Over the past few years, countless stories have been written about Game of Thrones. The popular television show has been used as a platform to provide life lessons on everything from business leadership to parenting to even...the royal baby. And, perhaps more than anything else, the show has been extensively used as a metaphor for discussing college sports. One such story was previously posted on BON. Another was posted on Wide Right Natty Light. Yet another was posted on Barking Carnival. This is nothing new.
In fact, writing about Game of Thrones is a tendency that writers seemingly want to avoid, but simply cannot. In the Barking Carnival piece, the author (nobis60) poetically explained how his hesitancy towards writing another Game of Thrones piece was eventually overcome by its undeniable suitability:
I've shied away from doing any 'This sport/this league/these people as Game of Thrones characters' pieces, although such pieces are as common as milkweed pollen across the Interwebs. They all start out with clear and clever Tyrion and Cersei analogs, but once they've devolved into figuring out who's Hodor and who's a Greyjoy they tend to get a tad ragged.
When things get suitably epochal, though, it's hard to think of a work that provides more fertile ground for a big-picture analogy or two. So I'll give it a shot.
We’re going to give it a shot, too. But we won’t be writing about Game of Thrones. Instead, we’re going to discuss A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the name of the book series.
While this seems like a minor distinction (with the exception of giving spoilers for the TV watchers), nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this distinction remains one of the main focal points of this series, which will analyze the coaching situation of the Texas Longhorns through the prism of the books. Eat your heart out, Steve Patterson.
This first post contains only minor spoilers from the books. However, if you want to avoid all spoilers from the books, please don’t read any further.
In discussing the coaching situation of the Texas Longhorns, the most poignant quote from the books comes from a seemingly innocuous conversation between Tyrion Lannister and Illyrio Mopatis in A Dance With Dragons:
“And you best be careful what you say of my family, magister. Kinslayer or no, I am a lion still.”
That seemed to amuse the lord of cheese to no end. He slapped a meaty thigh and said “You Westerosi are all the same. You sew some beast upon a scrap of silk and all of a sudden you are all lions or dragons or eagles. I can take you to a real lion, my friend. The prince keeps a pride in his menagerie. Would you like to share a cage with them?”
This quote from Illyrio is fantastic. And it represents so much truth over college football. Ultimately, in college football, the beasts sewn upon the scraps of silk are largely meaningless. Inevitably, everything comes down to the performances of coaches and players, with their sigils diminished to reflections of wealth, status, and previous accomplishments. On the actual battlefield, sigils are just sigils. They serve as a representation of power, but not power unto themselves. As we all know, in the end, only “power is power.”
And, in exploring the dynamics of power, the biggest problem with using Game of Thrones (as compared to A Song of Ice and Fire) was actually outlined in the introduction to the BON piece. Which was legitimately great. The authors did an amazing job. But take a closer look at this quote from the article, which is perhaps the simplest encapsulation of the major themes within Game of Thrones:
Some combination of incessant nagging and tepid curiosity led me to the world of HBO's Game of Thrones: a world of political intrigue, incestuous sex, gratuitous violence, and ego. A world in which both virtue and competence exist, but rarely coincide. So pretty much, Big 12 football. Also, there are dragons.
Again, this is a perfect explanation of the television series. But it also shows why the books are a much better starting point for this series. Essentially, while the show focuses on displaying external factors and relationships (and dragons), the books provide a much more layered analysis of the individual characters.
In fact, one of George R.R. Martin's greatest literary triumphs is his ability to use third-person narration to fully flesh out the characters. For each character, the reader learns exactly what they want, why they want it, and how they plan to get it. Furthermore, by being placed inside their heads, the reader also learns if each character is being honest with others and with themselves. Essentially, through the narrative structure of the books, the characters completely reveal their awareness (or lack thereof) over their strengths, their weaknesses, and their overall situations. This is a key point, and it firmly sets the stage for this series.
To wit, some of the characters seemingly destined for greatness are ultimately tripped up by a misunderstanding or misapplication of either the current cards in their hand or the order in which those cards need to be played. Both are flaws, and both can be fatal. And neither have anything to do with sigils.
Moving forward, in examining the head coaching situation of the Texas Longhorns, the best course of action is to cut through the extraneous factors and simply analyze the merits of the individuals. Which, again, has nothing to do with their sigils. When it is time to find a new coach, we want Steve Patterson to find the real lion, not the beast on a scrap of silk. Thankfully, due to George R.R. Martin's genius, there is no shortage of characters and leaders to be examined in A Song of Ice and Fire. And, as you'll see, many of them closely resemble coaching candidates for the University of Texas.
