Bill Campbell was a man of many homes, who reveled in all of them.
He went from the Monongahela Valley of Pennsylvania to Morningside Heights of New York City to Silicon Valley, and remained the same person – high energy, high expectations.
Campbell, who passed on Monday at 75, intrigued me as a beacon to others, by willing himself to a whole new life, after a term as yet another Columbia University football coach with a losing record.
Instead of catching on as an assistant coach at some other school, he reinvented himself in the growing dot-com world. Not everybody can shift gears at that level, but he proved it can be done.
He became known as “Coach” to some of the biggest companies - Apple, Google, Intuit -- even advising competitors.
I've often said I wished the leadership qualities of some coaches and managers leaders I admired -- Gil Hodges, Al Arbour, Herman Edwards, Dean Smith, Pia Sundhage -- could be grafted into the newspaper business. (Some other coaches were cruel and selfish louts.)
"Billy (as I knew him) was one of a kind: a 165-pound all-Ivy League linebacker and guard, (two-way players in his day), who was the most natural leader I’ve ever met," wrote Jonathan R. Cole, athlete, professor and former provost at Columbia. (From Jamaica High School in Queens, speaking of roots.)
Cole continued: "His type of intelligence can’t be measured in SAT scores or even GPA, but in the power of his personality to lead people anywhere. He was like the original Pied Piper -- his friends would follow him anywhere. His intelligence about people, his irrepressible energy, his warmth, his understanding of people and how to make them feel good about themselves was beyond measure."
He continued: "He was made to lead - and despite the despair he experienced in continually losing as coach of Columbia’s football team, he loved his players and they loved him. He was, indeed, a Shavian life force. Those people come along rarely and now one is gone. I’ll miss him."
I saw Campbell play once and talked to him on the phone once.
In 1961 he was the captain of Columbia’s Ivy League champs, who, in the last game of the season, took a lead before Rutgers rallied to finish its season undefeated.
(I was in the Rutgers stands that day after my brother-in-law borrowed somebody’s photo ID. I believe I was Wesley Wu.)
I talked to Campbell in 2009 when the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame re-named its annual award for a scholar-athlete for Campbell. Over the phone, I felt his gusto for frequent homecomings to New York (he had a favorite pub downtown) and his home town of Homestead, Pa.
Campbell's father had worked in the steel mills to send himself through college – and eventually become superintendent of schools. That faded world is described in the epic book, “Homestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town,” by William Serrin.
Profiled in the Serrin book is Ray Hornak, a foreman with a conscience, whose son, the Hon. Mark R. Hornak of the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania, was president of the Steel Valley school board in 1987.
“I had the pleasure of introducing Bill as the graduation speaker at our high school,” Judge Hornak recalled Tuesday. “His speech was terrific, but even better was the day that he spent at the high school with group after group of students, talking about achievement, dreams and how to do big things (as each kid would define them.)”
That day, the judge recalled, Campbell and Apple announced a major partnership with the school district, a public/private partnership in something called The Office of the Future.
"It brought 1987 tech to an industrial town high school,” Judge Hornak recalled, “but most of all, it threw the windows open on how our kids could view themselves, their education and their future.” (Campbell also donated money; he didn’t talk much about numbers.)
Campbell also stayed close to his alma mater, eventually becoming the chairman of the Columbia trustees. He carried himself as the avuncular coach-for-life, who encouraged a young athletic trainer, Neila Buday (a good friend of my family.)
“This is tough,” Neila wrote on Tuesday. “Bill was such a special person. I know that phrase is used often but here it truly applies. In my first few years working as an athletic trainer at Columbia, Bill embraced me into the Columbia Football family, both figuratively and literally as friends were always greeted with a big hug and kiss. Years later he embraced my husband Greg into this family as well, and loved the FDNY shirt Greg gave him. It gave him pride to wear it at the gym back west.
“When I left Columbia in 2010 he sent me an e-mail letting me know that I would always be part of that Columbia Family. Despite all his accolades, connections and relationships with the tech industry power players as the ‘Coach of Silicon Valley,’ I don't think anything meant more to him than Columbia football. I have seen him cry after both wins and losses. Both his son (Jimmy) and daughter (Maggie) went to Columbia. He bled Columbia Blue.
