Every time I read a newspaper story about Jackie Sherrill, the new $240,000 a year coach of Texas A&M, the phrase "exactly wrong" runs through my mind. It's too much money and it's too much emphasis on football and it no way for a college to go about the business of gaining a national reputation -- except as nouveau riche and tasteless.
Through it all, Sherrill himself remained above the fray, if not above criticism. Who could fault him for doing what he did? All he did, after all, was bargain well. His business is football coaching. It is something he does for a living and it is to be expected that he would ask for his services what he could get.
And lo and behold, it turns out that he can get the roof. The regents of Texas A&M, a collection of oil men with their priorities upside down, were willing to pay almost anything. If anyone was at fault, they were. Texas A&M ought to just be up front about it all and turn pro.
But then Sherrill himself had to complicate the situation by defending his salary. He pointed out that he would be both athletic director and coach and, therefore, worth more than your basic coach. And he pointed out that as both athletic director and coach, he would be on the road and away from home some 200 days a year.
"I will not be at home very much," he said. "If I was (were, Jackie, were) 55 years old, I wouldn't do this. I'm on the road 200 days a year selling Texas A&M University. The visibility you have -- what does the cover of Sports Illustrated mean? What does it mean to be in Sports Illustrated talking about the faculty, or the students or the atmosphere? That's something you can't buy."
Exactly wrong. That is something you can buy, and Texas A&M bought it. But the phase "exactly wrong" first popped into my head back when Sherrill said "If I was 55 years old I wouldn't do this."
We all know what Sherrill meant. He was referring to energy, assuming he would have less of it then than he has now. But something else would change as well. His children -- a small boy and a teen-age girl -- would be older. In fact, his daughter, Elizabeth, would be 31 years old and presumably need less of his time than she does now. As it is now, she is 14 and that, as every one who has ever been either a parent or a teen-ager, is quite a different matter.
So the literal truth is that Texas A&M has bought more than just a super-coach. It has in some measure bought a father and, of course, also a husband. In both these roles, Jackie Sherrill will be somewhat diminished -- energy or no energy. I am sure, though, that this consideration was not something discussed by the trustees of the university nor, maybe, by Sherrill himself. No one ever sits down and asks at what price a man can be made to surrender his fatherhood and the prime years of his marriage.
Aside from the money and the fame, the Sherrill case is nothing exceptional. Countless men, and increasingly many women, have to decide their priorities on almost a day-to-day basis. Most try to strike some sort of balance. I was talking to a politician recently who listed about three reasons why he would not seek office next year and one of them was that he wanted to be home with his child. What his decision would have been, though, had his likely opponent been weaker, he was in no position to say.
The point here is not that Sherrill is an awful person or an awful father cum husband. For all I know, he is, like me, wonderful at everything he does. The point instead is how the concerns that relate to family get swept aside and never even mentioned when money or fame is being discussed. The subject never even gets raised, as if to do so is unmasculine. The role model gets to be the man who goes for the big bucks, who himself talks about what he has done as if it were an unalloyed triumph, all win and no loss.
But there is loss here, real loss. And it would be better for us all if we acknowledged it. Instead, we are asked to admire latter-day Kamikaze pilots, careerists who will sacrifice all for a hunk of money, a piece of glory and the cover of a magazine. It's a lie adults tell from generation to generation. Children know better. Next time some big-money coach wins, consider who lost.