Wow, that was fast. I wrote a story late last week wondering if this would be the last season of Larry Blakeney's tenure at Troy. Two days later, Blakeney announced his retirement. So, good timing, I guess.
Judging from message board banter, most Troy fans were prepared to see the coach go. Despite a stellar career laced with improbable wins and memorable moments, Blakeney hasn't won all that many games lately. The timing was surprising, the retirement wasn't.
That said, it's a bittersweet moment, at best, for the university. Blakeney has been there longer than most of his players have been alive. He coaches on a field named after him. There is relief that the drama is over, but certainly no joy at his exit.
During an emotional press conference Blakeney looked back at his career. Here is the presser, if you care to watch.
There were no tears shed on camera and the mood stayed light for the most part. The first number Blakeney mentioned was 45, the number of years he's spent coaching football after graduating from Auburn. From there he talked about addressing the team the night before and telling them the story of his life. Here, in no particular order, are highlights from the event:
* When the Marshall job came open in 1990, Blakeney interviewed for it. He was an assistant at Auburn at the time. The story of the plane ride up to West Virginia ended like this, "I looked at (my wife), she looked at me, and we both knew damn well we weren't going to Marshall."
The man Marshall hired instead became famous, and then infamous. Jim Donnan led Marshall to a string of winning seasons before taking the Georgia job. More recently, he was accused of involvement in a Ponzi scheme.
* Of Blakeney's 45 seasons in coaching, 31 were as a head coach. He served as head coach at three high schools before going back to his alma mater.
* On winning and losing: "The wins are great, the losses are awful. It kills you, it wrenches your gut."
* Upon retirement, Blakeney will become Special Assistant to the Athletic Director, staying on in a fundraising capacity and appearing at various events. He will not be involved in the search to find his replacement, or as he put it, won't "politick around."
* As far as the timeline, Blakeney said he'd been talking and thinking about retirement for about a week. "A lot of people might have liked for me to rush to judgment a little big earlier, but I think we've got a lot of good friends too... I wanted to make sure I did the right thing for my family."
* The best part of the job is when Blakeney knew he was going to win a game.
* On why he stayed so long: "There's a lot of things I will tell you and a lot of things I won't tell you about that... There really hasn't been a lot of offers out there." (For the unaffiliated, much of that likely owes to the Eric Ramsey scandal). He added that he's not really a "job looker," a believable statement considering Blakeney has coached at two schools since 1977.
* Blakeney said at times he maybe could have gotten a hot agent and scored some interviews, but interviews don't pay the bills. "All you get is, you make everybody mad because you interviewed." But, "If Notre Dame called I might have left." He followed that up by joking that he could still get the Michigan job, which is really sad if you're Michigan.
* His favorite wins include victories over Mississippi State in 2001, Marshall and Missouri in '04, and Oklahoma State in '07. Blakeney recalled how Lou Holtz, Mike Tirico and Kirk Herbstreit came to Troy for the Missouri game, along with a "pretty blonde" sideline reporter who later got married and left the profession... and no, "it wasn't Erin Andrews."
* On the FCS/I-AA years: "The I-AA days were terrific. I loved them, the playoffs. I think the four-team playoff will be good for FBS."
* His advice to the next Troy coach: "Facilities." At Alabama and Auburn, Blakeney said, when one facility is finished, another starts. He also worked in another jab at both schools about how they won't play Troy.
* Blakeney's close relationship with those in the room was evident. He called several people (presumably media members) by their first names, and even asked the room for help remembering the names of past players a few times. When he finally stepped off the podium, it was to a standing ovation.
Athletic Director John Hartwell's comments:
* Hartwell prefers the term "transition" to "retirement." "The guy's a legend. You don't use that term very loosely."
* The coach will continue as a university ambassador, Hartwell said, but maybe at a golf tournament or dove shoot instead of a football field.
* Hartwell's phone has been blowing up with people interested in the job. He hopes to find a replacement by Dec. 1, but won't interfere with a team's season in order to interview a coach. Therefore, it might have to wait until Dec. 15.
* Sun Belt head coach salaries range from $300,000 to $1 million. Hartwell said Troy is "prepared to be as competitive as we need to be, both in terms of head coaching salaries and assistants." Blakeney's salary is $505,000.
* The replacement could be an assistant or a current head coach, and if it's someone who stays three or four years and then leaves, that's fine with Hartwell as long as he elevates the program during his tenure. But, Hartwell might look for someone who hasn't always had the resources of a major conference school.
* Hartwell also talked a good bit about facilities, presumably this was a plug for the north end zone project.
And that was it. In the meantime, Troy still has seven games left to play this season. Later in the week, we'll take a look at Saturday's homecoming game against New Mexico State and glance over a few names who could become the next football coach at Troy.