of course, which is really more funny than indicative of a loss of institutional control.
The beliefs also drove Richt and his wife to adopt two baby girls from an orphanage in the Ukraine, an act of grace so beautiful and noble it...well, it almost doesn't belong on this blog, does it? We'll go have a cup of coffee and try to congratulate ourselves for opening the door for a co-worker the other day now...
He adopts orphans. We...just had a really good latte.
5.Kirk Herbstreit Sometimes, in expensive porn films, there's a revealing moment where the "ooh yeah" veil falls from the guy's face and there's a look of "Wow, I'm actually getting paid to get the best head of my life." That's the look Kirk Herbstreit has on his face 24/7, or at least that's what we think that is, since if it's not he's hooked on some powerful antipsychotic medication. Herbstreit, more than any other announcer/pundit/ex-jock on the payroll, seems to exist in a constant state of astonishment that he ended up talking about college football for a living, whether it's over a late Mountain West game with Tirico on Saturday Night or on his call-in show in Columbus during the week.
It helps that Herbstreit's continually humble and informative, too. When totally wrong, which he is about as often as Corso, he's glad to goofily admit how wrong he was and hand out kudos all around. When he's right, he's just smug enough in jabbing a disagreeing party (again, usually Corso) before moving on to the next story. A funny and insightful color man, and engaging analyst, and on top of all that, good-looking enough to keep a female/gay significant other interested in all that boring crap you insist on watching 14 hours a day on fall Saturdays. Add the fact that he's one of the most approachable and genial personalities when dealing with fans and we're talking a solid top-tenner here.
It's good to be Kirk.
6.Steve Spurrier The only person capable of making both the top ten most and least likeable lists, Spurrier's appeal can best be summarized by a piece the AJC did on him following the 1996 SEC championship game: a full page spread on the back of the special SEC section (it's good to be in the 404) that read "EVIL BRAT GENIUS" over pics of Spurrier throwing visor, contorting face, picking at his ear nervously, and celebrating as passes landed in astonishingly open receiver's hands again and again and again. Even opponents begrudgingly liked the man with the Tennessee twang who called other coaches "Ray Goof" and suggested that Auburn did, in fact, use coloring books in class. (Hey, there is at least one coloring book we've seen required for college classes.)
He got away with it because he backed it up, gave no quarter and accepted none, and told the truth about anything and everything even when it hurt to do so in the genteel SEC. He screamed at Tom Osbourne for taking knees in the Fiesta Bowl because he felt his team didn't deserve the favor of mercy; he scored an extra touchdown to make the revenge blowout against Miss. State a 52-0 game for a trainer who was knocked out on the field in Starkville the year before. He failed in the pros because he liked golf a little too much and couldn't be bothered to put the loosey-goosey, drawn-in-the-dirt playbook in his head to paper, quitting rather than continuing to steal piles of money from Daniel Snyder. His alleged response to Jeremy Foley when asked to submit a resume for the Florida job following Zook's firing? "Go look in the trophy case."
The list of witticisms and revenges, both small and large, is likeable enough. Spurrier earns this spot on the list for more, though, than having the lingering affection of a grateful fan. He's completely accessible, as several of our readers have written in to tell us, often times shooting the shit over a few beers with fans and happily discussing football all the while. He ran a clean program at Florida, and didn't hesitate to throw players off the team or suspend them before big games, as he did before the 1994 Sugar Bowl and 2002 Orange Bowl. He passed in a league that lived and died by conservatism, a conservatism that reared its ugly head the instant he left for the pros. Even sitting on the opposite sidelines now, attempting to clean up the wreckage of the South Carolina program and improbably getting them to a bowl game in his first season, we still bear an all-out man-crush that surpasses mere fanboydom. We'd rather have him back playin' pitch and catch against us than not playing at all.
Spurrier: The agony and the ecstasy. Agony seen pictured here.
7.Ralph Friedgen Sings the Maryland fight song with his players after every home game and means it, since the Fridge waited damn near thirty years for a head coaching job and got the one he wanted at his alma mater. Don't think he's all cuddly, of course: the Fridge is gruff to the extreme, putting his qbs through a film study program that could reasonably qualify as a Master's degree in its complexity and depth, and demands extraordinary precision and commitment from his offenses. But the work ethic, the commitment to his profession, the play book that allegedly contains three hundred different variations of the option...Fridge is the stereotypical coach with the whistle, the playbook, the clipboard, and the ill-fitting Bike brand gym teacher shorts, straight from central casting and more than happy to play the role. It took him thirty years to get there, which is what may be the most likeable thing of all about Friedgen, who spun gold from burlap at Georgia Tech with players like George Godsey before finally getting his dream job at College Park. Happy to make jokes about his girth and get all mushy with his players while running a tight ship at Maryland, even through bafflingly difficult seasons like his '05 campaign.
Now I'd like to do one of my favorites, "Nights of Broadway," by the Bee Gees.
8.Mike Leach If Friedgen is straight from central casting, Mike Leach teleports in from the dork dorm in Real Genius. Mike Leach's life sounds like fiction: a slackerish law student who blew off the prospects a career in the courts to take his mountain of student debt and a new wife to coach men's club football in Finland. Just try making up something more cracked--we'd be damn impressed if you could. That his pass-wacky, playbook-free offense worked is funny; that it won Oklahoma a national championship and got him a head coaching gig at Texas Tech is practically side-splitting. Words fail us when trying to describe the hilarity of the Red Raiders' success in the Big 12,especially last year as they finally beat Oklahoma when the passaholic Leach called a goal line draw to win the game.
Leach's success isn't the only thing that's improbable about him. He'll answer his phone and talk to anyone at anytime, often while waiting at drive throughs at fast food restaurants. He calls in players on Saturdays for three hour lectures on pirates that turn out to be...well, just lectures about pirates. He once said that opposing fans' wives should become "Red Raider slaves" after defeats, and described his favorite part of football as "the violence. Oh yeah, the violence is awesome." Leach is grand cru oddball. We're hoping he stays that way.
Mike Leach, seen here toooootally weirding out Jeff Tedford.