As you might have guessed, the first post in this series will discuss the central figure of Texas Football: William Mack Brown.
Robert Baratheon | Mack Brown
“Robert wanted smiles and cheers, always, so he went where he found them . . . Robert wanted to be loved.” -Cersei Lannister
We all have that friend or acquaintance who wants, more than anything else in the world, to be loved. To be enjoyed and have his or her company appreciated. To tell a funny joke that incites the room to laughter. These people are almost universally extolled when they are in control and draped in a cloth of greatness.
Sadly, when that control is removed and that cloth tarnished, their excessive pandering tires quickly and is usually followed by disillusionment, (attempted) avoidance, and, sometimes, disdain. But, in these situations, it’s hard to bear these people ill will because they’re almost always inherently decent human beings. Even getting annoyed or exasperated with them can cause a pang of guilt. Just because something is no longer good doesn’t make it all bad.
Which brings us to Mack Brown and Robert Baratheon.
Mack Brown and Robert Baratheon both have a single seminal moment associated with their names. Mack’s started when Vince calmly strutted into the end zone with 19 seconds left in the Rose Bowl. Robert’s began with striking down Rhaegar Targaryen (at that time viewed as the noblest man and most capable fighter in all of Westeros) at the Battle of the Trident.
But as Seinfeld so comically and darkly noted, the peak of our lives can also be tragic – there’s nowhere to go but down. And due to a hopeless psychological capacity for individual optimism, real human beings will almost never acknowledge the peak of their existence while it’s actually occurring. It is doubtful that Mack and Robert did.
Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight to guide us. And hindsight tells us the peak changed both men.
Mack went from one of the more maligned football coaches in the country (Remember Mr. February?) to one of the most revered and respected. And when Mack reached this apex, it appears football no longer resonated as the top priority in his brain. Maybe he felt like he had conquered that challenge and there was little work left to be done. Maybe he felt entitled to a honeymoon period. Maybe he actually prefers the glad-handing and backslapping that comes with being a national championship-winning coach at the University of Texas. Maybe it was a combination of all three.
By contrast, Nick Saban (yes, we know that using Saban as a comparison for Mack is beyond old) has never felt like he “conquered” football. Instead, even after previously winning several titles, Saban destroys his opponent in the national title game, complains about losing a week of recruiting, plays a couple rounds of golf, and then goes back to the chalk board to figure out how to do it all over again. And he doesn’t just enjoy this process…hell, it’s unclear if he even does enjoy it. Instead, he needs it.
Conversely, Mack Brown appears to need football about as much as Scipio Tex needs writing advice. Instead, Mack appears to need the things that come with the football, such as the effusive national praise and special hugs from UT big shots. The $5 million annual paycheck probably doesn’t hurt too much either. But all those things have seemingly become the job to Mack.
Why? Why does he care about these things so much? Well, it’s the same reason most of us care what other people think about us. As a general rule, human beings seek external affirmation either biologically or due to an attempt at societal conformity. Mack Brown has this trait more than anyone you’ll ever meet.
Put more simply, Mack needs people to love him. And he often makes crucial decisions based on loyalty, pride, comfort, and having everybody get along with each other. By and large, these aren’t the qualities of a true CEO Coach.
Similarly, Robert Baratheon lacked the overall temperament to permanently sit on a throne. Or give a single order that influenced how an entire kingdom of people live their everyday lives. He was born to lead soldiers into battle, kick ass, drink, screw, and pass out.
But once he bashed Rhaegar’s head in and the “leading into battle” and “kicking ass” parts stopped, all Robert was left with was the “drinking,” “screwing,” and “passing out” parts. Unsurprisingly, the latter three were less psychologically fulfilling than the former two. But it’s all Robert had left in his life, and it’s what he turned to.
So he got drunk and he got fat and he got complacent. And he got abrasive and ended up turning his entire world against himself. He even admitted as much. During a conversation with Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones, Robert said:
“I swear to you, I was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so dead as now that I've won it.”
The thing that ultimately killed Robert, though, wasn’t a lack of friends. It wasn’t being married to Cersei Lannister. It wasn’t a dearth of fighting wars. And it wasn’t getting a boar tusk through the gut.
Robert died when Lyanna Stark died. Lyanna, whom he loved more than anything else on the planet. Who loved him back and made him happy and excited to live life.
That single event negated his chance at ever having true and consistent happiness for the duration of his physical existence. That tends to happen when the thing that you care most about in life is ripped away in such a harsh and unforeseen manner.
As fans, we are Mack’s Lyanna. And, for a contingent of the fanbase, he’s already lost us. For the remainder, the next three games will be critical.