Stick A Fork In Me is Dan Jenkins' 12th novel and 22nd book. Three -- Semi-Tough, Dead Solid Perfect and Baja Oklahoma -- have been made into movies. The Associated Press Sports Editors honored Jenkins with the Red Smith Award, the organization's highest distinction, in 2013. The protagonist of "Stick A Fork In Me" is Pete Wallace, a good old boy from Texas, who paid his dues coaching football on obscure campuses in the boondocks of America until he landed the athletic director's job at Western Ohio University. For 15 years, he has steadily and skillfully guided the school into the high society of major college sports. But now Pete, fed up with politically correct campus culture and babysitting fragile egos, is retiring from the "arms race."
To tell the truth, I'm a weary sumbitch.
I'm tired of smiling, talking to strangers, shaking hands, making speeches, telling lies, and mostly tired of going to meetings and listening to people babble about nothing. Glad to be hanging it up.
I'm cruising past fifty-five, creeping up on sixty, and while I've heard that the sixties are the new forties, all I can say is I must have missed that crucial seminar.
The old-time ADs had it sweet. They worked for the football coach only. They didn't have to worry about making people around them feel needed. They knew how to use their influence when it was necessary to get something done and use their power when they dealt with the chin-rubbing procrastinators.
They seldom worried about athletes falling into serious trouble. Sure, the football players in their day might have car wrecks, wind up in street fights, tear up a frat house for the fun of it, and constantly ask for loans, but those things were easily taken care of.
Freshmen were ineligible. Drugs were unheard of. The varsity studs could handle their cigarettes and whiskey. The only snap course was P.E. Everybody made their grades to stay eligible, and everybody graduated. I mean, all but the knuckleheads who were forced to drop out of school and marry the cheerleaders they knocked up, and then hope to find a job somewhere.
Marriage is no problem for young people today. First of all, they don't marry, they hook up. Some accidentally or ignorantly have babies, lateral the babies off to their parents to raise, and hook up again.
There's no mystery in sex anymore. Teenage girls dress half naked and might as well hang signs around their necks that say, "Do Me Next." Love means never having to say anything you can text first.
Once upon a time you had to be in the United States Navy to wear a tattoo, but in this culture somebody started the rumor that they're required for social acceptance. In a single afternoon walking across our campus, I'd spot a dozen babes who'd qualify as all-stars if their arms and backs weren't covered in ink.
One day I stopped a very pretty but inked-up coed and told her that if I wanted to read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," I'd go to the library.
I look forward to the day when tattoo removal is a growth industry.
When the old AD fooled around with the football schedule, he didn't care about anything but trying to pay the freight. Sign up a Southern Cal for a non-conference game, take your lumps, bank the coin.
In my early days here, my problem was to seek a balance. I had to maximize the income from marquee games and minimize the number of potential losses. If I scheduled a home-and-home contract with a "name" school I thought we could beat -- say the Vanderbilt Intellectuals or the Cal-Berkeley Commies -- I'd need to shove in a Southern Northern and hope the Southern Northerns didn't show up with a stockpile of outlaws that would embarrass us.
I endured that pain more than once.
Good example: The season I brought in Delta State from Swamp Fever, Mississippi. I'd scheduled the school thinking it would be a mild workout for our team. But Delta State came loaded with a swarm of animals who hadn't been any closer to a classroom than Lil's Bayou Lounge. They kicked our butts halfway to the Gulf of Mexico.
There were other things the old ADs were lucky to avoid. There were only four "minor" sports for them to be concerned with. Baseball, track, golf, and tennis. Those kids played for the sheer fun of it, the joy of competition.
Today's youth would think that such an era must pre-date Napoleon. Not that today's youth would know who Napoleon was. He might well be the drummer in some rock band I'd never heard of. For me, that could be any group since The Mamas & The Papas.
The nicest part for the old AD was, he didn't have troublemaking faculty members coming around to complain about his hiring practices. Why weren't there more women and minorities in his department?
I've learned not to stay irritated too long when I'd hear about it from Dr. Keith Kurth, a bearded, pipe-smoking professor of Psychology, and Dr. Edith Lawson, a foolish professor of Modern Language, or Political Dipshit Correctness, as it's known to me and sensible people.
I wasn't in the best of moods the day they came in my office yet again to discuss what Dr. Kurth called my "unfortunate situation" and Dr. Lawson called my "festering disease."
I said, "You know what, people? If this department was up to the brim with nothing but women and minorities in good jobs, you two would waltz in here and ask why I hadn't gone to the Congo and hired any pygmies."
Dr. Kurth said, "You, sir, have uttered an uncomfortable remark."
Dr. Lawson, chin lifted, rigid in her stance, said, "Mr. Wallace, you are a diversity-challenged embarrassment to this university."
I looked down at the paperwork on my desk, and said, "Fine. Report me to the principal's office."
They harrumphed out the door.
A day later I was summoned to see Chancellor Carpenter. I figured I was going to hear a lecture on my lackluster skills at dealing with faculty members.
I took a chair in the chancellor's outer office and waited twenty minutes to see him. I spent the time chatting with his secretary Dolores Winters, a gracious, appealing lady in her fifties with whom he'd been having an affair for three years. Everyone in town knew about their affair except Bernice Carpenter, the chancellor's ungracious, unappealing wife.
The chancellor was tied up with a newly discovered alum. Young guy named Tony Accosi, Dolores said. Tony had become new-rich arrogant and wanted to make a big donation to the school in person.
He was originally from Newark, New Jersey, but now lived in Rancho Santa Fe, California, and had boasted to Dolores that his property included a thirty-two-car garage, landing strip, and Formula One track. I didn't have to ask if he managed a hedge fund.
As Tony emerged from the chancellor's office I was dazzled by his tan and chest jewelry. He said, "Great day, huh -- am I right, or am I Al Pacino?"
I dredged up a smile.
Dr. Carpenter was in his shirtsleeves with his tie loosened and chuckling as he doctored a glass of scotch rocks and removed a letter from between his teeth and waved it at me.
"Ten big ones, baby," he said, plopping down in the chair behind his huge desk. "The computers are talking to each other as we speak."
I asked, "What are the computers saying?"
He said, "They're saying ten million dollars. Ours is laughing out loud."
I said, "Ten million, uh? It sounds like we'll have to put his name on some building around here."
The chancellor said, "Maybe the business school -- why not?"
Then he looked at me and said, "Now, Pete ... pygmies?"
And broke into uncontrollable laughter.
My kind of chancellor.
-- Excerpted by permission from Stick A Fork In Me by Dan Jenkins. Copyright (c) 2017. Published by Tyrus Books. Available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Dan Jenkins on Twitter @danjenkinsgd.