Alabama Football: There is a lesson in the Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss debacle

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

Alabama football fans and every other Power Five fanbase can learn from the Hugh Freeze debacle. The lesson is broader than don’t violate NCAA rules.

A couple of days ago Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports wrote a fine story about the college football cult of personality. Wolken’s work deserves a full read.

We cannot improve on it but perhaps we can explain why Alabama football fans and all Power Five team fans should pay heed.

Wolken makes a worthy request to the fans of big-time college football,

"can we please stop turning these guys into demigods and treat them like what they actually are?"

The history of college football is filled with hero themes

Ascribing to some college football coaches a status equivalent to a ‘philosopher-king’ goes back before the first world war. For decades, sports scribes such as Grantland Rice skillfully crafted the romanticism of the game and rose to the level of ‘gentlemen-scholar’ themselves.

Over the past few decades, the collective fawning over coaches and athletes became out-dated. Players and coaches are still lionized, but today’s society enjoys tearing down heroes even more than building them up.

Wolken suggests fans and media should seek to be less complicit in the glorification of today’s college coaches.

"can (we) stop fawning over their supposed virtuousness and ability to quote-unquote be a leader of men …can (we) stop talking about their religion and what terrific husbands and fathers they are … can (we) stop giving them the benefit of the doubt that they “do it they right way” or “recruit a different kind of kid.”"

In the college football cult of personality, it is a sin to be boring

The narrative Wolten lobbies to end is prevalent throughout sports, particularly college sports and most frequently it flourishes in the hyped-up world of big-time, big-money college football. In the college football, cult of personality narrative, the Bill Snyders and the David Cutcliffes simply do not have sufficient sizzle.

Good men like Snyder and Cutcliffe and others fail the ‘larger-than-life’ standard. They are content to educate young men and try their best to win and if boring is a byproduct, so be it. Wolken states that style fails thematically.

"it’s not enough in college sports to just have a guy who wins, but someone of purity and higher purpose"

Hugh Freeze purposely wove that higher purpose narrative. Other coaches saw it as “in-your-face piety.” New unflattering rumors now circulate about Hugh Freeze. They go back to his days as a high school coach.

Even if the recent rumors are all true, they blur the argument made by Wolken. De-frocking Hugh Freeze is just another national shaming exercise like Art Briles and Joe Paterno. It may shame but it does not cleanse.

As a society, we are hard on heroes who disappoint us. Before we all engage in future shaming cycles, let’s take a pause. As Dan Wolken suggests, why not stop setting ourselves up for such an ultimately, unsatisfying charade.

We confess our view is that Saban does not relish his hero role

As much as any fan, this writer dives deeply into trying to decipher the character of a man I have never met. I am prejudiced in his favor, but I find no reason to conclude he is anything but a good man, who happens to be a great football coach. I don’t expect to ever learn otherwise.

However, I agree with Dan Wolken’s premise,

"They’re just football coaches. Some are better men than others, better teachers, better disciplinarians, better husbands. But when we judge them and embrace them, all we can really know is the part we see for three hours every Saturday."

Fans are often wrong

As fans, we should remember our perceptions can so easily be wrong. While we exercise our fan right to sometimes belittle and detest our coaching opponents, let’s try to remember, that too is a game of abstraction.

Don’t get me wrong Alabama football fans, there are coaches I abhor and fully intend to continue doing so. In this case, I will not divulge names, but I am convinced each of them deserves it.

I will say this, there have been Alabama football coaches who did not deserve our respect. There have been more than a few. So while we celebrate the downfall of Hugh Freeze, let’s not be the hypocrite, it now seems clear, he has been.

Next: Check out a Pre-Fall Camp Depth Chart

Just like the NCAA, we are far from being finished with Hugh Freeze. Alabama football fans are justified in relishing a day of reckoning for the Ole Miss football program. Forgive us, but for the Rebel Black Bears, ‘winter is coming.’