I was able to shake hands with Ronald Reagan in the Memorial Stadium press box in Baltimore during the 1983 World Series. Years earlier, I had a chance to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hubert Humphrey standing at the comfort station behind Met Stadium’s football press box during a Vikings game.
That’s about the best I can do when it comes to mingling with political might.
I’ve never had the privilege of meeting an actual dictator. My reading of history and more recent news accounts indicates that dictators have a tendency to be thin-skinned when faced with even mild dissent or criticism.
In other words, dictators on the world political stage are the equivalent of major college football coaches on the big-time American sports stage. They want all the cake and they want to eat it, too.
An example that comes to mind goes back to 2007, when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy turned into a raving lunatic over a newspaper article that tried to dissect the reasons the Cowboys had benched Bobby Reid as the quarterback.
Two decades earlier, Gundy was a standout player at Midwest City High School in Oklahoma. He was an underclassman as Jerry Kill was starting his coaching career as a Midwest City assistant. Maybe they rubbed off on one another.
Kill’s thin-skinned behavior as Gophers coach over the past week has not come in the form of a raging outburst, but rather sophomoric utterings from another coach who feels as if he should be swathed in millions of dollars and never questioned over his decisions while earning that ransom.
That is the proper term — ransom — in Kill’s case. He received a new multiyear contract with a $900,000 annual raise in February 2014, and after a modestly successful season, he worked university President Eric Kaler for another one.
Kill’s perception of himself when it comes to importance was evident last Saturday, in the wake of the embarrassing 10-7 victory over Kent State.
Questioned about the booing of the offense, Kill said: “Maybe I need to get fired tomorrow. I don’t know. We don’t have an AD, so I can’t get fired tomorrow …”
Beth Goetz, the acting athletic director, was in the room. Kill later apologized to Goetz, and suggested publicly that the quote was taken out of context.
Actually, Jerry, the context was clear. You’re a big-time college football coach, and they don’t have bosses.
You might think it takes a pathetic offensive performance against Kent State, a program with 10 percent of the resources of Minnesota’s, for Kill to break out the pitiful-me petulance.
The Gophers opened this season with a robust effort against TCU. They still had a shot in the final minute, but offered up an uninspired last gasp.
Asked about the final possession, Kill responded in a prickly manner, and ended with, “I guess I’m just not a very good coach.”
These responses — “I’m not a very good coach; Maybe I need to get fired” — were not self-effacing. They were incomprehensively juvenile coming from a 54-year-old man who was treated as a hero for taking his team to a Citrus Bowl, from a coach who had his annual compensation more than doubled after four seasons on the job.
Kill has gone to a time-tested dodge used by coaches: The display after the Kent State fiasco was done to deflect criticism away from his players (specifically, quarterback Mitch Leidner) and onto him.
A couple of candid responses on Leidner’s difficult Saturday and one sentence on why freshman Demry Croft was warming up would have put less attention on the quarterback situation than Kill’s pouting evasiveness.
On Thursday, Kill was doing his weekly radio show and offered this to co-hosts Mike Grimm and Justin Gaard regarding Leidner’s situation: “I won’t recruit another quarterback from the state of Minnesota.”
There was a slight chuckle involved, but you can’t write it off as strictly humor when Kill followed with this on Leidner: “It’s too hard on [home-state quarterbacks]. His parents get abused. He can’t go out.”
You betcha, Jerry. I’m sure when the Leidners go to their Kowalski’s in the south suburbs they are getting booed in the aisles.
This was an attempt to guilt Saturday’s homecoming crowd in advance into being kind to Leidner if things don’t go smoothly against the fearsome Ohio Bobcats.
Kill also offered this on Leidner: “As I told him, ‘Hey, buddy, welcome to the real world.’ ”
Rarely has there been a case where it would be more advisable for a person to take his own advice. You aren’t in Emporia, Kan., anymore, coach. Your pay stub will confirm that.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. email@example.com