Coach's Corner

Odds and Ends: NFL referees have an over-inflated view of their own importance; the U.S. Open proved that in tennis, as elsewhere, youth will be served; and if people think Coach ignores UT football, well, there are good reasons for that.

I'm home from the mountains now, away from a lunatic local barfly named Cedrick Trout. Greeting me are two sick dogs, an overweight cat, a stressed-out wife, and a back yard that took me two days to mow, killing a reliable old mower in the grisly process. Kelly warned me about the weird August rain and a lawn, normally brown and naturally scalped to ground in August, now so wet and thick it looked like the Florida Everglades. I figured some female drama here, but I was mistaken. Tomorrow I return to the real world and deal with real people, as opposed to dealing with getting comfortable on my hammock and finding an errant golf ball. Reconnections are difficult.

Odds and ends: Polls showing that most sportsfans don't really care who's under a striped shirt underscore the fact that occasionally, the general public gets it right. NFL officials seem to have been offered a fair deal -- not many of us would go on strike because we were insulted about a 50% pay increase -- so they're not getting a whole lot of support from the public. Their primary premise is: Because the league's making boatloads of money from bloated television contracts, the referees should share in the booty. This reasoning's twisted. Like officials in any sports league, their job is to enforce and interpret rules and oversee a coin toss. Not a sportsfan in the land tunes in to watch the best back judge in the history of back-judges call an illegal formation -- if that's what back judges do. Nor will a fan click his remote over to ice skating because the worst line judge since Red Grange rambled the sidelines of Soldier Field is working the Bears/Packers game. Refs are necessary bureaucrats of the games, nothing more. They're well-compensated, travel first-class, and work part time doing a job that's more hobby than vocation. They have no more right to demand a dip of the snout into the money feed trough than do office secretaries and bookkeepers. The officials' one ally is the media, who always seem to take a "pay 'em whatever they want" view. Easy to say since nobody in the heavily unionized media is signing any paychecks. NFL officials don't do all that great a job, in spite of their union's insistence they get 99.8% of the calls correct ... whatever. If these new guys don't drop a yellow hankie every time a receiver and cornerback bump into each other, the leagues' ahead of the game...

The games we watch are often a cruel and pitiless place. For every story of Cinderella, the late-career miracle of Andre Agassi, or the wonder of Roger Clemens, there are three Dale Earnhardts, Rick Ankiels, and Muhammad Alis. Ali comes to mind because I recalled the savage mauling he absorbed at the hands of Larry Holmes as I watched a beaten, demoralized Pete Sampras being whipsawed around the tennis court in the U.S. Open Finals by a 20-year-old kid, Lleyton Hewitt, who could do nothing wrong. That Sampras had to fight his way through a nightmare draw (with three past Open Champions in his way) was indeed cruel and unfair. But so it was. That his match with Agassi -- pitting our two greatest champions, both playing their A-games at the same time (a rare occurrence) -- was the best sustained tennis I've ever seen, that Pete soundly whipped Patrick Rafter and Marat Safin, his tormentor in last year's finals, meant nothing in the end. Pete wasn't dead, but standing there accepting his second-place trophy, he looked broken. He deserved better...

I've received e-mails griping about a lack of UT football coverage in this column. Let me make a few points clear.

1) One thing I deeply dislike about college football is the media's (and thus the fans') obsessive infatuation with won-loss records. The BCS attempts to deal with the rampant proliferation of creampuff schedules, but there's only so much that can be done. Any Division I team, no matter who they play, that's undefeated or with a loss or two will be accorded acclaim often undeserved. UT's a case in point ... but UT's certainly not alone. Creampuff schedules are the norm. However, the Big 12 South, a known, year-in-year-out commodity, is by itself, a creamy Hostess Twinkie. It annoys me, creating an honest cynicism about won-lost records in Austin.

2) UT doesn't need another media outlet gushing over its teams. It's not my job. I don't have to do it. Won't, really. The entire Austin media community toes the UT party line, only breaking with what the Athletic Department wants reported when events are so awful (such as the last days of John Mackovic), or a loss is so egregious, that a little flack's acceptable.

3) I'm not anti-UT ... really. But even after three decades, I can't get used to fawning, wall-to-wall, saturation coverage. I'd have more respect -- not that anyone cares -- for UT football if they went 8-3 with losses to say, Washington and Florida, than an 11-0 record against Sisters of the Lame and Halted, a schedule which is the norm. Unfortunately college football coaches -- as opposed to their basketball brothers -- have no motivation whatsoever to voluntarily schedule anybody at all that might possibly blemish their record. There's no such thing as a "good loss" in college football. So the system rolls on.

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