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

Nachos

November 18th, 2009
8:48 am

Hey Tony
Where you a cheerleader at Greene County? Or a band member?

Dink

November 18th, 2009
8:52 am

Great story, Tony…thanks.

Go Dawgs!!

Allen

November 18th, 2009
8:55 am

I grew up in Gainesville and have wonderful memories of watching Tommy play for the Red Elephants. I also have the great pleasure of having met and gotten to know his parents, Jim and Carol West, who are two of the finest people you’ll ever meet. Good luck to Tommy in whatever pursuits he decides to follow!

Drew

November 18th, 2009
8:56 am

Excellent story Tony. We needed to hear that, especially with all these highly hyped players with no discipline thinking they can do anything they want without consequence. It is great to hear about two guys that make it about more than football. As a Southern Miss fan, I have grown to have a huge respect for what West has done at a basketball school. I hope he lands somewhere where he can continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

MGFLA

November 18th, 2009
9:00 am

Tony,

I too went to Greene County and grew up in Union Point. The place just isn’t the same since the Chipman-Union shut down. Still home though. Who was your coach when you played?

JB

November 18th, 2009
9:01 am

Great story, per usual.

HBTD!!!

Jesup Dawg

November 18th, 2009
9:02 am

To bad he doesn’t coach D we are looking for a good man.

Kid Ray

November 18th, 2009
9:06 am

Nice guy, prob in over his head as a HC. But a nice guy nonetheless.

ED

November 18th, 2009
9:06 am

Great change of pace, really enjoyed the article.

Kid Ray

November 18th, 2009
9:07 am

Looks like Mike Leach to Lville? should lift the Big East up another notch.

Seven Head

November 18th, 2009
9:08 am

Tony, fabulous story…I appreciate you taking time to write about two men with guts and character…you possess the same qualities….

Tide Rising

November 18th, 2009
9:08 am

Good story. Since we live in an instant gratification world it doesn’t surprise me when any coach gets fired after one bad season. I seemed to remember Memphis was a pretty decent team for several years. They beat UT one year and had several very respectable teams when Deangelo Hall played. Hopefully West will get picked up as an assistant at a bcs conference school.

Seven Head

November 18th, 2009
9:08 am

Enter your comments here

EW

November 18th, 2009
9:10 am

Enjoyed the read TB, nice changeup from the BCS blogging. I really felt bad for this guy when I heard he got fired. I can’t imagine the frustration of an administration who wants a coach to take a team to the next level but is unwilling to give them the necessary tools. I guess they put all their money into high profile basketball coaches…and we see where THAT got them. Ironic that the negative light on the school is coming from what it considers it’s conerstone sport. Maybe they need to divert those funds to the football program.

EW

November 18th, 2009
9:10 am

Enjoyed the read TB, nice changeup from the BCS blogging. I really felt bad for this guy when I heard he got fired. I can’t imagine the frustration of an administration who wants a coach to take a team to the next level but is unwilling to give them the necessary tools. I guess they put all their money into high profile basketball coaches…and we see where THAT got them. Ironic that the negative light on the school is coming from what it considers it’s conerstone sport. Maybe they need to divert those funds to the football program.

EW

November 18th, 2009
9:10 am

Enjoyed the read TB, nice changeup from the BCS blogging. I really felt bad for this guy when I heard he got fired. I can’t imagine the frustration of an administration who wants a coach to take a team to the next level but is unwilling to give them the necessary tools. I guess they put all their money into high profile basketball coaches…and we see where THAT got them. Ironic that the negative light on the school is coming from what it considers it’s conerstone sport. Maybe they need to divert those funds to the football program.

EW

November 18th, 2009
9:11 am

Sorry for the multiple posts..my submit button had a mind of its own this morning…

Miles

November 18th, 2009
9:13 am

Pretty damn good Mr. Barnhart; pretty damn good!

GT Fan

November 18th, 2009
9:13 am

Well said, There’s more to life than just winning games. Coach West is storying up rewards for later and Toney will never forget his Coach for caring.

Not over

November 18th, 2009
9:18 am

Tommy West can still coach if he so chooses. The App State coach came from Div 1 and has never looked back. You know the succes he has had….

lanier

November 18th, 2009
9:20 am

Memphis is a coaches graveyard and always will be. I went there long ago. We played mostly on Sat night and believe me there was NOTHING else to do in that town. We played in the Liberty Bowl Stadium a top notch facility at the time and drew about 26000 time and again.
I think the fans in that burg are always mad at the coach because they are mad that they live in such a hole
that said Tommy needed a recruiter cant get it done with JC players and transfers. but Bear Bryant would have failed there. AGAIN 26000 fans

McDonoughGator

November 18th, 2009
9:23 am

Great article Tony. I was blown away by Coach West’s press conference last week. He was honest, passionate, and direct. I wish he and his family the best.

