On Coach Anderson leaving

I am finding myself far more bitter about Coach Anderson’s abrupt departure than I would have expected.  I am not a huge USU sports fan, though I was starting to get excited about the football program.  I am generally not a big college sports fan.  The idea that universities have become attached to a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry is ridiculous to me.  If I were king of higher ed in America, I would shut the whole college sports industry down.  It has next to nothing to do with the educational or formational mission of the university.  Kick sports back down to intramural sports where young people can learn the value of teamwork and competition and otherwise be done with it.

Since that has long been my view, I have been surprised by my bitter reaction to Coach Anderson leaving.  Looking back, the success of the team started to suck me in a bit.  Shame on me for that.  I think I can boil down what bothers me most about it to two things: the money-grubbing hypocrisy of it all and the horrible lesson it teaches the young people on these teams.

On the money-grubbing side of it.  Are these contracts worth anything?  If a college coach gets fired, they get huge sums of money as a payoff for the university breaking their contract.  And yet the coach can break his contract whenever he likes.  Why did USU bother redoing Coach Anderson’s contract 5 times in the last 4 years?  Why extend the years?  All extending the contract does it make it more expensive to fire a bad coach; a good coach will leave whenever he pleases no matter what the contract says.  The commitment is apparently a one-way street.

What really bugs me are the endless comments people trot out to justify his decision, that “in the end, it is just a business” or “he was just doing what is in his own self-interest.”  What kind of cultural expectations do we have when completely self-interested action is considered justified and normal?

For my part, I have absolutely no patience for the “well, its just business” excuse.  No, “its just business” is just a phrase tossed around by people who don’t want to have moral scruples about their financial and job choices.  It is a false dichotomy that pretends that “business” is some kind of amoral sphere wherein everyone naturally and justifiably serves their own self-interest. NO.  The moral fabric of human life and society touches every part of human life and society.  You can’t “bracket” or “suspend” character and morality just because “it is a business”.  So let’s not repeat these “its just business” mantras as if they indicate something true.  The assumption of those mantras is that work has little to do with human well-being and virtue.  And then we wonder why we have economic collapses brought on by insatiable greed and a complete failure to heed the common good.

You know who says “its just business”?  Scrooge, that’s who.  Small hearted men who might have fancy “economic” arguments that they think justify immorality without shame.

People are saying that Coach Anderson is “really broken up” about going.  Perhaps he is.  But if so that is indicative of a failure to put together a comprehensive picture of human flourishing.  His heart tells him to stay but his mind tells him to make the “business decision”.  But all that shows is that his mind has become divorced from his heart.  That his decision making process has become an amoral “business process” rather than a moral discernment about what character requires.

This leads me to the second thing that bugs me about this.  College football coaches supposedly are more than just football coaches.  All we hear (usually from them) is that they are in the business not just of winning games but also being leaders of men.  Well what lesson did all those young men on this USU football team just learn from their leader?  They learned that what you should do is talk a good game about character and virtue, but when push comes to shove you serve your own self-interest and your word means squat.

A friend speaks for me in an email he wrote earlier today,

Since when was it OK for a man not to keep his word? If someone says “I have no interest in leaving” that means, in plain English, that I’d like to stay around and “finish what I started.”

Are we supposed to insert the missing information when people say that: “…but, if you have your captain crunch decoder ring out, you’ll notice that I’ve also left open the possibility that ‘I have no interest in leaving’ actually means ‘I presently have no interest in leaving because I haven’t received a big-time offer to leave, however, if/when I do receive one, I will have an interest in leaving.”

I would be far less bitter today had Coach Anderson (and let’s not just pick on him, this goes for just about every college football coach I can think of) just been more honest. Spare us the empty words about “integrity” and “honor” when you say one thing and then do another.  You are what you do, not what you say.  Just admit that you’ll probably move along once a great offer comes your way.  Spare us the false loyalty and integrity talk while you are here.  And as for all of us gullible sports fans who keep buying into their pious attention to character and moral leadership?  Let’s stop kidding ourselves and recognize self-interested people whose consciences are ruled by the almighty dollar for what they are.  Let’s not put these people forward as leaders of our young men.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
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1 Response to On Coach Anderson leaving

  1. Mike says:

    Fantastic post.

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