Fire. At. Will.

JRB and I recently found ourselves in a discussion over the willingness of Alabama Coach Nick Saban to go for two points during the Vanderbilt game a couple weeks ago. He felt like St. Nick was “piling on” the points, and I felt that he wasn’t. One of the points I brought up was my memory of Alabama’s thrashing of the Virginia Tech Hokies when they came to Blacksburg in 1973. That final was 77-6 even after The Bear had gone through the entire 3rd string, the waterboys and a couple of tuba players.

As I pointed to JRB, 77-6 is something to complain about, not a measly 2-point conversion in a relatively low-scoring game in which your QB has had trouble finding his mark inside the Red Zone and simply needs the practice. I argued that the ability to throw under extreme pressure in short yardage situations might be critical in future weeks, and lo and behold, it turned out to be just that. But like any good lawyer worth his salt, JRB argued his point passionately and to the nth degree, even in the face of inexorable logic.

That discussion triggered a few memories of my own, of days when I had to make the decision: Do I call off the dogs or not?

Over my years of coaching soccer, I’ve been fortunate to have been able to coach many good players and winning teams, some of which were real juggernauts. On many occasions, after getting up several goals and gaining a comfortable lead (more a problem in rec play than at the club level where teams are usually more evenly matched), I was faced with the decision of how to hold down the score so as not to totally embarrass the opposing team.

In soccer this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as requiring your team to make a certain number of consecutive passes prior to taking a shot, moving players into different positions or focusing on shooting only with a certain part of the body, such as the head or the player’s weaker (usually left) foot. This allows your team to practice a specific skill, holds down the scoring in a mismatch and allows the other team to save face and have more fun while feeling that they were more “in the game.” In most cases, it is the most rational and sporting thing to do.

In most cases. There’s always the exception.

A few years ago, I was coaching a match in which the opposing players were mouthy brats who complained to the ref at every turn while at the same time taking every opportunity to take a cheap shot at one of my players. Their sharply-dressed and well-coiffed parents were loud and preachy too, and they were coached by a British chap who just wouldn’t leave well enough alone (these things often flow from the top) and who kept crossing the midline and walking into my coaching area to complain about my players and what awful soccer I had taught them. It didn’t help matters that they hailed from one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Huntsville. They also weren’t very good.

At halftime, we were up 6-0 even though they had intimidated the young teenage center ref into calling everything their way. As the lads gathered around my feet for halftime instructions, my leading scorer, who had already notched four goals at that point, looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to call off the dogs, Coach?”

I thought about that for about one second. Then, calmly, and with great emphasis on each word, I issued the following charge:

“Fire at will, boys. Fire. At. Will.”

  1. Mike the Eyeguy

    The final score of that match was 13-0. Later that year, we faced the same team in the city tournament. They were much quieter that time around and seemed intent on playing the match rather than mouthing off. Their coach greeted me warmly at the start of the match and focused on coaching his players, not on complaining to me or the refs. I switched players around, putting defenders in as strikers, and several people had a chance to play keeper. The other team even managed to score a goal. Final score: 6-1.

  2. mmlace

    I’m sorry, Dr. Eyeguy, I might feel differently had I been there…but 13-0??? It doesn’t matter as much what they said, that just makes me feel bad for them.

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Oh please, don’t go pulling out the small violins for that crew. If you had been there they would have gotten under your skin like a bad case of chiggers.

    Read the third chapter of Ecclesiastes again. There’s a time and place for “everything under the sun.” A time to keep the dogs chained up and a time to turn’em loose.

    “Gentle as doves, shrewd as serpents.” It’s all in there.

  4. mmlace

    Oh, I know it’s all there. And like I said, I probably would feel differently if I were there…I think I’m just too soft-hearted for my own good…

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Hey, if you’re going to err, better to go with the “soft heart.” The use of force is very tricky business.

