The alma mater can be a harsh mistress

December 15, 1991|By Kevin Sherrington | Kevin Sherrington,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- Going home is not always a good idea. A coach, on the whole, should reconsider returning to his alma mater. The road is fraught with all manner of danger, mostly falling alumni. The better he was as a player, the more he's expected to do as a coach. For every Bear Bryant at Alabama or Johnny Majors at Tennessee, there is a David McWilliams at Texas. Or Jerry Stovall at LSU.

There was Joe Kapp at California.

Kapp was an All-America quarterback. He took the Bears to the Rose Bowl in 1958, which wasn't particularly shocking at the time. Cal went to the Rose after the 1948, 1949 and 1950 seasons. There was no reason to assume, in 1958, that it would be 21 years before the Bears went bowling again.

By the time Kapp returned to Cal in 1983, after several good seasons in the pros and several bad ones in Hollywood, his memory had acquired messianic qualities. He made old alums, heavy of heart and wallet, all weepy.

The alums overlooked the fact he had no coaching experience. He didn't need any, they thundered. He'd been to the Rose Bowl, as best anyone could recall.

He started well enough, going 7-4. He never got any better, though. Four games into his fifth season, he was 1-3 after a 50-18 loss to Washington. Boosters weren't looking at him through Rose-colored glasses any more.

He apparently was well aware of his predicament as a reporter approached him outside the locker room in Seattle.

"It was a writer he didn't particularly get along with," a California spokesman said Friday. "Joe's explanation later was that the guy wanted him to bare his soul."

Kapp, instead, chose a less-spiritual part of his being. He'd worked his zipper to about half-mast when decency, if not the draft, stopped him.

Cal had seen enough, though. Most favorite sons choose a less colorful exit. Some weren't too exciting, anyway. Ray Perkins went back to Alabama as the next Bear and proved to be the next Bore. Gene Stallings, upon being hired at Texas A&M in 1966, was cast as a Bryant disciple as well as a former Aggie.

He didn't get another head coaching job for 25 years.

The Southwest Conference had three exes at their old schools a few years ago: Forrest Gregg at Southern Methodist University, Ken Hatfield at Arkansas and Texas' McWilliams. They had some success. Gregg won two games in 1989 when no one thought he'd win any. Hatfield took Arkansas to a bowl every year, including back-to-back Cotton Bowls. McWilliams produced a Cotton Bowl, too.

The only reason Gregg isn't coaching anymore is because he gave it up to remain athletic director. Hatfield and McWilliams weren't as fortunate.

Hatfield left for Clemson, but only after he believed he'd been betrayed by his old coach, Frank Broyles. McWilliams quit, too, but he didn't have a choice.

Friends say McWilliams is angry, perhaps even bitter, that so many of his friends stepped aside when Texas officials came to get him. He quit only to keep it from becoming messy.

But he never really seemed to enjoy being a head coach, at least not as much as he did an assistant. Jerry Stovall had similar feelings. A former All-America halfback and Heisman runner-up, he went back to LSU as an assistant. Bo Rein's death made Stovall a head coach, perhaps before he was ready.

"You have to understand, it's a totally different world," he said. "I enjoyed being an assistant. As a head coach, during games, you didn't have anyone to coach. You stand around, you walk around . . "

You lose, or at least Stovall did. His best season was 1982, when he took LSU to the Orange Bowl. But, like McWilliams, he was forced out after a losing record the next year.

Stovall contends he is not bitter. He recalls his days as a player and coach "with great affection." He believes McWilliams eventually will, too.

We hope so. But we should also note that Stovall, who never coached again, enjoys his memories of Baton Rouge in Ruston, La., where he is athletic director at Louisiana Tech.

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