Free Friday: Filling the Void
In the last two days, Nick Saban retired and Bill Belichick moved on from the Patriots, and that’s quite a thing. Saban won more national championships than any college football coach ever. Belichick won more Super Bowls than any NFL coach ever.
And from 1991 through ’94, they worked together for the Cleveland Browns, Belichick as head coach, Saban as defensive coordinator. It would be like Vince Lombardi* having Bear Bryant as his defensive coordinator or Don Shula having Woody Hayes as his offensive coordinator or Paul Brown having Bud Wilkinson as his offensive coordinator.
*You might know that the Giants from 1954 to ’58 had Lombardi as their offensive coordinator and Tom Landry as their defensive coordinator. The head coach for that team was a genial Arkansan named Jim Lee Howell, who used to say that he didn’t do any coaching at all; his whole thing was letting his assistant coaches run things. “I just blow up the footballs and keep order,” he told the team’s owner, Wellington Mara.
The Browns, being the Browns, went 31-33 with two of the all-time greats running things. They made the playoffs once, behind a stout defense. Then Saban went to Michigan State, the Browns went to Baltimore, Belichick went to the Patriots, then the Jets, and then the Patriots as head coach.
Everything points to Saban leaving coaching for good at age 72. He was a staggering 201-29 at Alabama, with six national championships.
Everything points to Belichick looking for one more ride at age 71. He was a staggering 266-121 in New England, with six Super Bowl victories and nine Super Bowl appearances in all.
Both of them are facing the unanswerable question: What does a football coach do in the winter of life? I so vividly remember when Kansas State coach Bill Snyder retired after the 2005 season. He had done the impossible, turned around the worst big-time program, made them a powerhouse. I’m sure he would have loved to win a national title—as I recall, he compared the 1998 loss in the Big 12 Championship Game to the loss of his mother—but he’d accomplished probably the greatest turnaround in the history of college football (and along the way invented the Wildcat offense) and he told me how much he was looking forward to being with his family, watching his grandson’s Little League games, etc.
Four years later, he was coaching Kansas State again, because of course he was.
He coached until he was 79.
And, of course, I was there watching Joe Paterno at the end. He could have retired triumphantly so many times in his career: after his incredible 1994 team went undefeated (he was 68) or after his team came back from the brink and won the Orange Bowl in 2005 (he was 79), etc. But Paterno couldn’t get himself to quit. He saw what retiring had done to Bear Bryant—he died barely a year after his last game. So Paterno went on and on and everybody knows the ending.
Now, Saban and Belichick each face that same question: How do you find something resembling happiness at the end? Saban, I think, hopes to find it in life after football; he will stay around Alabama, take on an emeritus role, I’ll bet he does some broadcasting; I’m sure he’ll keep doing those AFLAC commercials. Will all that fill the void? That’s the hope.
Belichick, I suspect, will try to find happiness in a new team and a new challenge and a chance, once more, to win. There are things to prove, I suppose. He’s just 14 wins shy of Don Shula’s all-time NFL mark of 347 (if you count the postseason) or 26 wins shy of Don Shula’s all-time regular-season mark of 328 (if you don’t). I don’t know if he cares about the perception that Tom Brady was more responsible for the Patriots’ success than he was, but if he does care, then going to another team and winning might help assuage some of that tension.
Will all that fill the void? That’s the hope.
A few years ago, I spent some time with Bobby Bowden for a story. I’ll mention this again below for a little poll I’m doing… but the point here is that he was sort of forced out at Florida State after a 7-6 season. I talked to him a few years after that; he was already in his mid-80s, and I asked him if he missed coaching.
“Every single day,” he told me. “But that don’t mean I want to coach again. I coached long enough.”
Happy Friday! Our Friday posts are free so everyone can enjoy them. Just a reminder that Joe Blogs is a reader-supported newsletter, and I’d love and appreciate your support. Plus, today only: 20% off!
Our palwrote a piece yesterday asking who is the greatest modern-day coach of them all—Saban, Belichick or Gregg Popovich?
Yes, I am very fired up for the Browns-Texans playoff game on Saturday. I’m so stunned by how this football season turned out for the Browns—not just them making the playoffs, which is miraculous enough, but making the playoffs AND being one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season. That would not have been possible had it been Deshaun Watson who guided them there.
Instead, as you know, it’s a big, ol’ middle-aged lug named Joe Flacco at quarterback, and he’s confidently firing the ball downfield and making big plays and doing all sorts of wonderful sleight-of-hand with his play-action fakes, and it’s just wonderful. I don’t for one minute believe that Watson could have done what Flacco is doing.
Numerous people have asked me to speculate about what the Browns do next year when Flacco presumably wants to keep playing and Watson is presumably healthy and the Browns owe him a bajillion dollars. I’d rather not speculate about that. I’d rather enjoy this for as long as it lasts.
Hey, if you feel like it, I’d love if you’d share this post with your friends!
