In 16 days, I’ll be a graduate of Columbia University, and I’ll start a job in the city about a month after that. Like many college graduates, this first full-time job is not my dream job. But unlike most, my dream job is absurdly specific.
I want to be the head coach of the Columbia football team.
Now, it’s probably worth noting at this point that I have played exactly zero downs worth of football in my life—and I’m not particularly good at Madden, either. (I am quite good at a computer game called “Football Manager,” a hyperrealistic and detailed simulation of football management. Unfortunately, it’s the European brand of football.)
I’d make a few key changes right off the bat. First, I’d eliminate punting. The Lions would never punt—unless I could figure out a loophole to put Roar-ee on the team. That dude has a big foot. I’d move one practice a week to South Lawn, so at least some undergrads get to use the fields. And, most importantly, I’d figure out a way to win a game or two. I suppose that’s the tricky part.
But how would I make up for the fact that I’ve never played or coached before? In the modern conception of a football program, the head coach is more like the CEO of an organization. He or she has the responsibility of overseeing the many facets of the program—a roster of nearly a hundred players, a staff of 15, a budget of millions, a nationwide search for recruits, and a rabid fan base.
If Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy named me the head coach of the Lions tomorrow, I would immediately delegate football decisions to my coordinators. I’d look to hire people who share my philosophy—a fast, flexible offense of the type popularized by Chip Kelly and an aggressive, blitzing defense—and I’d give them nearly absolute freedom to devise schemes that fit these guidelines, while I’d step back and manage things from above.
How would I spend my time? I’d be out on the recruiting trail. After all, who better to pitch Columbia to high school students than someone who chose Columbia himself only five years ago?
For support staff, I’d hire all the other people I’ve met here who have strong opinions about how a football team—or the Columbia Lions generally—should be run. I’ve met people who’ve published detailed analyses of sports on Deadspin, written their senior thesis on the history of the Columbia athletics department, or spent four hours a week on the radio talking about the team’s performance. Hand me the keys, and we can put everything we’ve been saying to the test.
Obviously, everything I’ve said up to this point is quite insane. But I think how seductive it is illustrates some important truths. In my time here, it’s increasingly clear to me that a central tension—or appeal—of sports is that it seems like anyone who watches enough games can coach. When I watch Columbia football, I am constantly torn between two impulses—one that says the players and coaches have much more experience than me and know what they’re doing, and another that says what they’re doing is wrong and dumb and I could and should do it better.
There is, sometimes, an unspoken animosity emanating from the athletic department toward those who cover the teams here. And while I think most of that is undeserved, I understand why it might exist. If there’s a group of people who’ve never done your job before, but firmly and loudly believe they can do it better, that might lead to some frustration.
But this fantasy is an important part of sports. It’s not necessarily good, but it’s not always bad either. The belief that anyone can run a team contributes to the dehumanization of sports figures, inflaming the most toxic elements of our sports discourse. It also fuels tremendous creativity and critical thinking, encouraging a deeper understanding of sports.
I’m not expecting a call from Dr. Murphy—or even from current football head coach Pete Mangurian, offering a non-head-coach spot on his staff—anytime soon. But consider this my application. I’ve spent two years in this space and on WKCR talking about how Columbia can win more football games. It doesn’t feel right to graduate without putting my money where my mouth is.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.