Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gaga And Bagnoli

The Academy Awards Sunday night featured nearly four hours of the usual narcissism and celebrity worship, mixed with a misunderstanding of what actual talent, intellect, humor and humility are all about.

No, mostly what it was was good-looking people wearing expensive clothes remarking on how great they are and how what they do requires them to be so much greater than everyone else, rather than just getting that one lucky break that hundreds of others who are just as talented never got.

There was one glaring exception, though. TigerBlog hopes the moral of the story here is obvious, though he doubts it is.

Lady Gaga was, in a word, incredible, and was from the first note she struck of "The Sound of Music" all the way through to the end of her performance. And then it only got better, when Julie Andrews came out on stage.

Lady Gaga, maybe more than anyone, has associated the visual with the audio part of her performances, at least to this point. The big thing from her has always been what costume she's going to wear, how much skin she's going to reveal, what tattoo she has next. Her music was mostly an extension of that, not something that could stand on its own.

Her Oscar performance?

It stands on its own. It's been 50 years since "The Sound of Music" won Best Picture, and Lady Gaga brought it all back right into the moment. It was astonishing how good she was.

And what's the moral? There's no substitute for real, genuine, "I-can-do-this-and-not-everybody-else-can" talent. And that's what Lady Gaga had on display during the show, with a voice that she has kept hidden under a wig or outrageous outfit.

As for the rest of the show? TigerBlog saw "American Sniper" and "The Imitation Game." He didn't see "Birdman," so he can't say for sure if that was better than the other two, so he'll just say it this way: If "Birdman" is better than the other two, then it has to be really, really, really good.

Why is TigerBlog so anti-movie star? He's not, really. It's just that he values substance, and there's a real lack of it on display at the Academy Awards.

Coaching, like acting, is a profession where the most successful aren't necessarily the most talented. Some are the products of a no-lose system. Some benefit from having a unique player or players who carry their team - sort of like coaching Tom Brady or Michael Jordan.

Maybe they're the best coaches. Maybe there are any number of people who could coach those teams and win. And if you're one of those coaches, would you risk your reputation as being one of the greats of all time to take on a genuine challenge someplace else?

And this brings us to the big news in the Ivy League today.

Ordinarily, TigerBlog likes to stay away from commenting on specific things that are going on at the other league schools. Today it's a little different. You can't write about Ivy League athletics without mentioning Al Bagnoli, whose hire as the new head football coach at Columbia University was officially announced yesterday, several days after it became public.

When Princeton last saw Bagnoli, it was November. TigerBlog remembers it well, as he made a PA announcement congratulating Bagnoli on his fine career as Penn's coach, including his 17-6 record against Princeton.

And now, Bagnoli is taking over at Columbia. This is fascinating on 100 different levels.

With very few exceptions, Columbia has struggled since well before TB has been following Ivy League football. The current Lions have had back-to-back 0-10 seasons, and they will bring a 21-game losing streak into 2015.

And who will be leading them? One of the greatest football coaches in Ivy history, a man who won nine league championships at Penn, six of which came during perfect 7-0 league seasons.

Let's start with Columbia's perspective.

This seems like a perfect hire for the Lions. They're getting genuine buzz around their program. Hey, what Ivy fan doesn't want to see how Bagnoli will do? TigerBlog is interested in what happens.

On top of that, Columbia is getting a coach who clearly knows what he's doing. Yes, Penn hasn't been great the last few years. And yes, Bagnoli is 62.

On the other hand, maybe a new assignment reenergizes him.

Columbia has nothing to lose with this hire. The program has struggled under coach after coach, all of whom seemed promising when they came in. No Columbia fan can say that the school isn't making a commitment to try to turn it around now.

What about from Bagnoli's perspective?

TigerBlog's initial thought was why would he want this? Yes, the money is probably good, though TB doubts it's as much as he's read in some places. Who knows though. That's a private matter for Columbia University.

Just from a coaching standpoint though, what if Bagnoli goes there and doesn't turn the program around. Does that ruin some of his legacy, which as of now is as one of the league's all-time best?

What didn't dawn on TB is that perhaps Bagnoli doesn't care about that. Maybe coaches don't think in those terms.

Maybe all he's thinking is that he's the one who can get it done. Maybe that's what coaches - successful ones - think. That "I'm" the one who can get it done there.

If he does, then that settles it. Bagnoli is the greatest Ivy football coach ever.

Either way, it's fascinating.

His first Ivy game next year will be Oct. 1 at home, against Princeton. The Tigers are coached by TB's favorite Ivy football coach, Bob Surace.

TigerBlog goes to Surace for a lot of his perspectives on how coaches think and what goes through their minds. He's learned a lot from Surace on this subject.

Now Surace goes from coaching against Bagnoli at Penn to coaching against him at Columbia. It's a weird dynamic, one that doesn't come up too often.

When was the last time a coach went from being a proven, consistent winner over nearly a quarter-century to another school in the same league, let alone one that has struggled like Columbia has? TB can't think of any.

TB will be rooting for Princeton to beat Columbia of course, but that doesn't mean that he isn't going to be following what Bagnoli does with the Lions. And wondering where that program will be in three or four years. And what it means for the coach's legacy.

No matter, though, it's good for Ivy football in general. It certainly makes it more interesting.

Honestly, TB has no idea what to expect from any of this. He wouldn't even begin to guess whether he'll win big, or not win at all.

The best he can do is wish Bagnoli luck. At least in his final six Ivy games.

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