The Yankees signed Marcus Stroman to a two-year deal this week, and that’s going to be fun. Stroman is one of the real characters in baseball—outspoken, funny, passionate, a little bit offbeat.
He has many, many tattoos, and he says that each tells a story. Some are fairly obvious, such as the words “Dreamchaser” and “BElieve in YOUrself.” Others are a bit less obvious, such as a tattoo of Cillian Murphy from “Peaky Blinders” and Denzel Washington from “Training Day.” There is also a tattoo of a wine glass (Stroman is a wine collector), one of Rihanna, one of the MLB logo with his debut date, one of a poker chip, one of his father’s police badge and, maybe my favorite, one of the Gold Glove Award he won in 2017.
He’s kind of like Maui from the Disney movie “Moana,” who has tattoos just appear on his body whenever there’s a key moment in his life. In the movie, Maui raps the Lin-Manuel Miranda couplet:
And the tapestry here on my skin
Is a map of the victories I win
So the question is: Will Stroman earn more tattoos with the Yankees? He might. He’s turning 33 in May, and he pitched really well last year with the Cubs before the injury happened. I’m obviously forced to root against him now that he’s a Yankee, but I would like to see what Yankee-centric tattoos he can come up with.
One of the frustrating parts of being a mostly online writer the last 10-plus years is that so much of the writing I did at Sports Illustrated, Sports on Earth and NBC Sportsworld is pretty much gone. I mean, I’m sure it’s SOMEWHERE out there, but I don’t know how to access it online, and I suspect few of you do, either.
This hit me anew on Thursday when someone asked me about the Nick Saban piece I wrote for NBC. I found it and posted it, and it hit me: You know what? I should do that with a whole bunch of other old pieces.
It hit me again today when I remembered spending time with Bobby Bowden. I went back into my notes to find that quote above, and in doing so I found an email he sent me after I wrote the piece in 2014, and even though it might come off a little braggy, I want to share it with you:
I want to thank you for the wonderful article you wrote of me.
When reading it I kept looking for misquotes. I couldn’t find any. You are the first writer I have had that didn’t mess up at least a little bit. Many thanks!
I’ve always enjoyed your articles. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
I have to tell you: I have no memory at all of receiving that note. Time has a way of washing away some stuff that should be utterly unforgettable.
So, here’s the poll question: Would you want me to, say, every week, rerun an article that has disappeared from the internet? For a time, I was doing a sort of “Best of JoeBlogs” post weekly, but this would be a little bit different. This would be stuff I wrote for SI or SOE or NBC that seems to be otherwise gone. Like, I don’t think you can find that Bobby Bowden piece anywhere.
I don’t have all of those old stories, alas, but I have a lot of them. I’d obviously take requests too. But, again, these are old stories, and they’ll probably have a lot of outdated stuff in them, so that might not be interesting to you.
Since a lot of you have been asking, I’ll tell you that I’m still going back and forth on what to do about the newsletter and Substack. I’m going to push the decision off until February because right now is crunch time for my book, WHY WE LOVE FOOTBALL, and I just don’t have the bandwidth to do anything until after it’s done. The book deadline is Feb. 1… after that I’ll decide what to do.
I’m not going to rehash the Substack story now, there’s plenty out there if you want to know more, but I do want to say that I appreciate the many opinions you have offered about it. Many of you want us to leave Substack. Some of you very pointedly want us to stay.
Meanwhile, the whole Substack story keeps getting kicked around daily in the media; The Washington Post alone has had two stories on it in the last two days. A few big-time newsletters, including our former colleague Craig Calcaterra, have announced they’re leaving immediately. And here we are, a silly and (hopefully) fun little newsletter about sports and nonsense, and we’re left having to make a decision that will make people angry either way.
Alas, this is life in 2024, I suppose, and I promise you that when I make the decision in February, I will fully explain it.
In other bits of personal news, We’re going to unveil the WHY WE LOVE FOOTBALL cover in two weeks. I can’t wait for you to see it.
Also, on Monday, Mike Schur and I will once again open boxes of sports cards on the PosCast to combat ALS. Yes, I do realize how absurd that sentence is… but, last year, incredibly, we raised more than $100,000 for the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig AL(C)S Center by opening boxes of sports cards. It’s a whole thing. We have a different ALS Charity this year, which we will announce on the show.
I can’t imagine we’ll get anywhere close to that goal this year, but we’ll try. We have all sorts of prizes and surprises in store, and, of course, there will be lots of talk about obscure sports memories and sheer nonsense.
Let’s end this week with an RIP for Bud Harrelson, who played 16 years in the big leagues, most of those with the New York Mets. Harrelson was the sort of player who can’t really exist in 2024—a very light-hitting and superb defensive shortstop.
He’s probably most remembered for the fight he had with Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS, but I prefer to think of the .333 lifetime batting average he had against Bob Gibson. A little bit of greatness.