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An Open Letter to Coach Patric Morrison of Madison, Indiana, (and all other parties concerned) May 23, 2019

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Dear Coach Morrison and hiring committee:

                As a Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School football alumnus (Class of 1998), allow me to congratulate you on your recent promotion to associate athletics director.  I also wish to extend congratulations on a job well done as head football coach, within the context of that with which you and the community have had to contend.  You have shown good vision in your player development; you have demonstrated that you deeply cared for your players; you were also forward-thinking in your team-building measures, too.  In my day, for example, it would have been unheard of for a head coach at Madison or some place similar to take his team all the way up to Canton, Ohio to engage in some team-building/skills-building drills.  It remains a surprise to me that such creative measures did not translate better into the wins column come that season.

Be all that as it may, I have observed the progress from afar of Madison football off and on as any concerned alumnus would for his former team.  During my college years, I served for three seasons as a staff member on the Purdue football team, and I learned through working with Coach Joe Tiller and his able assistant coaches about what it takes to build a winning program.  Over time I have come to some conclusions with regard to the challenges the program continues to face and what sort of coach it would take to effectively address them.  This is to build on the firm foundation you, Coach Morrison, have diligently set in place.

As most of us are aware, Madison faces one systemic challenge of being the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference.  Moreover, while some rival schools are in conferences with growing, more dynamic populations (e.g., Floyd Central and Jeffersonville), the town (pardon me, “city”) of Madison’s population has been stagnant, if not gradually declining, for the past two decades.  Bottom line:  our pool for talent is already limited compared to the competition.  Other environmental factors – too many, too complex to list for now — on top of that stack the proverbial deck even further against us.  Can we even win at all in such a situation?  I believe we still can.  Here’s what we need:

As is the case in college football, it all starts with the coach.  In the high school and college games, the coach plays an outsized role in program success compared to his factoring into success in the NFL (though the head coach is still vitally important there, too).  At those levels, players first have to want to play for the coach (indeed, in college, the players literally choose to play for him and his assistants).  Moreover, at the high school level (and yes, college, too), the coach, in addition to being sufficiently adept at the X’s and O’s, also needs to be the team’s spiritual leader, for lack of a better term.  That is, he must be ever-vigilant in keeping the team motivated and keeping its morale high.  Superior morale is an absolute must-have for Madison football.  The boys need to be amped-up and excited to take the field more so than the other team.  It is one of the few advantages they can leverage.

That means a coach capable of lighting a huge fire under the team’s collective arse.  It means giving extra-rousing motivational speeches in the locker room before kick-off and at the end of half-time.  That also means a coach who will encourage the guys on the team to celebrate on the sidelines during a successful series.  Not only will such things sustain good morale, but it will create a fun environment that everyone can see – including able-bodied male students in the stands who would come to realize they want to be a part of that, and contribute to the team in so doing.

MadisonFootballLogo

This logo, only several years old, is one befitting a good high school program.  What Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School needs to do is find a coach to match; one who is sufficiently dynamic and has a singular vision to create a winning culture.

Snazzy uniforms also help for good morale at that level.  To that end, I must once again commend Coach Morrison, this time for the neat-looking uniform image he has crafted during his tenure (they’re light years better than the generic rags my teammates and I had to play in).  His successor must keep this good look going, and the only changes he should be making there, if any, should take things even further, provided they do not exceed the bounds of good taste (no need for the Oregon unis of 2007 with the anti-skid patterns on the knees and shoulders, please!).  Yes, that means it is important to press candidates on their uniform-styling philosophy.  If the potential new hire confesses in the interview that he is a “Penn State uniforms kind of guy”, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.  He’s gone; next candidate.  Period.  Why?  Because a predilection for such generic uniforms shows that he is unimaginative and rigid against change.  What we need is a coach who is the exact opposite – very imaginative and willing to pivot on a dime in terms of offensive or defensive strategy.  I know this from experience.  We failed to win a single game my junior-year season (1996) because the head coach and his staff were too inflexible to make changes that desperately needed to be made.  Such changes ranging from re-shuffling the offensive line to strategic offensive changes that would have played to the strengths that we had at the time would have minimized our weaknesses and actually would have put us in the position to win games, which is a coach’s number one job, lest we forget.

