The Spark
9:06 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Book Sample: Inman Majors

A sample of Inman's book:
(Reprinted from Love’s Winning Plays by Inman Majors. Copyright © 2012 by Inman Majors. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.)

In the locker room after practice one of the quarterbacks had coined a new song and was performing it to the clapping delight of the others. It went like this:

Coach Love rollin down the street

Got that Mack Daddy grin

Gal so fine, she got to be kin

He stepping high, stepping low

Like a Playa above

But do he know, do he know

How to coach that love?

Unfortunately for Love, the balladeer had a good voice and a capacity for endurance. The lyrics, unsurprisingly in a locker room full of dressing and undressing college men, focused primarily on the juxtaposition between Love’s looks and physical endowments and the attractiveness of the woman the players had seen him walking with over the weekend.

During the lion’s share of this Love had tried to maintain a certain professional decorum. He’d yet to shower and typically didn’t linger in the players’ section of the locker room, but one of the quarterbacks had experienced a tough day and Love was trying to buck him up a bit, walking him through the three-step drop right there in the main dressing area. By now, however, the discouraged player was laughing at the troubadour’s lyrics as well as the dance steps he’d incorporated into the number, and Love saw it was time to give up the ghost. They’d listen to a graduate assistant coach out on the field, but in the locker room, their side of the locker room especially, he was more than fair game.

So with a wave of acknowledgment both to the singer and to the spirit of the song, namely that Love was in over his head with Brooke, he passed through the door and into the coaches’ dressing area. Behind him now was call and response:

Caller:Coach Love

Response:Bada*s love machine!

Caller:Say what?

Response:He so bad, he so mean!

Love had showered and was now dressing on a bench in front of a number of empty lockers, grabbing his clothes out of a bag he’d neatly tucked in the corner while out on the field. Though he was referred to as Coach Love by the players and coaches, he wasn’t technically a coach. Instead, his official position was that of an off the field graduate assistant, meaning he did all sorts of things for the football team, but wasn’t allowed to coach during practice or official player gatherings. The coaching he’d done today was just a voluntary workout, one attended exclusively by quarterbacks well down the depth chart—the walk-ons, the scrubs.

While he dressed, he eyed the empty lockers before him. One in particular held his attention, for it was the dressing space of the coaching graduate assistant who had left last week for Clemson. It was his position that Love coveted, for it would mean actual on-the-field coaching and an end to round-the-clock errand running. Of course there’d still be errands to run as one of the low men on the totem pole, but Love would also be on the field during practice and games, instructing players, running drills, a real member of an SEC staff.

How he wanted to be on the field and actually coaching. How he wanted that dressing space. So big it was. So plush. He could fit three changes of clothes in there, an aquarium, a moped. He sat half-dressed on the bench, trying to imagine his name over such a locker.

His name. It really wasn’t the greatest to be paired with the word coach. His name, when preceded by the standard appellation for one who instructs athletes, sounded like a New Age sex therapist. Or the title of a nasty rap song. He thought Mr. Love sounded okay. As did his given name: Raymond Love. But Coach Love? It was a name to inspire clever athletes, a name to keep the muse on high alert.

Now that same silly name was being called. Or one that sounded a little like it. He turned toward Coach Driver’s private dressing area. There it went again. Lowe! Coach Lowe!

Love looked around. He was alone in the empty locker room. Slipping on a T-shirt and sandals, he made an uncertain march toward the head coach’s quarters.

Coach Von Driver. Now that was a name for a college football coach. Snappy, aggressive, unique.

Coach Von Driver took the SEC by storm, winning a conference championship in his first year at the helm. He followed up that initial success with consecutive top twenty finishes in the polls and back-to-back New Year’s Day bowl appearances.

Love stopped just outside the head coach’s dressing room, being sure not to intrude in any way, and called out in a hesitant manner: Coach Driver?

Yes, Coach Lowe, come in. I’ve been calling you for five minutes.

Love entered to find a naked fifty-year-old man, hirsute about the shoulders and back, with one equally hairy leg propped up on a chair. This same man was sawing a towel back and forth between his hindquarters and that part of his anatomy that Love least cared to witness au naturel. A fog of antifungal foot spray hung heavy in the air, but not quite as heavy as Love might have liked. He could see clearly.

Now Coach Von Driver went flat-footed, seemingly lost in thought. The towel was limp in his hand, then flung casually over his shoulder, as a matador does his cape. He reached for the sports drink on his desk and drank heartily. Love wasn’t sure if he had been summoned simply to bear witness to this or if there was actual business at hand. He stayed where he was, just inside the doorway, trying to look attentive without actually looking anywhere specific.

When the head coach reached for the volume button on the stereo and turned up the music, Love breathed a sigh of relief. Surely this would signal the dressing portion of the performance, a mood enhancer if you will. But no. Apparently the sports drink was only the halftime break, for Coach Driver now hiked his other leg and resumed the two-man-saw action of before.

In his efforts at not watching, Love found himself staring at one of the coaching maxims framed on the far wall. It read:

Every man to the ball!

