Last Thursday I was invited to Squatter’s for some beer, wine and discourse as part of a new lecture series sponsored by the University of Utah Humanities department. The evening’s topic was “Thucydides and the Enduring Lessons of War” and featured University of Utah professor Brooke Hopkins, who spoke eloquently about history’s first analytical historian. University of Utah President Bernie Machen was there rubbing flesh. I can’t swear for certain, but Bernie must have used his nacho chips for earplugs because, given the events of Monday—the unceremonious firing of football coach Ron McBride—Bernie must not have heard a thing.
For a core of the Thucydidean message is not warfare itself, but arrogance. As Hopkins spoke, the attendees—Bernie excluded—easily grasped the episodic similarities that led to the disastrous Peloponnesian Wars and those that exist in modern day Salt Lake City. Like ancient Greece, Salt Lake City abounds with powerful men who are enamored with power itself and who cast insecure subordinates to do the dirty work. Similarly, we have powerful institutions that underestimate the will of the people, disenfranchised minorities that grow ever distrustful of those institutions, and scapegoats who are made to pay for leaderships’ bad decisions. Machen, Chris Hill and McBride—arrogant power, ineffectual subordinate and scapegoat. Easy as pie.
Hill and Machen wanted to fire the disheveled McBride long ago, McBride failing in the role of a malleable button-down coach worthy of their ambitions. But McBride, the loveable warrior, foiled them. What to do? Change the rules. Chris Hill said—and did anyone else notice Hill couldn’t even look directly into the cameras when he said so—McBride was fired because the fans were not attending home games in sufficient numbers, and that the Utah football program was stagnating. No worse stagnation than the brain cells taking residence in the heads of Machen and Hill, in my opinion, for the university message I once heard was about young men, integrity and education.
Let’s see—it wasn’t McBride who cut cost corners on Rice-Eccles stadium, forcing fans to carom about within the shrunken facility. It wasn’t McBride who pissed off season ticket holders with higher ticket prices and a ransom for Crimson Club seats. It wasn’t McBride who turned his back on players. It wasn’t McBride who tore the heart out of long-time corporate sponsors like Gus Paulos Chevrolet, a name once synonymous with Ute football. It wasn’t McBride who didn’t deliver the JumboTron. It wasn’t McBride who negotiated a TV package that all but ensured that fans stay home rather than sit in the cold weather of a UNLV game—another fake rivalry attributable to Hill, who has been through more conferences than a disfellowed Mormon.
Thucydides was right in that history has a way of repeating itself. Put Machen and Hill together and you have Robert McNamara. Bomb away, boys. Count away, boys. Hide the truth, boys. Time will favor McBride, and anyone who’s gotten within five feet of him or his players knows that to be true. Plain and simple, you set him up for defeat and you screwed him. You’ve “expended your asset” as McNamara would say. Let history note you didn’t do it proudly.