If I had awakened to the strong rumors making the rounds Tuesday, and it was April Fool’s Day, I would have understood.
This, however, is April 20 (4/20), and my first thought was that some prominent people in high places must be stoned out of their minds.
I just talked to him Monday via the weekly Zoom call, and Tommy Spangler, fired as head football coach at Presbyterian College, had no inkling of doom being imminent. He was in a grand mood after his team achieved stirring victories in the last two games and a winning record, the first since 2014. He was funny, humble and proud, and those three attributes do not often occur simultaneously.
I was going to write a column anyway, and would have done it had I not run out of time.
Presbyterian College could just as easily be named The Citadel in recent years, not in the sense of the military college in Charleston but the small-c citadel, “a fortress, typically on high ground, guarding or dominating a city.” Ever since the school deemphasized football, weaning it of scholarships and plunging it into a nationwide league of like-minded institutions, it has grown furtive and paranoid. First, PC, in 2007, deluded itself with the grandeur of NCAA Division I, and, then, nine years later, declared scholarships no longer necessary to play football.
All the while, on the streets and in the hangouts of this provincial little town, the typical view was simply that the Blue Hose had lost their minds.
Whoever was calling these shots was extraordinarily lucky right up to the decision to kill the goose that might possibly lay a golden egg. Spangler held things together, and as Merle Haggard sang, “that ain’t no easy thing to do.”
I do not know what kind of slip-up Spangler made to provide a justification for his ouster.
Here’s what I do know.
Spangler is a man who does not choose to talk but, when asked to do so, talks exceptionally well.
He is a worthy addition to a long list of Presbyterian College football coaches, dating back to football’s very beginning, who made the best of what they had. Cally Gault, not to mention Walter Johnson, Lonnie McMillan and many others, would be proud.
There may be a reason to justify Spangler’s firing, but I don’t believe it. He may have walked into a trap built from the balsa wood of regulations, protocols and policies, but I expect he was merely napping when the flimsy framework was erected around him.
Ever since I got interested in sports as a child, football coaches have reminded me of military leaders and basketball coaches sales, uh, persons. No disrespect meant to either party. I like most of those who have ever sold me cars.
It may seem outlandish to compare Spangler to Vince Lombardi or George Patton, but the path to glory was not dealt in his cards.
Spangler has led an organized, orderly retreat. At the point where his troops have finally reached the high ground, all of a sudden, there’s a mudslide. Or an earthquake. Or a witch hunt.
Damned if I know. One day many people, the same people who will now say, “that’s utterly ridiculous,” will, five, 10 years from now, look back and say, “everybody knew that’s what happened.”
Whatever it was.
Lately my favorite line has been Major Clipton’s (James Donald) final words in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai: