Tommy West is a class act

 

Thanksgiving is next week and in that spirit I want to take a break from the BCS, player arrests, and the coaching carousel to tell you a good story about a good man.

About a million years ago I played high school football against Tommy West. His Gainesville High School team beat my team from Greene County for a conference championship. West was a running back and a really good player. That’s why he played college football at Tennessee and I became a sports writer.

I followed his career at Tennessee and then later when he became an assistant coach on the rise. He worked for Danny Ford at Clemson and later became the Tigers’ head coach. After he was let go at Clemson he eventually became the head coach at Memphis. Personally, I always knew him to be a class act.

 Last week he proved it to the rest of the world.

Tommy West got fired last week. He’s 55 years old and had done just about everything he could do at a place like Memphis. He made them competitive and took them to four bowl games, which is not an easy thing to do in the middle of SEC country. But this season the program took a dip and is currently 2-8. The powers that be decided they wanted somebody to “take the program to another level”, as they always like to say.

 After his dismissal was announced, West stood before the press and told Memphis some stuff it didn’t want to hear. He told Memphis that if they wanted to get to another level in football, they had better start investing some money into the program as their competitors have. Most fired coaches take their settlement and go quietly. West said what needed to be said. I admire that.

West agreed to coach for the rest of the season and last Saturday Memphis played its final home game against UAB. It had to be a bittersweet moment for a man who has given so much of his life to college football and isn’t quite sure what he is going to do next.

I didn’t do the original reporting on the story that follows. That was done by my friend Geoff Caulkins of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. But because it is such a good story, and because West is from Gainesville, I wanted to share it with you here.

Memphis was getting absolutely destroyed by UAB, which led 31-7 in the third quarter. But with less than two minutes left Memphis blocked a punt and recovered it on the UAB six-yard line. West sent Brett Toney into play quarterback.

Toney, you should know, is the Memphis version of Notre Dame’s “Rudy.” He was a good high school player who grew up loving Memphis football but wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship. So he walked on and was content to ride the bench of for five years. He got to play some when other quarterbacks got hurt but in all that time Toney had never, ever, scored a touchdown.

But West sent Toney into the game with a play designed for him to either keep the ball or pitch to a running back. To no one’s surprise, including West’s, Toney kept the ball and scored. It allowed West the luxury of a smile in what was otherwise a dismal week and a dismal season.

“If I don’t do anything good in my life, I feel like I did some good there,” West told the Commercial-Appeal after the game.

So while we’re consumed with who’s going to get fired and who’s going to get hired and whose team is going to get a $19 million payday from the BCS, let’s take a moment to remember that there are a lot of guys out there like Tommy West and Brett Toney. To them the game is about more than just getting paid. It’s about doing something you love.

Brett Toney will never make a dime playing football but no one can ever take that touchdown away from him. And the older he gets, the more priceless the moment will become.

Tommy West has two more games to coach at Memphis, on Saturday at Houston and on Nov. 27 at Tulsa. Those could be the last two football games that he ever coaches. But he will always remember how he felt when Brett Toney crossed the goal line.

College football can break your heart and often does. But every now and then it can also make your heart soar. That’s why it is a helluva game.

 

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143 comments Add your comment

UT96

November 18th, 2009
1:54 pm

Tide Rising, PS-we should know something about Janzen Jackson Thursday as KPD should have its investigation done by then.

reservoirDAWG

November 18th, 2009
1:55 pm

” as we refore to it here in Knoxville.” Wow!

UT96

November 18th, 2009
2:01 pm

Whatever, like you’ve haver made a typo on an internet blog jackass. “refer”

reservoirDAWG

November 18th, 2009
2:03 pm

two for two.

Memphis Dawg

November 18th, 2009
2:05 pm

Most people agree that Coach West is a nice guy, however, being a nice guy is no guarantee that you are a great coach. Memphis plays in a lousy conference thats affiliated with lousy bowl games. They can only recruit and get the players that the BCS schools turn away. The goal for Memphis is to get into a BCS conference in the near future to help recruiting but we all know how difficult that will be.
I am curious as to how many people that have posted a comment have seen Memphis play? I have! West has tried his best with what he had in regards to talent but his decisions, preparation and management of the game is weak. It was time for a change. Hopefully, Fred Smith (FEDEX) will put up the money needed to move this program forward.

RED ELEPHANT

November 18th, 2009
2:05 pm

We love T.West in Gainesville. Great article about a true class act!

GO BIG RED WIN STATE 2009!!!!!!!

Joe

November 18th, 2009
2:19 pm

Toney passed for 3 TDs in 2008. What do you mean he never scored a TD?

http://www.gotigersgo.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/toney_brett00.html

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
2:25 pm

” as we refore to it here in Knoxville.”

Actually, that’s pretty close to the way it’s pronounced in K’ville. I did one and a half years on 3 different field assignments up there. No, they weren’t prison sentences, before you ask.

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
2:29 pm

RED ELEPHANT – I missed Tommy West at Gainesville; that was my younger brother’s era to play against the Elephants. We never played them. Was he better than Jerry Paul at South Hall?

Got 12?

November 18th, 2009
2:30 pm

Got 12?

November 18th, 2009
2:32 pm

Before the Blog Cops issue a warrant for my arrest, I meant to type “SI’s” instead of “ESPN’s.”

Ethan

November 18th, 2009
2:33 pm

If you talk to most Memphis football fans they agree with Coach West and his comments after his firing. Actually most have been wanting to sat these things for years to an audience like he had that day. Our University Administration is a joke and they had promised him for years that he would receive bigger and better things. These things never came and Coach West kept asking privately. He is not the type of person to publicly mad mouth the administration and they knew it. His being such a class act is some that did but never should have gotten him fired. Our AD, RC Johnson, is a less than desirable AD. He only caters to the handful of big money people and ignores the rest of the fan base. Tommy is a class act and most Memphis fans were sad to see him leave . We also loved his departing comments because we have desperately needed those things to be said for years in a public setting.

Sautee Dawg

November 18th, 2009
2:35 pm

Memphis is the only loser in this deal.

Jake C.

November 18th, 2009
2:51 pm

@ Lake Oconee Dawg:

I never said Turner Gill would take the Memphis job, nor should he. I’m also well aware that basketball rules all in Memphis.

I’m not sure why you insist on typing in all caps.

It’s my right as a fan and observer to criticize. West gets paid for his supposed “expertise”. The “I’d like to see you try it” argument does not apply. He’s not doing pro-bono work here…he’s drawn a nice salary for being mediocre.

Memphis plays no one, and plays them poorly. Tommy West calls bad plays and does not properly prepare for opponents.

Nice guy, bad coach.

I did agree with him on one thing. Memphis either needs to do football right, or do away with the program altogether.

Washington-Wilkes Tiger 83

November 18th, 2009
3:19 pm

Excellent Read Tony. Kuddos.

Go GT Jackets!

Not Disappointed

November 18th, 2009
3:21 pm

Best of Luck to Tommy in the future. Good work Mr. CFB! Ramblin Wreck!

Bulldawg

November 18th, 2009
3:24 pm

Thanks, MCF! I never took the time to like Tommy West, until now.

DawginLex

November 18th, 2009
3:44 pm

Terry

November 18th, 2009
3:52 pm

All those are nice things, but the guy was just not a productive coach. First, the only reason he went to those bowl games was the expanded number of games (12). Next, he lost to Bowling Green, Florida Atlantic and South Florida. Locally he did not have very good relationships with the high school coaches. Recruiting was a joke during his tenure. DeAngelo came to Memphis because of a booster in Arkansas.Too much time on the golf course! Attendance at the games was horrible! Need anything else? Nice guy? Probably! Head Football Coach? No! No!

truth

November 18th, 2009
4:46 pm

did you hear how he blasted memphis after he was fired. class act my rear

jumbeauxtiger

November 18th, 2009
4:52 pm

Got 12?

Bowl Projections:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/stewart_mandel/11/15/bowl.projections/index.html?eref=sihp

I think he is wrong to believe that the Chick-Fil-A would pick Ark over UGA. That could happen if the Dawgs lose to UK and GT but if UGa is 7-5 and available, I just don’t see them passing up on a Clemson-UGa matchup.

D-Jacket

November 18th, 2009
5:08 pm

God bless you,Tony. We needed a story like that. And God bless Tommy West and Brett Toney.

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
5:23 pm

Terry – I know you want the job, but you’re probably staying at North Alabama.

Coach O

November 18th, 2009
5:27 pm

I wouldn’t count Terry out just yet Delbert. He’s probably on the short list. He’s done pretty well with the Lions, but it’s not like they weren’t doing well without him.

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
5:28 pm

Not if those are Terry’s interview points…

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
5:41 pm

Coach O – I used to follow the other division football teams when I lived in southern NJ. Temple wasn’t worth a hoot back then. Tubby Raymond’s son, Dave, was the punter at Delaware and he was the original Philly Phanatic. I had partial season ticket to the Phiilies games during 1977-79.

Coach O

November 18th, 2009
5:46 pm

Congrats on escaping NJ. My daughter attended U of Delaware while her husband was stationed at Dover AFB. Delaware’s nice enough, but I never cared much for Jersey.

Delbert D.

November 18th, 2009
6:29 pm

Coach O – The Middletown/Red Bank/Highlands area was nice enough; my in-laws lived in that area. We were well southeast of Philly, in Vineland. The big football experience down there was the Thanksgiving Day game between Vineland and Millville. On TV, no less.

Monty

November 18th, 2009
6:50 pm

Add coach Jeremy Williams, his family, Greenville High Patriots and the entire town of Greenville, GA to the list of Class Acts. God put these wonderful people on earth to help remind the rest of us what really is important.