“After the Columbia Football Gold Dinner, or other Columbia formal functions, he could be found behind the bar at Old Town, tie undone and Columbia baseball cap on, handing out beer and burgers, always making sure you had a cold one in hand.
"You would never know who he was or how spectacular he as an industry leader. You just saw his charisma and genuineness. I loved watching the friendships he had with his former teammates, the famous 1961 team, and those players he coached. His smile was lit from within when he was around them.
“He will be missed by so many, but Columbia Football lost a true treasure.”
Neila Buday concluded: “Scroll through Facebook and see what all the former players have to say, how much he helped them, how humble he was.”
A wise analysis by Ken Auletta:
The NYT obit:
My 2009 column on the NCAA award:
The Fortune obituary:
A Columbia alumni feature:
Other voices celebrating Bill Campbell:
Somebody asked me what I think of the schism in the N.C.A.A. and I replied, “Not much.”
Frankly, big-time college sports lost me years ago. I had to cover it, moralize about it, until I stopped writing a regular column for the Times.
At that point, I didn’t have to write, or watch, or think. So much else to do in life.
From what I read of Thursday’s developments, the breakup of the N.C.A.A. is the logical extension of what I have been witnessing for decades.
I saw major universities bolt from traditional, regional rivalries in established conferences to pursue more television money. It’s all about the networks – and why should they care? If they have programming, that is their mission.
Education was supposed to be the mission of colleges, even the ones that are spinning off into a dog-in-the-manger Big Five. But I have never heard a valid argument linking education and big-time sports. The closest presidents and other apologists could come up with was that it got wealthy boosters on campus in September.
Possibly, some athletes in the new elite group will get paid more, have better health care, as they prepare for a professional career that few of them will achieve. I can assure you that the demands will be higher, also. What do you mean you have an afternoon lab? Go lift weights.
I don’t know what will happen to the leftovers in Division I. I saw my alma mater, Hofstra University, give up football a few years ago because of seven-digit losses every year. I ache for my friends who played football – and got educations – decades ago; their hearts were broken. Nowadays, students wouldn’t walk from their dorms to watch a second-tier football program. They’d rather watch Alabama or USC. on the tube.
Maybe more schools will be encouraged to give up football, to back off rogue basketball programs. The way I see it, the University of Chicago and New York University are doing fine since they took a big step back from professionalism.
My athlete friends got educations while playing sports at Hofstra back in the late 50’s and 60’s. I am in touch with some – a few teachers and entrepreneurs, a poet, a writer, a dentist, a few television executives, a major-league ball player.
They had teachers who would flunk them if they didn’t do the work. I don’t believe that is the remotely the case at big-time schools. I am always stunned when I hear that somebody got a degree while playing football or basketball, and I am impressed when an athlete shows signs of having opened his eyes and ears on a college campus. It’s been heading that way for decades.
The N.C.A.A. has been found out – not as universally sordid as FIFA, the world soccer body, but hypocritical on a domestic level. I was creeped out listening to the newest president, Mark Emmert, on his visit to the Times a few years ago: he was obviously a front man for networks and boosters.
One nice thing about retirement is that I can ignore college football and basketball. My sports more or less rotate from baseball in the warm months to soccer in the winter. More than enough. It is nice not to care. That's what I think.
Big-time college football brought that decision down on itself. The National Labor Relations Board decided Wednesday that Northwestern football players could be seen as employees, not just student-athletes.
The football and basketball powers have been exploiting athletes forever, certainly since schools learned how to make money off players’ names and images – providing huge salaries for coaches and administrators. The players allegedly get an education -- that is, if they can fight off the coaches’ demands that they lift weights and attend practices.
I'm kind of sorry I don't cover coal mining any more. I'd love to hear the reaction of some miners about the plight of the college boys -- probably a heady mix of chewing tobacco and invective. But still, it's a job.
How the schools would pay the athletes is another issue. Would there be a sliding scale? Would star players be able to negotiate? I have always maintained that big-time college football (and basketball) has no connection to education. Might as well hold rock shows to support school presidents.
The players learn: trust nobody. A perfect example is the mess involving Steve Masiello, who put together the Manhattan team that reached the national tournament this month. Masiello a protégé of Rick Pitino, demanded a lot from his players, but college sports are a one-way deal. This week Masiello tried to skip to South Florida. That happens all the time, with hot-shot coaches moving on for more money, leaving the players behind.