Rick

November 18th, 2009
9:23 am

Tommy comes across as a Danny Ford/Ray Goff “Country Boy” kinda guy. In these day of college football, a pretty face and a well groomed voice seems to be a high priority in College football. Even more than winning in some cases.

George O’Leary or Ralph Freigen or even Frank Beamer would never get the Georgia or Alabama job. You’ve got to win 10 games a year but be pretty and an eloquent/political type as well. Mark Richt has two of three down. If he could coach he would be a 100% guy.

Paul Johnson is not that pretty and eloquent but he wins. Paul is a football coach. That will probably do.

Tommy West was perfect for a Memphis program. Firing him was really stupid. Ole Miss firing Cutcliff was stupid as well.

I would think a college coaching job would be a difficult job. Recruiting and coaching would be the easier part of the job. Putting up with the Michael Adams and Myles Brands would be he most difficult. Meyer has been lucky at UF to have Foley to protect him.

Anyway, Tommy does not fit the profiles of a “hot” coach noted above. A pretty school is probably s stretch. He can coach and will get a job somewhere. A Georgia Southern, Southern Miss, Middle tenn might be his best option.

Too bad. Memphis screwed up. College administrators know everything though.

lanier

November 18th, 2009
9:27 am

also Spook Murphy was my coach. The athletic center bears his name. one year we went 5-5 and some moron put a for sale sign in his yard

m

November 18th, 2009
9:28 am

Enter your comments here

1276jacket

November 18th, 2009
9:31 am

Good article. It’s good to know there is something besides wins ans loaaes.

RedKneckerson

November 18th, 2009
9:32 am

The local sports talk radio has eaten West alive,making fun of him etc. (especially those clowns that you are affiliated with at 790).I personally didn’t see a thing wrong with what he said after he was fired. To me he was simply saying,the locals and the media needed to get behind the program and quit running it down, or else you will never be able to recruit kids to play there.He is right.

Coach O

November 18th, 2009
9:34 am

@Rick: “George O’Leary or Ralph Freigen or even Frank Beamer would never get the Georgia or Alabama job.”

Actually, Frank Beamer has been on Alabama’s short list in their past few coaching searches. But I don’t mean to spoil your vitriolic attitude toward CFB — Carry on…

Thanks for a good article Tony. It’s important to remember sometimes that football is only a game.

reebok

November 18th, 2009
9:35 am

good article, thanks TB

Eric

November 18th, 2009
9:41 am

Tony this article sucks. I think they same person posted 20 complements.

jumbeauxtiger

November 18th, 2009
9:41 am

Nice article Tony and I am sure West will get picked. I have heard he is an excellent defensive coach.

I went to high school in suburban Memphis and their priority has always been on basketball so I don’t think they will ever keep anyone very long.

Geaux Tigers
Go SEC

killcasualfan

November 18th, 2009
9:41 am

Memphis is part of the myth called the “SEC weekly grind” where the SEC blithely proclaims a tough schedule . While the rest of the country is in the grind of their conference schedule at this time of year, most SEC schools have every other week off. LSU had a bye week Oct. 17, Tulane Oct. 31, LA Tech Nov. 14. All this while virtually playing nobody during September. Memphis played patsy for Ole Miss and as late as Nov. 7 for Tennessee.

Gen Neyland

November 18th, 2009
9:46 am

Tommy West is absolutely correct regarding football in Memphis. For instance, basketball is king and the good people of Memphis do love their basketball. Most fine players of football from the region have Arkansas, Mississippi, Big 12 schools etc etc to choose from and if they have talent, the grass is greener elsewhere. For the University of Memphis State (that’s what I call ‘em, okay) to make a big commitment to football will not be an easy task. Basketball comes first at Memphis and has for decades.

Elliot Ness

November 18th, 2009
9:47 am

Kill Cas, Memphis is not in the SEC.

Kid Ray

November 18th, 2009
9:49 am

Re: Recently fired coaches (Memphis, UNLV etc.) all seem to be complaining about the $$$. Aren’t their coaches winning the MWC and C-USa with similar budgets? This “its not my fault” is pretty lame.

Like I said earlier…nice guy, good AC, in over his head as a HC.