Another Dawg

November 18th, 2009
7:04 pm

Dear Mr. Barhart,

Thank you for repeatedly posting inane anecdotes about the people you, for some reason certainly unrelated to either college football knowledge or quality journalism, have familiar contact with. They are almost always annoying. Putting in the Rudy QB is a great story for an irrelevant program. However, mouthing off at your exit press conference isn’t. That’s a classless act and a cop out.

Sincerely,
Someone who doesn’t care at all about Conference USA now that Memphis lost their only good coach to Kentucky.

Jimmy

November 18th, 2009
8:33 pm

I agree w/ Jake C. He was getting paid millions and then he whines when he gets fired? Please. I’d like to get that deal!

Also, the comments he made about how the local media should “help him” instead of bashing him in their articles are a joke. The media is suppose to tell it like it is. If youre doing a bad job, the media should say so. It’s not their job to be the universities PR firm. They have their own dept. for that.

CU fan in Kennesaw

November 18th, 2009
8:33 pm

I like it, great story Tony!

Tide Rising

November 18th, 2009
8:45 pm

UT96,

It will be interesting to see what happens to Janzen Jackson. I’m hearing completely different stories as to whether or not he was aware of what his friends were doing. Of the 3 he was certainly the most talented. He was rated 4 star by most recruiting svcs and possibly 5 star by one of the recruiting services. I think he was a starter when we played UT earlier and with all the playing time he accumulated this year it looked to me like he was going to end up a pro for certain in the future.

Jimmy

November 18th, 2009
8:45 pm

Oh, and he also implored the local fans to “take a friend” to the games. Why would anyone want to pay their hard earned money to see that train wreck of a program? So he can get paid millions for doing a horrible job?? No thanks.

Tony, if you want us to feel sorry for someone, write an article on an average person who gets laid off his job in which he was barely able to support his family in anyway. Good grief.

Tide Rising

November 18th, 2009
8:49 pm

Jumbeaux tiger,

I haven’t seen those bowl projections yet but I would have a hard time seeing Ark in the peach bowl just because Ark travels so poorly. I remember whenever they won the division they had little fan support in the Georgia Dome.

For Georgia to get into the Peach I think they have to win out and even then it seems like the Peach would want a 3 loss team. I just can’t see the Peach taking a 4,5 or 6 loss Georgia time despite the draw they would get from having a home state school play. I guess we’ll just have to see.

SC Rules!!!

November 18th, 2009
9:10 pm

Tony,

Thank you for the great article; it is always good to see/hear about someone who is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Sadly Coach West was stuck at a BBall shool pretending to have any interest in football. Hmm, kinda reminds me of someone else I’ve heard of who coached a little ball in his day. (Coach Bryant @ Kentucky “under” Adolph Rupp) I’ll never forget reading (Southern Fried Football) and the story of the post season award banquet at UK when Coach Bryant was given a lighter and Rupp a Caddy. Right then and there Coach Bryant KNEW he needed a change of scenery. BBall schools (UK, Memphis etc…) almost NEVER support the football program.
Hopefully Coach West will find a new challenge/opportunity on another sideline.

Fight On!!

Starring Peter Graves as Capt. Clarence Over

November 18th, 2009
9:41 pm

Tide Rising: You must have meant DeAngelo Williams, not MeAngelo Hall. Hall played at Va. Tech.
Kam Fong: Don’t you have to take McGarrett to get his hair teased?

Beered up dawwwgs fan

November 18th, 2009
10:04 pm

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

GHS fan for life

November 18th, 2009
10:20 pm

Tommy West is a class act. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen. He crushed a baseball home run farther than anyone ever hit one in Gainesville. He’s one of our native sons and we’re proud of him. He’s the kind of son any father would like to have. I hope he gets another chance somewhere. He’s not just a good coach, he’s a quality person.

Mark, I enjoy reading your articles more than any other sportswriter anywhere. I like the honest, the variety and the way you put comments on the message board. The AJC needs to recognize you and give you a raise. You remind me of Furman Bisher. I can’t wait to read what you write.

Bear Bryant

November 18th, 2009
10:45 pm

Furman Bisher? Is that a complement? Didnt he bankrupt a local paper with his bull $hit story on the Bear fixing games???

Red Dog 77

November 19th, 2009
12:12 am

Tony, you and coach West are what football is all about, not just college football, but the very core of the game . Both of you gentlemen get it, I played it , and know from experience that it is truely a gentlemans sport, Thanks guys…..Red

Rick

November 19th, 2009
1:02 am

As another poster has noted, Coach Beamer, a fantastic coach, was not hired at Bama or Georgia.

UTENN hired Kiffie who is much prettier than Coach Fulmer at 60. However, I think UT should fire Lane and put his wife on the sideline. Now I would watch those games.

See Lane has recruited some questionable character kids but he has great taste in selecting his women.

Pretty is not all bad!

Coach O

November 19th, 2009
11:58 am

Rick,

We agree regarding Layla’s hawtness. As for Beamer — he’s where he wants to be. Don’t quite understand why that bothers you so? Are you actually a football fan, or are you just into checking out the coaches?