Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sir Alex

When TigerBlog saw the news that Sir Alex Ferguson was retiring as the manager of Manchester United, his first thought was to wonder if perhaps he was the greatest coach of all time in any sport.

Ferguson. Not TigerBlog, though his record in youth sports is pretty strong.

Then TB started to wonder who in fact is the greatest coach ever, keeping in mind that his criteria includes being overwhelmingly successful and being overwhelmingly successful on the biggest stages in the entire sports world, not just within a smaller sub-culture. The second criteria eliminates some great, great coaches, by the way.

So where does Ferguson rank?

Well, in his 26 seasons with ManU, he won 13 Premier League championships, five FA Cups and two Champions' League titles, as well as some other championships mixed in. He also was as instrumental as anyone in the explosion of the Premier League as an international, world-wide phenomenon, far beyond what it was even 10 years or so ago.

Ferguson helped turn Manchester United into something akin to the Yankees, a franchise that is bigger than the league itself, bigger than the sport itself.

TB isn't the most knowledgeable international soccer fan. He does know that Ferguson is easily the most recognizable name in soccer coaching, and even the most casual fan knows who he is.

Ferguson was here, on campus, nearly three years ago, when he had lunch with Civil War historian James McPherson and others. Turned out Sir Alex is a big Civil War buff.

So where does Ferguson rank among the world's great coaches?

Honestly, TB doesn't know how to compare his record in the Premier League and with ManU to that of, say, Vince Lombardi. Or Phil Jackson. Or Scotty Bowman.

He does know that Ferguson is in the conversation, which says a lot about his record and impact on the international sporting world.

Ferguson was with ManU for 26 years, which means that Princeton's current streak of winning the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports began the year before he arrived.

Princeton's current streak is at 27, as the Tigers have already clinched this 2012-13 championship, even before the final three Ivy titles - in rowing - are contested.

Princeton has 197 points to date, 31.5 points ahead of Harvard. Princeton will move past the 200-point mark at the Ivy League rowing championships, and TB has figured out that 200 points is the sign of great success for any given academic year.

As for Ivy League championships, Princeton now has 11. Harvard and Cornell have seven apiece. With only three remaining, Princeton will win that number again as well.

It's a far cry from last year, when it went down to the last event before Princeton held off Harvard 191.5-190.5.

If you're keeping score, Princeton's 11 Ivy League championship teams to date are: women's soccer, field hockey, men's cross country, women's fencing, women's basketball, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's squash, women's squash, men's golf and men's outdoor track and field.

Princeton has also had seven teams finish in second place.

TigerBlog is of the belief that one of these years, Princeton will not win this championship. It's an extraordinary run, 27 straight years of having the best overall performance within the league.

And not one of those 27 years should be taken for granted.

Certainly next year isn't. When 2013-14 begins, everybody goes back to zeroes.

For now, though, it's a time to be proud of the accomplishment.

Sir Alex put up 26 great years.

Princeton is now at 27 - and counting.

With a warning, as always, that all glory is fleeting.

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