One Magic Night 

It was just perfect — the drinks, the lights, the long, exquisite night under the stars, the back and forth, the tension, the fireworks, the climax, the deep, adoring looks in the afterglow. Just. Perfect.

Surely, they could be forgiven for thinking that that one glorious Saturday night was a reward for all the hard work they'd put in together, getting over the little bumps in the road, struggling through the rough times, smoothing out their differences, striving toward the perfect relationship. And now, suddenly, it was here, the culmination of their time together — one magical night in Memphis. The future beckoned, bright with promise. The world was theirs.

"Thank you, darling," he said, gazing deeply into her eyes and lifting a cup in celebration. "This is truly the greatest moment of my life."

"I feel the same," she cooed. "All those long nights and afternoons — all those times when it seemed things were in doubt — we hung in there, supporting each other through the years. Now, we're here, together. It just seems like it was meant to be. I love you so much."

"And I love you, too, sweetheart, with all my heart. It's like I've always said: If I give my all to you, you'll repay me in kind. And that's just what's happened! It's amazing. And I'm so incredibly grateful to you."

They sat for a moment, savoring the magic, wanting it to last.

"Oh, I'm leaving you, tomorrow, by the way," he said.

"WHAT?"

"No hard feelings. I've met someone else."

"Someone else? But we have that special honeymoon trip to Dallas planned in two weeks."

"Sorry, I'm moving to Florida tomorrow. It's over."

"But, how could you? I've supported you for years! I've given you my all!"

"I just got a better offer. It's nothing personal. It's not you. It's me."

"But, Mike ... I ... I love you."

"And I'll always love you, too, darling, but I've got a plane to Tallahassee to catch."

"But, but ..."

"Don't cry, dear. We'll always have Cincinnati."

click to enlarge toc_1607-teaser.jpg

And just like that, University of Memphis football coach Mike Norvell was out of here — less than 24 hours after the greatest victory in Tiger history, a win over rival Cincinnati that meant the AAC conference championship and a trip to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl. Now, it's a game the team will play without the coach who helped get them there, the man who coined the phrase, "Stripe 'em up!" He'll be busy recruiting for his new love, er, school, Florida State.

This stuff happens all the time. Coaching changes are inevitable. I get it. Memphis isn't in the "Power 5," the elite level of the NCAA's multi-billion dollar "student-athlete" pyramid scheme, where teams get picked to compete for national championships — and where coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban can make more than $10 million a year. Norvell has joined the club, and no one really blames him, I suppose. It's the way the system works.

And, truth to tell, by the time it happened, the secret was out. The deal had been struck before the Tigers' game on Saturday, and Florida State was leaking details to Tallahassee media about the press conference to announce Norvell's hire before the game was even over. By Sunday, Norvell had donned a sport coat and a garnet-and-gold tie and was pledging his devotion to all things Seminole ("a hero, not a mascot," according to the school's website). Okay, then.

The timing for these things is tacky and unseemly and grossly unfair to the fans and players of the team that's losing its coach. Consider the Memphis situation: After winning 12 games (the most in its history) and earning the school's first-ever trip to a major bowl, the coach who spent four years building the program to this level leaves before the bowl game? That's all kinds of screwed up.

Poaching another team's coach during the season should be outlawed by the NCAA. If it means pushing the early signing period for recruits back a month, so be it. Those being recruited deserve to know if a coaching change is happening before they commit to a school. There's no reason why coaching changes can't happen until after the season, unless we just want to stop pretending any of this is about anything but money.

Which it is not.

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