Gator Mike

November 18th, 2009
9:50 am

Tony, this is a great article about Tommy West who is a very good man. I have followed him since he was a player at UT because he was always a class act. From what I remember, he is a very good coach for the defensive side. He told the truth about Memphis, and he is a loss for them. Tommy West will be OK.

killcasualfan

November 18th, 2009
9:53 am

Elliot, of course memphis is not in the SEC. How you somehow thought that is remarkable. The point is they are another patsy for SEC schools who proclaim to have a “weekly grind” of a schedule. Thus memphis is part of that myth.

slick

November 18th, 2009
9:56 am

is it my imagination? or is it fact that ever since furman left you have really stepped it up. great column. keep it up.

Issac Bruce

November 18th, 2009
9:59 am

Tony,

Im from Memphis. I read your column everyday. This is an excellant story. The fans of Memphis have nothing but the up most respect for Tommy West.

Here's another one

November 18th, 2009
10:08 am

Tony, excellent story. You want another great story of why football is a great game, how it can bring together people to do good, read the ajc’s several stories about Greenville, Ga’s high school football team, playing in the layoff Friday against Bowden, I believe. Coach has ALS, coaching from a cart, can’t speak loudly so his players relay his instructions to one another…Read it, it’ll make you smile and cry at the same time.

al

November 18th, 2009
10:09 am

Tony, can Tommy coach defense? If so, tell Coach Richt he is available!

GeoffDawg

November 18th, 2009
10:11 am

Dr. H

November 18th, 2009
10:14 am

Another “right on” article. Class should always show…and be rewarded. Unfortunately, it usually takes an article reporting a demise like this. The “money people” at Memphis have never coached…never recruited…never developed a game plan. Their only tool is to place blame. Let’s see if they are smart enough to realize that monies have to be directed at football. Otherwise, enjoy the basketbakk game!! RH

Buzzfan®

November 18th, 2009
10:15 am

Funny is the role perception has played in college football coaching hires over the years.

I seem to recall hearing of how Wake Forest was once in search of a new head football coach and had been impressed with the resumé of one up-and-coming applicant, but the very Southern and very Baptist decision-makers surmised that the very Northern and very Italian-surnamed candidate just wasn’t quite the right fit.

I believe he found employment elsewhere and eventually ended up coaching the Green Bay Packers in a few big games.

Otto

November 18th, 2009
10:15 am

Sad to hear about Tommy and good for Toney.

I don’t know much about the politics about Memphis football but, he sounds correct. Hopefully Tommy can retire comfortably or find a job that allows him to do what he loves.

We can get back to the SEC schedule debate on Thursday, this is not the column.

Gator Nation

November 18th, 2009
10:16 am

Enjoyed the article Tony. Thanks.

Jake C.

November 18th, 2009
10:16 am

Native Memphian here.

I always read about how nice a guy Tommy West is. I’m sure he’s a nice man. A class act. All those things.

He’s also a lousy football coach. Sure, he’s gone to bowl games…any team with a .500 record goes to a “bowl game”. There are a thousand meaningless bowl games every winter featuring mediocre teams. I’m not impressed.

The reason he went to most of those bowl games had more to do with DeAngelo Williams than his playcalling.

Any coach who uses the screen pass as the crux of his offense is in trouble.

He’s made millions being mediocre, then complains that the Memphis media was negative, that people like basketball more, and that he didn’t get enough support.

SAVE IT, TOMMY. You had 9 years to figure it out and you never did.

I’m sure Turner Gill doesn’t have great facilities…but he wins. Same with hundreds of other coaches…including those Sun Belt Schools who embarrass Memphis on Saturdays.

But yeah…”he’s a nice guy.”

Coach O

November 18th, 2009
10:18 am

killcasualfan

November 18th, 2009
9:53 am
Elliot, of course memphis is not in the SEC. How you somehow thought that is remarkable. The point is they are another patsy for SEC schools who proclaim to have a “weekly grind” of a schedule. Thus memphis is part of that myth.

Memphis is an OOC opponent for exactly TWO SEC football teams, Tennessee and Ole Miss. Both of these are traditional rivalry games based upon regional proximity. Please list all of the non-SEC teams that have no un-ranked OOC opponents.

Otherwise, shut up and go to your corner to pout…

Bill Morgan

November 18th, 2009
10:21 am

Really enjoyed article on Tommy West.Live in North Carolina,but grew up in Ga. Coached in my hometown before moving here. Have been reading all the negative stuff concerning the Dawgs. The BIG e-mailers with all the solutions probably never played a down of football in their life. All they do is donate money and could care less about all the players and coaches that work their rear ends off to try to be successful! Walk a mile in their shoes!!!

Trade School Junkie

November 18th, 2009
10:23 am

I guess with his dawgs circling the drain, not much to write about today.