Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Wonderful Mayhem of College Football Coaching Searches

For the better part of a weekend, I decided to do a profoundly stupid Online Bit-- I changed my twitter handle to College Football Coach Search Insider and lept into the mentions of whatever coaching search speculation thread I could find to argue with people by insisting that they were wrong and my insider sources were telling me that the job belonged to someone with a profoundly dumb fake name like Trent Mandruff and Brant Mant. I did this not only because I enjoy making up stupid fake names and I need to fulfill the diseased posting compulsion that has kept me writing a blog that is read by approximately 55 people for more than a decade, but because college football coaching searches are the most insane and charmingly dysfunctional part of the sport and being exposed to one for a team I pay attention to for about a week has made me deranged.

Northwestern fired Mick McCall after he became the scapegoat for the offense's turn to avant-garde pukeishness.  I have written before about fans' bizarre fixation on coordinators earlier, but the offense has been stagnant for many years and Pat Fitzgerald is not going anywhere so McCall got the boot.  This move meant Northwestern was about to become exposed to a coaching search, something that has not happened for the program in a dozen years.  In a sport that can be characterized by the insane turnover of coaches-- a relentless migration of the last people in America named "Walt,"-- Northwestern's coaching staff resembled tenured faculty.  I can't say to what extent this helped or hindered the Wildcats when it came to stability versus a sclerotic status quo, but I do know that Northwestern has not hired a coach or coordinator since 2008, and therefore has missed out on the blooming of the college football coach search into its gloriously deranged final form in the twitter age.

College football coaching searches bring out the best in college football-- unsourced rumors, feuding boosters, flight tracking software, message board "insiders," an infinite network of savvy people on the internet insisting that Chip "Boomer" McRench is using the open job to secure a lucrative extension but pay close attention to the buyout situation with Bear Chowderston, and an unending roster of maniacs and weirdos who get these jobs even though they may have been caught in a morally compromising situation involving a burner phone and either an ATV or a fishing boat.

College football fans scan the skies for Coaching News

College football coaching searches harness an undeniably appealing goofiness.  People tracking private planes to divine coaching hires is inherently funny, the innuendos and double crosses are funny, and the idea of fans demanding a coach firing by hiring an airplane to fly a banner over the stadium with that message is so profoundly ridiculous that it makes me giddy.  But once you give yourself over to the ins and outs of this insane sport, the contours of the depravity and skulduggery get even more rewarding.  It is nearly impossible to explain to someone who does not follow college football, concisely why Lane Kiffin, for example, is funny. Or to explain the whole deal with Greg Schiano or the Bobby Petrino saga, or the complex circumstances involving Hugh Freeze, the University of Mississippi, and Houston Nutt other than the fact that college football employs people literally named "Hugh Freeze" and "Houston Nutt."

In an earlier age, Bobby Petrino would have been known as "Col. H. Robert 
Petrino," and he would have claimed to invented a game that was far more 
popular than football as you can see from these Testimonials from Townships 
of West Brunk and Potter's Grove about the Healthful Benefits and Manful 
Discipline it provides to Young Men and you can get started playing once 
you place a small deposit for the Numerous Equipments and Apparatus and 
coaches providing Expert Instruction that are currently stalled on a freight car 
because of Routine Track Maintenance, you know how these things go, 
but I do require that check now because the town next door is very interested.

One of the weirdest things about college football is that it is the closest thing we have to a government-run sports league with the vast majority of teams part of state-run universities beholden to legislatures and taxpayers, but for some reason the operations of football teams have been completely outsourced to wealthy boosters all named Theophrastus "Bud" Hamdamper who made their fortunes as early investors in truck nutz and now spend all of their time in a private box in a college football stadium and have gotten a special law through the legislature that allows them and only them to celebrate touchdowns by shooting revolvers through the ceiling.  These people are allowed to hold enormous amounts of power over college football teams and all scheme against each other in coach searches that result in them having someone drive them in a motorcycle sidecar to through the quietest university library they can find so they can bellow "I TOLD THAT ASSHOLE I'VE GOT HIS GODDAMN BUYOUT RIGHT HERE. YEAH. YEAH, I WAS POINTING TO IT. UH HUH THAT'S RIGHT. THE BALL SACK" into a cellphone.

College football coaches inspire such lunacy because they hold a crazy amount of power in the sport.  Their most important job involves traveling the country and convincing teenagers to play for them for free; the difference between millions of dollars, job security, a lineup of lucrative opportunities to stiffly appear in a local car dealership commercial and say "Vance Grabaznick's Dodge and Chevrolet Will Make Your New Car a Touchdown" is often times whether or not he can get a 350 pound seventeen year-old to volunteer to get screamed at by him in a maniacal blocking-sled reverie.  Coaches hire their staffs, beg boosters to build them Advanced Performance Facilities where strength coaches can more effectively beef up their players by screaming at them through heads held up through a network of veins that look like jungle overgrowth reclaiming what used to be a neck.  And most of them can expect to be fired within a few years until they resurface at another press conference grasping another football helmet.