These two things would be a solid start.  But what about the deficit of talent?  With limited practice time, talent on the field often becomes the deciding factor, after all.  Herein thus lies the core challenge.  In addition to being good and keeping up team morale in all its facets, the next head coach at MCHS must have a combination of boundless energy and a Messianic complex where he is bent, in part, on maximizing the turnout within the school.  To accomplish this, he’ll need to win over the support of the community – not an easy task for a town susceptible to complacency.  He’ll have to attend every community function, every community festival (e.g., Old Court Days, the county fair, the Madison Regatta, etc.), every local church cookout, and spread the word about the new mission of the team.  He’ll have to kiss a hundred babies and shake thousands of hands as if he were running for high state-wide office.  In this process, he will have to sell as many folks as possible on his new, winning vision for the program, and how this new, winning vision will help put the town on the map.  Such is what it will take to win over supporters within the community and thus build up the support infrastructure – support that in turn will encourage an improvement, and ultimately, a maximization of turnout that the team desperately needs.

This aforementioned Messianic complex will also be necessary to withstand blowback from parents who might be incensed that their son would be utilized less or in a different way.  If you have to replace a drop-back QB for an option QB, for example, because therein lies the opportunity to start winning games, you’ll have to brush aside the ruckus raised by parents as so much background noise irrelevant to keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize of winning games.  Vince Lombardi was right:  winning isn’t everything, but it is the only thing.  Otherwise, why put in all the effort?  Yes, a more detailed exploration of this side-issue merits another article for another time.

The next step after that would be to continue the change in organizational culture.  All currently-available evidence shows that Coach Morrison made great strides in changing the team culture towards a supportive one.  The next head coach needs to take that and translate it into a winning one.  This is arguably the toughest challenge of them all – changing an organizational culture from a losing one to a winning one.  Where to begin?  Those in charge of hiring need to look at coaches who have turned around organizational cultures in the past.  A great example is what Barry Alvarez did at Wisconsin.  For years, they were a doormat of the Big Ten Conference.  Nowadays, they are perennial conference contenders and routinely win bowl games.  You and the hiring committee need to study what he did, then ask your coaching candidates if they would enact similar things.  You could also provide necessary guidance-as-support to ensure that you are on the same page and are pursuing the same goals together.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that if you are truly committed to building a winning program at MCHS, you must consider what you need to do attract such a candidate, and make any accommodation necessary to bring him in. Given the unique dynamism that a head coach will have to exhibit at MCHS to build a winning culture, is the hiring committee willing to make the necessary accommodations to attract such a leader that the football program needs?  Are you willing to pay a little extra?  Are you willing to clear whatever path is necessary with regard to his teaching skill sets?  Are you willing to create an environment at school that gives the new head coach ample opportunity to interact with this players/students?  Shoving him off to the side as a junior high study hall monitor like you did with Coach Getts back 2001 is not going to cut it.

That might mean twisting a few arms and cajoling a few members of the school board to see it your way.  But this might be the only way to bring in the coach you need who will reliably win games.  This will take political competence and the power of persuasion on your part to accomplish, but it’s also important that you do so.  Sell them on the idea of this being the opportunity we’ve been looking for to put Madison “on the map”.  The last thing we need is for some narrow-minded warm body to foul things up because they cannot see past their own complacency.

                To summarize, here are the bottom-line guiding suggestions for Coach Morrison and all others who have a say in the hiring decision of his successor:

  1. Ensure the coach is proven to boost and maintain high morale on the team, within all facets of the game, from game-time celebrations to sufficiently-stylish uniforms (the latter of which is already headed in the right direction, and good on Coach Morrison for this).  Can he light a fire under the team and keep it lit all season-long?
  2. Ensure the coach is both imaginative and flexible.  Is he willing to change offensive strategies mid-season if that’s what it takes to win games?  Is he willing to think creatively in what that new offensive strategy might entail?
  3. Does the coach have the necessary tunnel vision to withstand or brush aside blowback and keep his, and the team’s, eyes on the proverbial prize?
  4. Gauge the level of the coach’s energy.  He will need maximum energy to campaign as if he is running for political office so as to maximize the team’s turnout.  Once hired, guide him on all possible opportunities in the community to spread his message and thus his vision.
  5. How good is the coach at changing organizational cultures?  More than anything, this could help him build a lasting legacy of program success.  Can he cite examples he knows of regarding what other coaches have done to convert losing cultures into winning ones (see:  Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin).
  6. Lastly, are you and the powers that be willing to do your parts in creating the environment the head coach needs to succeed in his mission?