It turns out that Masiello does not have a degree from the University of Kentucky, as he claimed. Now South Florida will not take him, and it is unclear if Manhattan will have him back.
My first reaction was that Manhattan could claim some form of family loyalty toward the prodigal coach and let him come back, waiving its own rules requiring a degree. But his claim of a degree could surely be construed as a lie, contempt for the school that gave him a chance. What is the lesson in that?
Much of big-time college sports are based on a lie – coaches recruit players, schools cut corners, athletic departments put one over on the public in order to entertain the public. In other words, life itself.
Since I stopped writing a sports column regularly at the end of 2011, I find I have a visceral distaste for big-time football and basketball. I know how these spectacles are put together.
Since I have not been paying much attention, I rely on the observations of others. This is what Doug Logan wrote about the Masiello case, in his weekly essay.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
BY DOUG LOGAN
Coach, what the hell were you thinking?
A week ago Steve Masiello, 39, was on top of the world. The men’s basketball coach for the Manhattan College [located in the Bronx, not Manhattan] Jaspers had just taken his gutty team of New York City playground veterans to the second round of the NCAA tournament. His opponent was the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals, coached by his mentor, Rick Pitino.
The bonds between Masiello and Pitino are longstanding. Pitino was the head coach of the New York Knicks in the late ‘80’s. He had this hard-nosed, city-raised kid, Masiello, as one of his ball boys. Later, Pitino recruited him to play for his 1996-2000 University of Kentucky Wildcats. After his college career as a player, Masiello learned the coaching profession at the knee of his guru, serving a stint as an assistant coach at Louisville.
Their coaching styles are identical: a swarming defense, fast-breaking offense, and helter-skelter energy up and down the court. The tournament game was very entertaining. At times Masiello knew exactly what Louisville was going to do: he was actually calling out their plays from the sidelines. Manhattan had a three point lead with three minutes to go but could not overcome the Cardinals’ experience. They gave up two critical three point shots by Luke Hancock and lost 71-64.
It is not unusual for coaches to leverage a positive tournament outcome into a bigger job. As a matter of fact, Manhattan has served as a crucible for coaches to go on to more lucrative positions. Fran Fraschilla took a Jasper team to the NCAA tournament and was rewarded with offers, first from St. John’s then from New Mexico. More recently, Bobby Gonzalez parlayed his success at Manhattan by accepting a better position at Seton Hall. Masiello was no different. He had a 60-39 record at Manhattan over three seasons. Last weekend the rumors had him accepting the vacancy at the University of South Florida [USF] in Tampa. The five year deal to coach the Bulls was all but announced, with a salary reported to be in the $1M per year range; a big raise.
Then, the inexplicable happened. It was reported that USF had rescinded their offer. The reason seems to be that Masiello had declared that he had a college degree from the University of Kentucky and that appears not to be true. Manhattan has subsequently announced that they have suspended their erstwhile coach pending an investigation into his educational credentials. He may have lied to them, too.
Sports imitates life, but in a more dramatic fashion. From hero to goat in six days. Top of the mountain to the depths of the valley in less than a week.
The philosophers all tell us that if we don’t study the mistakes of the past we are destined to make them in the future. All Masiello had to do was to take to heart the tragedy of George O’Leary. In December of 2001, O’Leary was forced to resign as head football coach at Notre Dame, arguably the most prestigious coaching position in the country. This after a mere five days on the job! It was revealed that O’Leary, former coach at Georgia Tech, lied on his application for the Notre Dame job by stating he had a Master’s Degree in education from NYU [where I now teach]. O’Leary was publicly humiliated and was forced to labor in obscurity as an NFL assistant. He has experienced redemption, of sorts, but his current job as head coach of University of Central Florida [UCF] pales, in comparison, to his prior potential glories.
Did Masiello think he could get away with it? Probably. The psyche of some of these coaches is such that they feel that all they have to do is deliver wins and that everything else is irrelevant. And, the market place appears to validate this hubris. Less than two years ago, Bruce Pearl was fired as head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. Pearl was caught lying, repeatedly, to NCAA officials who were investigating recruitment infractions. Last week Pearl was hired by Auburn University.