One thing that has changed about sports leagues in the last decade has been the growth of attention on ancillary bullshit around the sport.  The NBA has leaned into its reputation as the preferred league for online intrigues, where stars are constantly joking, feuding, and portending seismic roster upheavals by posting the auspicious Eyeballs Emoji.  Football has turned its entire drafting process into a weeklong carnival, and every couple of years has a scandal where the Patriots attempt a minor Football Watergate.  None of these can rival the ludicrous drama of the college football coaching search soap opera.  This is because everything about college football itself is a psychotic fever dream, a sport with the structural aesthetic of a bag of money with a dollar sign on it illicitly passing through people's hands, where the entire edifice of goateed scream-mongers and pink-faced moneymen and university bureaucrats who spend all of their time wielding fake shovels at ceremonial ground-breakings, have all wrought this ludicrous Rube Goldberg contraption funneling millions of dollars to this rotating cast of squareheaded Football Guys all to keep a few scraps from falling to the unpaid players who are responsible for all of it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

I Hear You Blog Blog Posts

One thing you will see mentioned in every review of the Irishman is Martin Scorcese’s use of de-aging technology to make his stars appear several decades younger as part of the film’s meditation on time, loss, and regret, and there is no covering up the fact that the digital effect occasionally turns its actors into disconcerting goblins. Their faces smooth out like cutscenes from a next-generation video game system. They maintain their elderly physiques so that Robert De Niro plays a mob hitman whose method of assassitation involves briskly walking at people, and Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa retains the hunched posture of a near-octogenarian even as a middle-aged man; Pacino also goes through a closet of ludicrous wigs as specified by his contract. Most of the reviews I have seen paint this effect as a makeup trick, a digital attempt to cheat time with his aged stars, but the cumulative aesthetic effect only promulgates the lumpen grotesquerie of Scorcese gangsters usually achieved by wigs and horrifying suits.
De-aging is a technical marvel that also sort of makes De Niro look like 
he is about to deliver milk to Wallace and Gromit

The famous Copa shot in Goodfellas is supposed to illustrate the appeal of the gangster life-- Henry Hill leaves his car with some lackey and sweeps into the club as waitstaff parts for him like the Red Sea, and the best table in the house materializes in front of him in a manifestation of his newfound money and power. But Scorcese does not make the mobster lifestyle particularly glamorous or appealing-- yes, Hill and his associates get the best table but they also spend all of their evenings with the same jowly sixty-year-olds named “Momo” regaling each other with the time somebody owed them money, remembering guys named “Noodles” or “No Nose,” and every once in awhile they need to go beat someone to death.

There is a scene in The Irishman where De Niro’s Frank Sheehan is honored at a banquet. All of the gangsters are there in their greatest finery and the whole thing is disgusting-- a bunch of people in hideous 70s suits peering at limp vegetables and meat exuding a brown sauce through glasses that take up one third of the surface area of their face, and they are scowling and plotting murder; Scorcese has spent the last several months fending off backlash from his criticisms of comic book movies, but a large amount of the principle audience appears to have spilled from the pages of Dick Tracy.

There’s no glamor or warmth or the feeling of a surrogate family that lured Henry Hill into the mob present in the Irishman. These mobsters and associated figures are rubber-masked creatures. Mob boss Russell Buffolino played by a Joe Pesci digitally freckled into a Jim Henson creation tries to charm Sheeran’s young daughter with a weird dad joke while Sheeran tries to sell it by making one of those Greek drama mask faces that De Niro specializes in through his digitally smooth visage. The daughter is creeped out by both of them-- the instinctive horrror she feels about the violence her father perpetrates for Buffolino is magnified by the fact that both of them look like Hideo Kojima cutscenes before a boss battle that involves bowling balls and a grisly use of the Shine-O-Matic. No one in the movie is warm, funny, or charming other than Pacino’s Hoffa, whose own charisma submerges under the weight of his petty vendettas.

Scorcese’s mobsters serve as warped mirrors to the American dream. For Sheeran, Hill and the others in the Scorcese gangster orbit, organized crime served as a way to make more money and amass more power than any other way available to them. But Scorcese does not celebrate or romanticize this path. Sheeran’s reward for a life of blowing up cars and lumbering up to people and then shooting them in the face appears to net him and his family the lifestyle of an upwardly mobile professional. Meanwhile, he must continue to navigate an enterprise freighted with the sclerotic organizational dysfunction of the grasping psychopaths who rise to the top. The weird feuds and ludicrous power plays from the various cigar and forehead guys result in constant murders; from time to time, Scorcese introduces a new character only to stop and give a quick caption explaining the date and circumstances of his gruesome death.

The mob in its twentieth-century heyday operated to fill the specific needs otherwise unavailable through lawful means-- booze under prohibition, gambling, loans, and all other sorts of vices. As depicted by Scorcese, this lawless vacuum gave control of these services to those maniacs willing to flout the law and kill off anyone encroaching on their turf. The Irishman serves as his elegy for the particularly weird strain of mafia that ascended for the better part of a century, entangled itself in the highest reaches of power, and then fizzled; it dies and dies until Frank Sheeran remains alone in a nursing home. The mob’s operations have not gone away, but gone mainstream-- some vices like gambling and loan sharking blossomed into legal industries that cut their deals with legislatures and no longer have use for the plastic-faced mutants that have carbombed each other into oblivion.