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IOWA CITY — It’s untrue no one ever bought a ticket to watch a coach.
Decades ago, many a fan paid for the chance to see Bobby Knight throw furniture. But other than that? Nah. The game’s the thing. The game features talent. The players are the talent.
But in college sports, as we were reminded yet again this week via Kirk Ferentz’s contract extension, the coaches are the kings. The players dig the moats. The coaches eat the turkey legs.
OK, there are reasons. One, the players are here today, gone tomorrow. Two, the coaches are responsible for securing the services of all the players.
Three, the coaches are the year-round faces and voices of the teams while the players aren’t always fully accustomed or fully allowed to present themselves as multidimensional personalities.
Which is why, until further notice, Iowa running back Akrum Wadley is my favorite current college player. He is fun to watch, and he’s fun to hear.
Last Saturday, Wadley had a pair of touchdown runs and 142 total yards. He averaged 10 yards per carry. He was electrifying at times. He glided 11 yards untouched on his first score. But he made the faux pas of doing a bit of high-stepping along the way.
He quickly seemed to realize he either might get popped by a Miami (Ohio) defender if he didn’t hurry up or he would get in trouble for showboating if he didn’t check himself.
As displays of self-indulgence go, it didn’t rank among football’s most-egregious. But coaches still have to say something to discourage it.
“I got too cute,” Wadley said. “Coach Brian Ferentz said ‘Don’t do that anymore.’ I don’t think he was really feeling that.”
That got a big laugh from the assembled media.
Later, Wadley heaped praise on his offensive linemen. He told a reporter who may be past his prime as an athlete, “You probably could have run behind that.”
That got a big laugh, too.
College players get coached in more than just football. They’re told what kinds of things to say and not say to media. So when anyone lets their real personality show — whether it’s lighthearted, gruff, philosophical or zany — get over here and talk into my tape recorder, fella.
Understandably, many players don’t find their public voices until later in their careers. It’s not a natural thing to answer questions from packs of strangers, and you can’t spell “stranger” without “strange.”
This past Tuesday, I tried to get sophomore wide receiver Jerminic Smith to open up. He wasn’t feeling that.
Smith’s LinkedIn page (how many college football players have LinkedIn pages?) noted he had worked at a Whataburger near his home in Garland, Texas, a Dallas suburb with almost twice the population of Cedar Rapids.
That piqued my curiosity, so I asked Smith him about his Whataburger days with hopes of being regaled with interesting anecdotes and perspectives.
“I needed to find a way to get some money,” he said.
I asked Smith why he had a tattoo of four progressively larger stars leading from his neck toward his face. I wondered if the reason were something religious or deeply personal.
“As a little kid I liked stars, so I decided to add them to my body,” he said.
I asked him about his first name. He’s the only Jerminic I’ve ever encountered. Is it an old family name? A word that means something special?
“Actually, my cousin made it up,” Smith said. “My mom liked it, so she went with it.”
Smith laughed freely throughout the brief interview. He seems like a good guy. He’s a 19-year-old and a second-year sophomore. I’ll bet he has plenty of interesting things to say publicly before he’s off to try and get some money in the NFL.
Given the splendid touchdown catch he made in traffic last Saturday, include Smith on the list of players you’d pay to watch. More specifically, add him to the list of players who give you reasons to pay their coach.