Zero and zero ... (0-0) ... bliss.
Nobody ever says much about it, but it sure is fun. Anyone who has ever coached in the cauldron of serious sport (which seems to begin at Little League these days) can testify to it. If one of us coaches should find a cure for cancer, settle the Middle East crisis, or be canonized by the church, we know still that upon our death none of those accomplishments will grace the first paragraph of our obituaries. Oh no, first there will be something else, something that will be indelibly imprinted on the public consciousness forever. Come on, you know full well what it is.
Yes, the parentheses! And within the accusatory little brackets, our coaching record, how we did in the most important thing in the history of the world. (DID HE WIN! OR LOSE?) Unless your name is Paterno or Bowden (uh, Bobby) you find yourself reliving all those wins that might have been. If only...
But the zero and zero days are so cool, so welcoming, and so wonderful one can actually enjoy them. Ask George O'Leary or Mike Price. It is redemption on the run and can be intoxicating. The first year head football coach is uniquely vulnerable. He has a long, long offseason, unless his name is Mike Shula.
Even if one is a veteran, the trap is seductive. The new coach, already a confident cuss, thinks all the love is caused by his personal charm and awesome potential. He thinks that marginal recruiting class really wowed the alums, and that the model for the new stadium is enough to increase season ticket sales. He thinks the former regime loaded up the schedule for all the right reasons, and goes about proclaiming, "We will probably win a few we shouldn't." This is extremely dangerous because the more he says such stuff, the more he believes it. (Writer's note: my first year at Georgia Tech our out-of-conference schedule was Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Notre Dame and Georgia.)
There is one reason folks love the (0-0) coach, only one. There are no losses. Folks stay happy as long as there are no losses. Ask Terry Bowden.
The wealthy egocentric alumni froth at the mouth to get close to the new coach. On one occasion I was told, "You are harder to reach than the president of the United States! I want you to stay in our million dollar house on the beach this summer!" I indicated that I would be somewhat easier for him to reach in the future.
Three years later, when the record was not zero and zero, after many happy hours on the beach for the Currys, he marched into my office again. He announced, "I just left the athletic director's office, where I demanded that you be fired!" I asked the important question, "I guess the beach house is out of the question this summer?"
But back in the last hours of my zero and zero days, I walked onto Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama where our Georgia Tech team was to play our first game against No. 1 Alabama and their legendary coach, Bear Bryant. I had played for him in the Coaches' All-America game and he had been wonderful to me ever since.
As I stood in the 120 degree heat on the artificial surface during stretching, I could not for the life of me locate Coach Bryant. I knew there was some kind of hand shaking ritual with head coaches, but was not sure how to go about it. Before, he had always assumed his cross-legged lean onto the home team goal post, wearing his hound's tooth hat. But he was nowhere to be found.
At length I got distracted but then I felt more than saw the phalanx of photographers moving in my direction at a dirge-like pace. In the middle towered Coach Bryant, wearing a funny little white hat. He approached, grabbed me by the hand, and growled, "Hell son, can't you say hello to a fellow when you visit his place?" I said, "I could not find you, and besides, you have on the wrong hat."
He mumbled something about the other one being too hot, and then with surprising quickness grabbed my sansabelt slacks, began to affectionately yank me around, and insisted, "Coach Dodd put you up to that stuff about not finding me, didn't he?"
Here I was, just prior to our very first game, about to suffer "wardrobe malfunction" in front of seventy thousand people. And this was not Justin Timberlake who had ahold of my pants.
I managed to keep my britches on but lost the game. It was Alabama 26, Georgia Tech 3 ... The Coach was kind to us. I had gone from Bill Curry (0-0) to Bill Curry (0-1), and life was never quite the same again.
ESPN college football analyst Bill Curry coached for 17 years in the college ranks. His Game Plans for marquee matchups appear each week during the college football season.