At times, the position of athletic director can be a very difficult one. Day in and day out, one is forced to make decisions that will affect the university’s athletic programs in hopes of trying to build strong athletic teams.
Western’s former head coach Bill Bleil did not leave much of a decision to be made, however, after leading the once lowly Catamounts to a 7-4, fourth-place season when many picked WCU to win no more than four games.
Furthermore, he was named the Southern Conference Coach of the Year by both the coaches and the media after last year’s season. In essence, everybody outside the program is telling us that we are lucky to have a coach like Bleil, who got more out of his players on the field than anybody thought was capable.
So, after giving Bleil an extension on his contract following the 2000 season, it seemed that nothing need be decided about the coach’s future here at Western. Just when the program begins to fall into the winning mold that he began five years ago, the athletic department dismisses Bleil, citing a need for new leadership.
Yes, it seems that a few of Bleil’s players were not able to behave off the field nearly as they did between the sidelines, so Bleil is gone. I was probably the most shocked of anybody when I heard this news.
I first entered sports here two years ago. I went down to the practice field in August, before any of the games started and came across coach Bleil. Here I was, a skinny, shy little freshman walking across a practice field full of fifty or sixty finely-tuned athletes.
All of the sudden, Bleil, having never met me, walks away from one of the drills he is running with the offensive line to greet me. “Hey there, how are you doing?” he says as I can barely work up the courage for a response of, “Uh, fine.”
He spent the next fifteen minutes getting to know me. Asking me about where I’m from and my interest in sports journalism and answering any question I had about his team. I’ll never forget that day. Here is a guy in charge of university football team, pressure coming day in and day out from the athletic department and the alumni, who can take the time to be courteous to the student media.
Every Saturday after game day, Bleil would come immediately to the press room, chat with us, talk football and just get to know us. You can’t help but to like and respect a guy with a job as important as his who could still take the time to help us out.
He was a winner and, more than that, he was a great man who never let his success get to his head, always quick to give the credit to his players.
Despite his fine record, his charismatic personality and his love for this school and its community, Bleil is gone because a small minority or his sixty some-odd players, most of which are some of the nicest people I have ever met, found themselves in trouble with the law last semester.
While I have no doubt that all the fine things the athletic department had to say about former Western quarterback and assistant coach Kent Briggs are true, the powers that be should have came up with a better excuse than the need for “new leadership.” Coach Bleil was a born leader and the best guy we could have hoped for in a head football coach.
Bleil will be sorely missed by at least one true sports fan here on campus and will most likely be missed by many more when the football season gets underway next year.