The Psychology of Letting Go

By Johnny Ginter on June 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm
Doing deals, making timeBuddies!

My paternal grandfather was a steelworker. More specifically, he was a crane operator that guided a giant vat of molten steel down an assembly line to be poured into molds and other vats and who knows what else.

It was a dank, unbearably hot, and potentially dangerous job, but hell, it paid well, and for an early 20-something from rural Kentucky who grew up on a hardscrabble sharecropper's farm, the idea of putting in 25 to 30 years of hard time and then peacing out in relative comfort was not a bad one.

So that's what he did, and by the time Shirley Ginter hit his mid 50's, he knew that he had another 20 years of fishing, whittling, and attending Reds games to look forward to.

Because that was the deal, see: work hard for a long time at one job, get your gold timepiece, and peace out to whatever slice of heaven you've carved out for yourself in the meantime. It's not a bad gig if you can get it; my mom has been a nurse for over 40 years now, my dad a teacher for over 25, and they're hoping for a similar deal once they decide to throw up deuces and retire.

Society is still mostly pretty cool with that (even if in reality those jobs really don't exist with any great abundance anymore), even to the point where we extrapolate this concept to apply to a wide range of jobs, and to a ridiculous degree. Like, say, CEOs. Or senators.

Or football coaches.

Or university presidents.

Mack Brown is 61 years old. Seriously.

You look at the dude's face, and you think he's in his mid-seventies at least, but that's mainly a result of being the head coach of a football team that's gone 22-16 in the last three seasons, an acceptable record for maybe Charlie Weis at Kansas, but more or less Ragnarok for the mythical Texas Longhorn football program. A team that was in the BCS National Championship in 2009 has been playing like a B-tier Big Ten program, which is not a good look.

The expectations that Texans place on their football teams to win are well documented, through literal documentaries, so I'm not going to rehash them here. I'll just add that Mack Brown's 5.3 million dollar annual salary on a contract that doesn't end until 2020 is certainly another motivator, and is really emblematic of the desire of people to build legacies even when they don't make sense.

A thousand yard stareDoin'... uh... doin' great.

The San Antonio Express-News recently put up a great article about the conundrum that Texas finds itself in. Their three Cadillac sports are football, basketball, and baseball, and the university has paid their coaches handsomely to ensure that it stays that way long term.

Baseball coach Augie Garrido, who's legendary Texas squad just finished dead last in the Big 12 this season. Garrido, who has won five College World Series championships over the course of his career, makes one million dollars per year (more than Danny Hope made last year at Purdue).

Basketball coach Rick Barnes makes 2.5 million dollars on a contract that runs through 2017, and the dude hasn't advanced his team past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2008. This year, the basketball Longhorns not only did not make the NCAA tournament, they didn't even make the NIT, and instead ended up playing in something called the CBI.

Texas AD DeLoss Dodds is firmly behind his coaches.

[Dodds] said he's disappointed by how his teams have fared in the past few years. But he insists the lull is temporary.

“Everything in athletics is cyclical,” Dodds said. “We were good for a long time, and we're going to be good again. We're going to get back to that.”

Brave words from a dead man talking about other dead men.


Here's what Texas has screwed up: they've tried to build and then maintain that holy grail of college athletics, that fictitious dynasty consisting of one man or one coaching tree that lasts for generations and generations which is never challenged or questioned. They've tried to use the good ol' boy network to set things up so that guys like Mack Brown and Rick Barnes will get that nice gold watch after they put in a bajillion years at the university, which will have gotten regular conference titles and multiple national championships in return.

It's a cute dream, thought up by rich old men in ill fitting suits who can only remember when names like Joe Paterno were exclusively synonymous with "established success" and nothing else whatsoever. But, like a lot of dreams, it's fake.

The reality is that Mack Brown, with all seven years left on his contract, will be totally screwed if Texas underachieves this year. Barnes could be fired as early as next year if they miss the NCAA tournament again. 74 year old Augie Garrido, with 1,847 wins to his name, needs to start winning now if he wants to protect his job. And if any of those dominoes fall, it won't be long before they reach Dodds himself.

Major college anything has become a business of immediacy, both in hirings and in firings, because the stakes have become increasingly high. This has led to the death of dynasties, because even the hint of scandal or failure is enough to blow the whole thing up.

E. Gordon Gee was brought in to revitalize a position that had lost its luster, and was excellent at what the Ohio State Board of Trustees asked him to do. He was friendly, had a nonstop motor, was a brilliant fundraiser, and connected with his students in a way that few before him had been able to.

But that's all transitory. Anyone thinking that Gee would become an established legacy at Ohio State was fooling themselves, as was anyone thinking that endearing himself with fans and students meant anything to the BoT with regard to him keeping his position, because the truth is that if you pay someone millions of dollars to do anything, they can be fired just as soon and as easily as they were hired.

And that's the way it should be! Gee got paid millions of dollars in part to not make the kinds of public gaffes that he did, repeatedly. Did those gaffes make him bad at his job? Absolutely not, but, as Andy Staples put it:

The same goofy style that made him a PR director's nightmare in a press conference made him relatable to his individual constituents and donors. But the fear now, based on the reactions to the stand-up act first unearthed last week by The Associated Press, is that he may have offended enough people to turn off those donors and those potential donors. In essence, he made himself poisonous. 

So just like that, he's out, just like Jim Tressel before him. The message Ohio State is sending is the same as every other major college in the country. You make a mistake, you start to slip, or give us even the hint that you're replaceable and you're done. No dynasties, no hero worship, just a cold cost-benefit appraisal of what you've done for us lately.

This makes some people upset. Part of the fabric of college in general is the concept of tradition and legacy and all those nice things you see people fondly talk about years later. But one thing that talks louder than any of those things is money. Money such as Gee's 2.1 million dollar salary. Or Ohio State's 2 billion dollar endowment. Or the 130 million dollar revenue of the athletic department.

And it always will.

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