I’m not saying it’ll work in terms of wins and losses. I’m just saying I’ll definitely want to watch. This should be fun, fascinating and undeniably appealing to a massive audience, all things that TSU’s stagnant program hasn’t been for some time.
For TSU, that’s the beauty in a highly unorthodox hire that might not really be as bizarre as it first seems. Under most circumstances, a college football program hiring any head coach without prior experience would be ludicrous. This isn’t because it’s George. And it’s Nashville.
Location is a key difference from the obvious comparison being made between George’s hire and Deion Sanders at Jackson State. As a former NFL superstar still involved in the league’s media landscape, Prime Time flew into Mississippi with a national following.
Despite being a former Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans legend, George doesn’t hit the same notes as Sanders nationally. But he’s an icon in Nashville.
Even now, years after he took off his helmet, George’s brand in Middle Tennessee couldn’t be much stronger. In the past couple of years, Derrick Henry has emerged as the face of sports in the city, but you could make a case that it’s still George. His figure looms large on the exterior of Nissan Stadium. He’s on the big screen before Titans games, firing up fans – and players, too – with special messages.
Even with Henry, George’s advice has been credited with helping steer the current Titans running back’s career toward where it is now. As the story goes, the two shared a plane ride together coming back from a Heisman commercial shoot, and a relationship developed during a trying time for Henry.
“He just kept it straight with me, man,” Henry once said. “… “People say ‘mentor.’ I see Eddie as a friend.”
To know George is to realize there is no one else quite like him. Those Titans videos come so naturally to him because he’s kind of a walking motivational speech. He’s able to inspire and talk about anything to anyone. He has lived that out since his football career, too. He’s a true Renaissance Man: actor, businessman. He has a degree in landscape architecture and has been on Broadway.
For TSU, this makes perfect sense in terms of public relations, fundraising and recruiting players who otherwise probably wouldn’t consider the school. In that way, it’s also a boost for HBCU and FCS football, much like Sanders’ hire has been.
My biggest question: Does George really want to put himself through it?
He has had so much going on in his professional life, and all that stops. This is going to be an unceasing grind at TSU. The Tigers have tradition but aren’t in a great place now. They haven’t reached the FCS playoffs since 2013. They went 3-9 in 2019 and have a losing record this spring. It’s not an ideal situation to learn on the job.
George also hasn’t expressed much of a desire to coach. He has talked a lot about leadership, though.
“I understand what a winning product looks like, a championship team looks like,” George told me in 2019. “Although I’ve never won a Super Bowl, I’ve come close, and I kind of have a sense of what that looks like.”
At that time, George spoke about himself with three E’s – educator, entrepreneur and entertainer. Coaching TSU’s football program, you could say, checks all three boxes.
The list is long of great players in sports who failed to be good coaches. One doesn’t automatically equate to the other, and that has been proven time and again.
So this might not work on the field as well as it does off the field.
But hey, I’m not about bet against Eddie George – in anything he wants to do.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.