Sometimes all you have to do is to use the “eye test” to make judgments about character. Masiello is a pugnacious, in-your-face screamer. He paces the sidelines, berating his players, howling at the referees and playing the bully. He is loud, boastful and boorish. One can easily foresee him acting in a deceitful way if it will help him to win.
There are many ways one can overcome the lack of a specific credential in a job search. Usually that requires transparency, honesty and a bit of humility. But deceit, of this type, is, and should be, disqualifying. The role of coach, in my view, is not only to facilitate successful outcomes in athletic contests, but also to prepare young men and young women for the game of life.
Coach, you falsely claimed a degree in Communications. You might think about going back to finish and take a course or two in ethics.
Looks like we all invented Joe Paterno and Happy Valley, turned them into an idyllic magic kingdom, to justify the seedy world of big-time college football.
There had to be one factory with a coach who got it, who walked with the philosophers in his spare time, who was plugged into the moral issues of his time.
There had to be one good place. Otherwise, what is the justification of college football?
After half a century of covering college sports, I came to think of the vast majority of big-time coaches as talented and maybe even charismatic hucksters, who were warped inside. Their job was to prepare for the next game, the next season. But morally, many of them were like moles, who dig in the earth but never see daylight.
With the Freeh report on the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State emerging on Thursday, it seems clear that Penn State never prepared this sanctified football coach for the one real tough issue of his career. He could not act on evidence there was something wrong with his buddy down the hall.
Apparently, Paterno had never even walked through a room where the great common denominators of our time – the Oprahs, the Dr. Phils, the Jerry Springers – were blaring on television about the dark side of life.
The coach we needed so badly lived underground. And when confronted with hints and clues and allegations, he was surely not the person to do anything about them.
He had a game coming up. He had a practice. He had a recruiting trip.
And so did the rest of his university, and the fans who came rolling into the mountains on Saturday, and the sportswriters who idealized the coach. They all had a game. The pressure was on. The state of Pennsylvania and the whole football-loving nation wanted to think of Happy Valley as that good place that also produced linebackers.
We had the myth. How many children’s lives were ruined by a blind system of big-time college football that fit our needs?
One response to the memorial service for Joe Paterno:
People were attracted to Penn State because of its successful, charismatic and apparently idealistic football coach? Sorry, but that makes me just a bit uneasy.
I can see going to a school for its academic rating or a specific major, or well-known teachers who can be accessed by signing up for a course, or reasonable in-state tuition, or a scholarship, or a workship program that prepares you for real life, or proximity to home, or distance from home, or a beautiful setting. Or even the reputation of a party school.
But choose a university because you might score an occasional ticket to a football game or once in four years find yourself in the presence of a JoePa? Yikes. How did a football program become a beacon for a university?
I was able to watch the memorial live, streaming on PCN.com. I loved the stories about how Paterno recruited players’ mothers in their kitchens, raving over their pasta, and I believed every word about his fierce loyalty to players. And I respect the dean who praised Paterno's support for the classics.
Paterno was way above most big-time coaches in his relationship to education, and the media reported it.
However, I could not help but react to the defensive note being spun around the many wonderful traits of Paterno, almost as if they had been coordinated by a public-relations firm. Or defense counsel.
The most outspoken comments were from Nike’s Phil Knight, who said the flaw in the Sandusky investigation “lies in the institution, not in Joe Paterno’s response.”
Paterno wore Knight’s footwear. So there’s that.
The people from the university seemed to be addressing some other audience – history? A grand jury? The politicians of the state?
It is hard for an outsider to believe that insiders in the extremely inbred society of the university and the football program did not know about Jerry Sandusky’s at-least very creepy tendencies.
Whatever Mike McQueary told him, there is no evidence that Paterno understood the implications, or did enough to follow up. For a man that powerful to turn the rumors over to authorities (whom he apparently stonewalled) was just not enough. Football players are trained to follow Coach. However, I would expect a university and the surrounding community to be a bit more skeptical.
The tributes to Paterno were very touching; he had a better grip in a long and honorable life than most big-time football coaches – which is saying what?
But people’s choosing a university in order to be in the reflected glow of a hallowed football coach should be enough to make us question the link between football and higher education, so-called higher education. Even if Coach loved the classics.
