Standing on the Utah State indoor practice field, Matt Wells answered all the questions that day, all except for one.
He told me what a great talent Jordan Love was, how well he prepared for games, how steady he had become, what a great leader he was, how unselfish a kid he is, the whole 10 yards, good for another Aggies first down.
And when the head coach was done singing his quarterback’s praises, his team’s praises, he turned to walk across the turf to somewhere, wherever coaches go after practice, and that’s when I asked him the question he left unanswered: “What are you going to do with the millions of dollars you’ll be offered by some other school when this season is over?"
No response. Nothing. Nada. Nichts.
“Did I say that out loud or just think it?” I asked.
“You just thought it,” he said, now 25 yards downfield.
I wasn’t the only one thinking it. Wells had thoughts, too.
That was proved to be true when the Aggies coach bolted for Texas Tech over the weekend, leaving Logan in his rearview. In his introductory presser in Lubbock, Wells was kind enough to thank the people at Utah State for the tremendous opportunity they had given him. He should have been grateful, just like every other head coach who finds enough success wherever he is to go someplace else.
That’s just the way it is.
This is the time of year, the season after the season, when college football coaches look for other opportunities, either by their own choice or by somebody else’s. I hate it when guys get fired. And I hate it even more when they leave their players behind, ditching them and darn near everything they’ve preached at them through the seasons, to satisfy their own ambition.
It works that way, yeah, we know. Give a guy a chance, help him win and watch him walk.
We should know, all of us, including 18-year-old kids straight out of high school, who have agreed to play for a head coach who has promised them that if they work hard and put team first, if they play for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back, they will prosper, they will join a program led by a coaching staff that cares deeply about them, that has their and their team’s best interests at heart.
That, of course, is a lie.
They don’t mention that if all the players play real well, the head coach will bounce; he will be the one who benefits the most. He will be made attractive to other suitors, other schools, who will open up the coffers and pour out multiple millions of dollars more than he’s already making.
Only in America.
So, son, come to play for us, because if you do, you will become part of a proud tradition, part of something bigger than yourself, something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life: Your coach luring you in, demanding loyalty and sacrifice, unselfishness, and then dumping you for a better place where he can get better players, find better success and gain a better paycheck.
That’s a lesson in the free-market system to which players should never turn a blind eye. If they reach for their goals as student-athletes, as guys who have rules to follow, who cannot even hold a job during the season, who cannot profit from their own likeness, who can’t take a free meal from certain people, who are baptized and bathed in the reach and the glory of amateurism, masked as it is as an excuse to limit expenses and liability. And the guy behind the desk in the coach’s office is the one who will get the greatest gain.
But only if the underlings buy in and ball out.
They can’t transfer without restrictions, but the coach — for him, the rules are different.
Not every coach jumps at the chance to move on. Some, like Kyle Whittingham at Utah, stick around for a decade or two, and that’s a beautiful thing. A head coach who recruits players and then is there for them throughout their college years. Before we make anyone a hero, on the other hand, he’s already making $3.6 million a year and working at a great university in a Power 5 conference.
Most of the players at Utah State, and other schools and programs just like it, will say all the right things. They’ll well-wish their coach and the assistants he’ll take with him, leaving the players, like Love, behind to pick up the pieces, to find their own opportunities, with a new head coach and staff. They know everything could change and that they’ll have to adapt to a new approach, a new system, a new boss.
One thing that won’t change is that new boss, whoever he is, will demand diligence and sacrifice and putting the team first, making it clear that it is the good of the group that must be addressed and honored above all else. And that good of the group is best for him because he has the most to gain.
It’s just the way it is.
And people will accept it. They’ll say, wouldn’t you do the same thing in your job if you had the chance for a big opportunity, a big raise? And you might answer yes. You might answer no. But, either way, in your occupation, it’s likely that you don’t preach all the day long the value of team and togetherness to 100 young men, requiring of them their blood and sweat, spilled and spent for the greatest good of all.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.