On the day before he was fired as Presbyterian College head football coach, Tommy Spangler obviously had no inkling of what was about to occur.
When he conducted his weekly Zoom conference with a couple local media members, Spangler was about 24 hours removed from an all-night, 16-hour bus trip home from Des Moines, Iowa, where the Blue Hose had defeated Drake, 28-24, and finished the school’s first winning season since 2014.
The Zoom conferences were held because the Presbyterian College athletics department banned in-person media contact with players and coaches after the games.
“Haven’t these been fun?” Spangler asked at the beginning. “We’ll do it again this summer sometime. We don’t have to have a game. Let’s just see how the fish are biting.”
In pursuit of victory, the team had taken its time on the way up – eight hours to Indianapolis on Thursday and eight more to Des Moines on Friday – and in possession of it, returned home through the night and up to mid-day Sunday.
Spangler made it sound like a great adventure.
“You know, going up wasn’t bad at all,” he said, “because we went about eight hours, with a stop or two, spent the night, and then we rolled in the next day to Des Moines with about another 8-hour drive.
“Coming back – I’ve only been back for 24 hours – with several stops, and this will tell you how long a trip it was … we had a group of bus drivers, and each one would take the wheel for about 6-1/2 hours, so we had three different bus drivers … I didn’t get to know the bus drivers. I didn’t have time. But it was amazing. Never once did a kid make an excuse. We gutted it out, down 11 in the fourth quarter, and didn’t really play that well as a team. We’ve played better games. But good teams find a way. We’ve got a little mojo we haven’t had in a while.”
Had a little mojo.
That night – late Monday – word started circulating that Spangler, who had stuck with the Blue Hose even though the Blue Hose hadn’t stuck with scholarships, was about to be fired. The notion sounded ridiculous.
No one seemed to be answering the phone on Tuesday morning. After hours of deafening silence, a standard response to inquiries was issued.
“We have no comment at this time.”
Oh, that sure quieted the rumors.
Confirmation waited until Wednesday. Three paragraphs revealed that Spangler was out and that Presbyterian College would have no comment until the end of the proverbial “nationwide search” and a new coach was hired. In other words, there would presumably never be any public utterances because, when that new coach is hired, the comments are sure to be about him.
The question is whether or not he has a team to coach.
Spangler wasn’t popular with someone or some group, but there was no doubt of his popularity with his players. At least five who have eligibility remaining have publicly announced on Twitter that they have entered the NCAA’s transfer protocol. They include emerging freshman running back Delvecchio Powell III, sophomore defensive back Oka Emmanwori, and junior offensive linemen Ethan Williams and Tre Lanham.
The team’s most celebrated players, linebacker Colby Campbell and wide receiver Keith Pearson, couldn’t come back if they wanted to because Presbyterian cannot give them a scholarship and still play this fall in the Pioneer Football League. They are in the graduate-transfer protocol, as well as offensive lineman Luke Foster. Campbell has been offered an education-paid opportunity at Samford, Southeast Louisiana, Northern Alabama and St. Francis. Pearson has an opportunity at Austin Peay (Tenn.).
None of this is Spangler’s fault. All of it is PC’s fault for getting rid of a coach who, by all appearances, is beloved by his charges. Transfer protocols are probably just beginning.
There was Spangler, brimming with pride, on the Zoom call, looking and sounding as if he had just hauled in a bountiful catch.
The win at Drake “didn’t start good,” he said. “We just did it.”
It was suggested that the Blue Hose had just put themselves in “a fine landing place for the fall.”
Famous last words, those.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get,” Spangler said. “I’ve worn the same underwear the last three weeks. That has a little bit to do with it. I’m into all that stuff … luck and all that stuff, but it just comes back to, when you work hard, and you’re 1-3 … I’ll never forget the team gathering after [the first of two games against] Davidson, up there, we’d played ’em really good for three quarters and stunk up the fourth, and I told ’em we’d hold it together, we’re gonna turn this thing around.
“They bought in and went back to work. … That’s just reality. Times’ll flip, and about the time you think the other way, it’ll flip for the bad. It’s a humbling game.”
Never was it more humbling than what happened next. Never did it make less sense than when Presbyterian College reluctantly conceded under duress that Spangler was out.
Tommy Spangler will not be returning as head coach at Presbyterian College, Athletic Director Rob Acunto announced Wednesday. Due to policies and procedures in place to protect employee confidentiality, it was not possible to release this announcement earlier.
This is a confidential personnel matter, made after due consideration, that a change in leadership in the football program was in the best interest of PC and its student-athletes.
“We have begun a national search for our next coach. To ensure efficiency and integrity of the search process, our next comments will be made when we announce the hire of a new head coach,” Acunto said. “We look forward to beginning a new chapter as the team enters the fall 2021 season as an official member of the Pioneer Football League.”
Now it’s all in the cloak-and-dagger phase. Lots of people want to talk, but none wants his or her name attached to it. It might be equally difficult to get the Pope to weigh in. Or the Ruling Clerk of the Synods and Presbyteries.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, where Spangler was about to be headed off at the pass and ambushed, the coach was having fun with the local media.
“It’s a little bit like golf,” he said. “You can go around the course and kind of play average, then hit two or three really good shots, and all of a sudden, you got a pretty good score, and you win the tournament. It was kinda like us on Saturday. We kinda just hodge-podged around for a while, and all of a sudden, we looked like a pretty good football team for about the last nine minutes of that (Drake) game.
“I tell you what. It was an honor to be a part of that, an honor to coach these guys and be a part of this staff. Bus trip or not, I don’t care how we got there. We went and took care of business.”
Four charges no one is supposed to know were made – none of which seemed anywhere close to firing offenses -- and led Presbyterian College to dismiss summarily a man as loyal as any Scotsman in kilts playing bagpipes.
What? He was alleged to have used profanity on the practice field? Shocked! Shocked, I tell you!
The powers that be, whether new athletics director, new president, trainer, tinker, tailor or candlestick maker, thought it too much to say “don’t do that” or “don’t do that again.” Now they’re probably huddling with lawyers, trying to finagle their way out of the contract extension granted by a school president who no longer occupies the position.
Presbyterian’s football program can’t get out of square one. Division I, Football Championship Subdivision. FCS, sans scholarships. Pioneer Football League, sans beloved head coach. The college repeatedly fails to heed one of the sentences uttered by Spangler when blissfully ignorant of what he had no way of knowing was about to occur.
“Will --- and grit – is a big part of this game,” he said. “We’re going to find a way to come out on top, whether it’s a true-freshman wide receiver to win the game. A guy picks one off who hasn’t played much DB because of COVID. Unsung heroes … we got a bunch of ’em.
“When you’ve invested like we’ve invested, it’s hard to surrender.”
Don't blink your eyes.