Love wished he’d picked a different one. He’d just noticed that Coach Driver was not completely nude, but wearing shower shoes. He thought things would have been better without those plastic gizmos.

You like Bon Jovi?

Coach Driver had spoken and Love felt compelled to turn in his direction. He knew it was only his imagination and sense of discomfort that made him think coaches could find more ways to highlight that part of themselves—the part you really and truly didn’t want to see—than anyone else on the planet. At this moment that highlighting was being accomplished by: whipsawing, leg lifting, and a potpourri of flapping, flopping, and flipping.

Love recalled a school field trip to the mountains and an old-timer who could make a little wooden man dance upon a board by jiggling his leg and tapping the board. The wooden doll was loose-limbed and jigged every which way and in the most unpredictable and ramshackle fashion. Love wished this image hadn’t popped into his mind just now.

All the while Coach Driver swayed a bit to the music. At a particularly rousing portion of the song, something about cowboys and horses, Love was sure the coach was heading for the dreaded hurdler’s pose, but the heartfelt chorus made him reconsider. He stayed as he was, riding the towel like an outlaw on a mustang. He gave the impression of having the wind at his back and a sizable lead on the posse.

Love assumed the question about Bon Jovi was rhetorical and hadn’t bothered to answer. But then Coach Driver asked again: so, do you like Bon Jovi?

Love did not. He most assuredly did not. He wondered, not for the first or last time, how Coach Driver had ever ended up coaching down south.

They’re all right, he said.

All right? said Coach Driver with mock incredulity. He flung his towel in Love’s direction. You country boys don’t like anything without a fiddle and a steel guitar, do you? Sh*t, you wouldn’t know rock and roll if it bit you on the a*s.

Love didn’t consider himself a country boy, but this was the first time the head coach and he had talked about anything remotely casual and he thought he’d best make the most of it. It was rare to see Coach Driver so jovial. He was usually the epitome of the new breed of corporate businessman as head coach, deadly serious and speaking in punchy sound bites like someone practicing to be a motivational speaker. Granted, Love would’ve preferred slightly more formal attire for the conversation. The head coach was now sitting naked at his desk and rummaging through a travel kit for a chest-hair comb or thigh gel or god only knew what.

Love would draw the line at any nude flossing of teeth.

Suddenly Coach Driver turned around to the marker board behind him where a series of X’s and O’s were scattered about in offensive and defensive positions. He looked at Love and said: how would you attack a two deep zone?

Love looked at the board as if studying it. He knew his response already, had known it for as long as he could remember. He and his father, a longtime high school coach, had spent hours discussing ways to attack this very alignment.

I don’t think the two deep zone can stop a tight end running deep down the middle of the field, said Love, staring intently at the board and not at the nude coach beside it. You send your wideouts on fade patterns or a deep flag and those safeties have to go to them. So that leaves a linebacker, usually, to cover your tight end. If you have a tight end who can run and catch, it’s one of the best, and easiest, long plays there is.

Coach Driver went to the board and began drawing the different receiver patterns. For a moment he looked at a stack of clean towels on the leather chair beside him. Love held his breath. A quick towel to the waist would solve a lot of problems. But the head coach was now lost in the moment of diagramming plays. It was a kind of reverie that all serious football men found themselves in. Love had pulled himself out of bed many a night to jot down plays that came to him after a day of studying film. He’d compiled his many notes and diagrams into twenty or so spiral notebooks. This accumulation of football knowledge and philosophy was called Love’s Winning Plays,and with a mixture of pride and self-consciousness, he labeled each notebook as such.

Coach Driver was making a long stripe across the board to indicate the tight end’s progress downfield. When’d he’d finished the diagram, he said: the trouble is finding a tight end who can run deep and then catch it.

Love nodded in an agreeing fashion. He thought now might be the time to venture an opinion to show his football acumen.

That Martin kid might be a player, he said, if he can put on a little weight. He was catching everything that came his way when he worked out with the quarterbacks the other day.

Coach Von Driver said nothing but began, finally, to put on his clothes. He’d taken to dressing like a professional golfer of late after an extended run at imitating the khaki-clad former frat boys who made up the bulk of the university’s influential boosters. His first year he’d tried to mesh the gelled hair standard in the northern industrial region with the official baseball cap of the southland, but in year two had opted, much to everyone’s pleasure, for the modified tour professional look that coaches had long preferred. In this, his third year, he’d begun mixing in the occasional saucy chapeau: the winter fedora, the summer Panama, the occasional daring derby while on the golf course. Today, sitting on his desk, was a Tampa Straw with a colorful rainbow band as made famous by the golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez. Love knew this accessory was the coach’s lone rebellion against the conformity required of the modern coach and it made him feel kindly and protective for a moment and regret, briefly, the many times he’d thought of him as simply a hairy cyborg.

Did I call you Coach Lowe earlier? he asked suddenly, sitting at his desk and eyeing the snappy Chi Chi number with a lascivious glare. He seemed, in fact, to be addressing the hat.

Love didn’t want to lie, but then again he didn’t really care that he’d been called the wrong name.

Maybe so, he said.