  6. Tarwater

    One of the sweetest things in sports is to absolutely obliterate a smart-aleck (I will be nice) opponent. I will never forget the way Stallings boys humiliated the Hurricanes down in New Orleans. Rammer Jammer was never so sweet as was that evening in the Super Dome.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    Tw, I’ll never get tired of watching the highlight reel of “Iced Teague” performing “The Strip” on Lamar Thomas–sweet justice if there ever was any. I’m betting Terrell Owens won’t be forgetting ol’ George either. 🙂

  8. JRB

    I’ve cooled off a little about it, but you help make my point. Saban had no good strategic reason to go for 2, and Vandy is not the loud-mouth, cocky, hated rival they seek to pummel. For instance, I have no problem with Florida keeping Tebow in after Tennessee quit playing on Saturday, because UT and UF hate each other, because they both are loud-mouthed and cocky teams and because if I ever were given a chance to run up the score on Florida, I would tuck in and feast. By all means, let UA run up the score on Auburn, because of The Thumb and all sorts of nasty reasons.

    Vandy is not that opponent.

    “The Strip” was sheer manliness and moxie, one of the finest things I ever witnessed in Sport.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    If I ever get in a spot of trouble, like, say, a little serial killing charge, you’re going to be my go-to guy!

    Speaking of manliness and moxie, how about that Tebow! I love the way he uses that wide body of his, flinging himself at the defensive line in short yardage situations like some kind of angry, charging elephant (no stylish dives there!).

    Oh, that he might have chosen to be an angry, charging elephant rather than a Gator! He better be careful with the kissy-kissy with his roommate on the sideline, though. That’s bound to be misinterpreted.

  10. JRB

    Good lawyering is good storytelling and “interpreting” the most useful facts all the while watching for your opponent to tell your preferred story for you.

    I cannot bring myself to compliment a Florida Gator, unless he moves to South Carolina and unless I hope that he really considers making the most ironic move of all next year: Knoxville.

    Go ‘Dores.

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    You’ve been drinking too many Mint Juleps again.

  12. Terri

    I know this makes me a bad person but I kinda think we should always play our best. Get the most points we can get.

    Ok, I also know that we should be good sports and treat others as we would like to be treated but I want to know that the other team is playing their best and if that means they score 100 more points than my team… so be it.

    November looms darkly in the future…

  13. Alan gable

    I’m with you. Running up the score is sometimes the most merciful action. I remember playing on a U-14 select team (Tullahoma Rowdies) a few years ago in a tournament, ironically, in Hunstville. We matched up against this team….the Blue Lazers. I contend that many of these guys were either in their early 20s or on something, but I’m not pointing any fingers. In the first half, they beat us like a drum so their coach “mercifully called off the dogs” in the second half. My Mom later told me that she heard the dulcet tones of Sweet Georgia Brown until the triple whistle sounded. They didn’t score any more goals but they still made us look a little ridiculous. Humiliating.

  14. Mike the Eyeguy

    Terri–Did it ever occur to you that that’s the kind of comment that may come back to haunt you? 🙂

    Don’t worry- St. Nick won’t pull any punches. We’ll always remember The Thumb.

    Alan–Omgosh, you had the privilege of being pummeled by the Blue Lazers? They fielded some killer squads back in the 90s, several state championship teams plus one that went deep into regional play as I recall. Several of those guys are back in town now, married with kids, and coaching themselves.

    I think the key to pulling it off is not to make it look so obvious. I remember walking off the pitch one time and hearing one of the opposing players say, “Hey Mom, we sure played a lot better in the second half,” to which she replied, “You sure did honey.”

    I remember thinking: That went well.

  15. Terri

    I know… I was looking at it like that. Bring your best. Run the score up as far as you can. Hopefully, we can get even more and then… it’s on the other hand!!!!

  16. Donna

    Terri, that mouth will get you in trouble.

    I see it like you Mike, I work on shots in a lop-sided tennis match instead of just ending it quickly. There is being our best and then there is being a good sport. Generally the latter is more important in recreational sports but when a game is decided it is always a good choice.

  17. Mike the Eyeguy

    High school soccer has a mercy rule (10 goals after one half), but rec and club don’t. In the absence of that, I always felt better about things if tried to slow it down. But I felt okay about running it up that one time too! 🙂

  18. bpb

    Hey, Bama was playing the third string! Good way for them to get some real practice. Was Saban supposed to tell them not to do their best?

  19. Mike the Eyeguy

    JPW threw the 2-point conversion as I recall, so the first string was still in–as they should be when the score is only 16-3! Pay JRB no mind. His argument is D.O.A. and he knows it; he’s just sharpening his saw like lawyers do sometimes.

Comments are closed.