As the mourners pay respect to Joe Paterno, it becomes increasingly clear just how badly he was served in his final years.
Paterno had enough left in his final weeks to understand that he was going to be judged as a public figure who did not do enough when warned about the possibility of male rape on his watch.
“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
That’s what Paterno told Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. The most important person in the state of Pennsylvania lived inside a castle, behind barricades and moats formed in the name of winning a national football championship.
This is what college football is all about – win at all costs, including isolation and ignorance. Take a look at an excellent article, “How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life,” by Laura Pappano, in the New York Times education supplement of Jan. 20. It asks the question, how did it get to be like this?
But Joe Paterno’s legacy should endure. The entire Penn State community accepted Paterno’s public reputation and his millions in donations to the educational and spiritual side of Penn State. But the mob let him down by not allowing even a court jester to speak some truths to him.
How alone he was. This was more than the King Lear paranoia of a coach who will not be shoved into retirement.
In 2004, the president and the athletic director of Penn State shuffled up to Paterno’s house and suggested it was time for him to retire. Paterno gave them the bum’s rush. Of course he did. By that time, it was already too late to create a dialogue between an aging coach and anybody he respected.
He was on his own, living by his wits, against anybody who would challenge him – because in his street-smart Brooklyn way, he knew they had only one thing on their minds, and that was winning more football games than the powerhouses in Ohio and Alabama and Florida. That’s all they cared about. He was there to be No. 1. So he told them to get lost.
In his press conferences in later years, he sounded like any cranky old man shouting at the kids to keep off his lawn. On that November night after his job was taken away from him, he sounded disjointed, telling the students to go home and study but he still did not seem to understand how serious, how ugly, this all was.
His players are now suggesting he died of a broken heart. This is classic football – us against them. We don’t have access to Paterno’s medical history in recent years (when he seemed to be a magnet for players running out of bounds), but he was diagnosed for lung cancer days after being publicly caught up in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Was he well served by his family, or did they all try to preserve his position against the hordes who resented every rare loss? Was he well served by his university, which allowed him to retreat deeper into the castle?
Above all, they wanted Penn State to be No. 1. And in the end, he became the Wizard of Oz, behind the trappings.
I’d rather remember the vital, earthy, skeptical, educated guy with the Brooklyn rasp, who built a good thing in the Nittany Valley – until the masses did him no favors by making him king.
Instead of protesting the selection of Bill O’Brien to coach Penn State football, the diehards ought to look at it this way:
There could have been no football games in so-called Happy Valley next autumn – that is to say, the major activity of that entire university could have been cancelled.
Some Penn State football boosters and former players are said to be unhappy with the choice of O’Brien in the wake of the ghastly sexual abuse scandal emanating from the core of the football program.
This is a good time to think about the absurd scale of values of college football, while Louisiana State University and Alabama are meeting for the national championship in New Orleans on Monday night.
Penn State is part of that feeder system of the Bowl Championship Series. The belief that Penn State should be a contender in any given season is a direct cause of the institutional blindness that sheltered an alleged abuser of boys, a trusted former assistant coach named Jerry Sandusky.
Nobody wanted to know, including the long-time coach and icon, Joe Paterno, whose ideals and generosity were used to rationalize more corrupt programs at other schools.
Hansen Alexander, a lawyer and writer in New York, makes the case that the lying and payoffs at schools like Ohio State and Miami were even more institutional than the sexual scandal that nobody at Penn State wanted to uncover.
Writers like Joe Nocera and Dave Zirin have pointed out the hypocrisies and dishonesties of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Bowl Championship Series and individual schools.
Over the years, I have asked college presidents to explain the link between football and education. The best they can do is gush about getting hordes of people on their campus in the fall. Apparently, when the recruits win a football game, boosters can be cajoled into giving money for laboratories. What a pathetic bargain that is.
Penn State is now being treated as a rogue institution that could not respond to danger signs from within. Of course, life and education must go on, for the sake of the students and the community.
In the wake of scandal, the new administration of Penn State could have apologized to rival schools and television networks and other enablers of this system, and just cancelled all games. Instead, the administrators went out and found a coach with excellent references and they seem committed to competing for future B.C.S. titles.
I would say Penn State fans ought to stop yapping about the new coach. The whole sordid system got off easy.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.