Well, it’s Coach Love, I know that. And it looks like you’re doing a good job with some of our young quarterbacks.

Thank you, sir.

Coach Driver stopped addressing the hat for a moment and looked Love in the eye, annoyed that he’d been interrupted. The five-second pause after he’d said his last sentence had led Love, mistakenly, to believe it was his turn to talk. He decided to count ten from now on before responding.

Meanwhile the head coach continued to stare at Love with his small eyes that constantly sprang forward then receded under his ever-twitching eyebrows. A bit like those snakes that pop out of fake cans of peanuts, thought Love. He could feel the vibration of the coach’s knee shaking against the desk as well. The head man was all energy, that was for sure. One never saw him completely still.

We have this annual trip, said Coach Driver, calming his eyes and active brows. A trip for some of the coaches that we take every summer, where we go to several towns in the state and kind of give the boosters and supporters in the region a little pep talk. We try and hit up different towns each year, fan bases that usually travel to see us or just follow on TV and radio. It’s a chance for the fans and alums to mingle with the coaches a bit and get to know them in a more casual setting. And hopefully we raise a little money for the program along the way. Most of the SEC schools do it, but we call ours the Pigskin Cavalcade.

Love had heard of it. The Cavalcade had once come to his hometown and most of the muckety mucks in town had talked of nothing else for days.

It sounds like fun, said Love.

Yes, of course, said Coach Driver. It’s always nice to meet the home folks.

Love nodded, wondering how long it had taken him to work in the word folks as a regular part of his lexicon once he’d taken the job in Dixie. For the home folks, those good folks, sure do like being called folks.

Coach Von Driver, or CVD as he was known in the football chat rooms, checked his watch, then hastily grabbed what looked like a printed schedule of his day’s activities. With a jeweler’s precision he checked off several items. Love assumed the schedule looked something like this:

1.  Call in Coach Lowe and vigorously towel-dry self in his presence

2.  Nude diagramming of plays for edification of Coach Lowe

3.  Forget why I asked Coach Lowe into my office in the first place

After a few more notations he seemed to remember again that Love was in the room. He looked at his watch and then began speaking to it: in years past we’ve asked some of the graduate assistants to go with us on these trips. To help out with the driving, handle the golf clubs, just do errands, you know. I’d like you to go with us this year.

Love waited a moment to make sure Coach Driver was finished talking and also to give the timepiece first dibs at responding.

Thank you, said Love, I’d like to do that.

Good. That’s the kind of attitude we like to see around here. I like a team player.

Love nodded eagerly and seriously as befit the team player that he was.

You’ll be driving Coach Woody this week. You’ll need to call him right away to make arrangements. I don’t, under any circumstances, want him running loose around town. And you’ll need to do all the driving. Is that clear?

Yes sir.

I don’t expect you to babysit him every step of the way, but anything you can do to get him back to his hotel room at a reasonable hour will be helpful. I’ve heard that talking about two-platoon football will sometimes do the trick. And a grad assistant two years ago seemed to have good luck with drive-through Krystals. I grew up with White Castle, but down here I know it’s Krystals.

He nearly laughed at this juncture, shaking his head at the eternal Mason-Dixon feud between the merits of White Castle and Krystals, and making no attempt to disguise where his sympathies lay.

Anyway, apparently Coach Woody loves those little square burgers. Of course a lot of the towns we’ll visit won’t have all-night little burgers, so you might have to improvise.

By this point, Coach Driver was facing the mirror on his side wall and carefully applying his hair gel.

So you think you can handle it?

The coach’s reflection in the mirror made no reply, so Love said, yes sir, I can handle it.

All right. First stop is Goshen. There’s a round of golf tomorrow. And then dinner at the country club. And then we’ll hit Fairview for more golf and a banquet that night. Last stop will be the Parker Yacht Club. Here’s Coach Woody’s number. Call him right away. He’s usually hard to catch.

Love took the small piece of paper with the neatly written digits from Coach Driver and said he’d contact Coach Woody as soon as he got home.

Make sure, said Coach Driver, that Coach Woody stays out of the lake. Last time we were at one of these godforsaken redneck yacht clubs he and one of his homeboys were doing cannonballs off the roofs of the pontoon boats.

Love smiled without knowing he was doing it and Coach Driver caught his eye in the mirror.

That stuff would fly twenty or thirty years ago, said the head coach. But this isn’t the good old days anymore. As good as Coach Woody is and as popular as he is with the players, I can’t have any freewheelers on the staff. You understand?

Yes sir.

Good. And Coach Lowe, if one team in twenty had a tight end who was both fast and could catch, nobody would run the two deep zone. But teams still run it, don’t they? And with great success. What does that tell you about your tight end fly pattern solution?

Love didn’t answer. He felt that too much information had been thrown at him at once.

Said Coach Driver, turning up the Bon Jovi again and wiping the excess gel from his hand on a nearby towel: I’m just razzing you, sport. Keep diagramming those plays. You might be the next Sid Gilliam.

Love offered a weak smile in return.

Coach Driver checked his watch and said: you can run along now.

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