Does this all sound like a tall order?  Initially, yes.  But the further one implements this list, the more doable it shall appear.  All of this is necessary to overcome the systemic challenges that Madison football faces.  If the hiring committee is not committed to the last point, then then they will fail in passing muster with the previous five points, for it shall prevent the attraction of the uniquely dynamic coach you need to properly build on what Coach Morrison has already put in place.  Either you are committed to doing what it takes to bring in this sort of head coach, or you’ll end up settling for some guy who seems nice enough and enjoy being a whipping boy of the HHC on a weekly basis in the fall.  The choice is yours.  Let’s choose to build on Coach Morrison’s supportive legacy and do what it takes to create a wining culture.

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College Football Week 13 Awards November 25, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 13, pre-week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were himWill Muschamp, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Mack Brown, Texas
Glad it’s finally over:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a clue: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Desperately seeking … anything:  Ron English, Eastern Michigan

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Auburn 49-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (beat Iowa 13-7)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Georgia Tech (lost to No. 3 Georgia 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Washington State (beat Washington 31-28, OT)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ole Miss (beat Mississippi State 41-24)

Dang, they’re good: Stanford
Dang, they’re bad:  South Florida
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Arizona (lost to Arizona State 41-34)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12* South Carolina 27, No. 11* Clemson 17 (notwithstanding Baylor 52, Texas Tech 45, OT)
Never play this again: Fresno State 48, Air Force 15
What?  TCU 20, No. 15* Texas 13

Huh? UConn 23, No. 20* Louisville 20, 3OT
Are you kidding me? Pittsburgh 27, No. 18* Rutgers 6
Oh – my – God:  Ole Miss 41, Mississippi State 24
Told you so: No. 13* Oklahoma 51, No. 21* Oklahoma State 48, OT

*Week 13 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Alabama vs. No .3 Georgia in Atlanta
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: No. 19 Northern Illinois @ No. 18 Kent State (MAC Championship, Friday night)
Upset alert: No. 7 Kansas State @ No. 23 Texas

Must win: Alabama vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship game (notwithstanding Louisville @ Rutgers)
Offensive explosion: Baylor @ Oklahoma State
Defensive struggle: Cincinnati @ UConn
Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Rutgers, Thursday

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mack Brown of Texas vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Nicholls @ No. 16 Oregon State
Why are they playing? South Alabama @ Hawaii

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ Texas State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Kansas @ West Virginia

Rivalry Week in Review:

Give Urban Meyer a ton of credit:  Ohio State had nothing to play for this year.  Nothing.  No matter how well they played this regular season, they were ineligible for any sort of bowl game or any other post-season play, not even the Big 10 Conference championship game.  That is too bad, because they currently, er, lead the Leaders division of the conference by a virtual mile (two games, to be exact).  Moreover, the team they lead is Penn State, who is ineligible for a much longer stretch of time, sadly, and for even more bizarre reasons.  The Buckeyes’ current lead in the conference is three games ahead of the actual eligible member of the Leaders division, that being Wisconsin, whom Ohio State defeated in Madison, Wis., in overtime.  As stated earlier, the Buckeyes had nothing to play for this year, and as such could have just lied down and given up early on.  Yet Coach Meyer has kept his team focused and hungry every week.  Best of all, they capped off an undefeated season by beating arch-rival Michigan 26-21.  If these shadows remain unchanged, then the future in Columbus, Ohio is very bright indeed.

Yes, Florida won:  But give Jimbo Fisher a ton of credit.  He has brought Florida State back to near-football factory status, which has, in turn, brought the Sunshine State Rivalry back to prominence, which is good for football.  The Seminoles put up on heckuva fight against the Gators in Tallahassee, but in the end, the latter’s defense proved too much for the former, as Florida triumphed in the end, 37-26.  Yet to put things in perspective, this “rivalry” had been rather one-sided since 2004, be it in recent wins on the part of the ‘Noles (31-7 in 2010, 21-7 in 2011), or in consecutive wins (the Gators won all matchups with FSU from 2004 to 2009).  The level of play, the overall excitement, and reasonably close score indicate that the one-sidedness has come to an end, at least temporarily.  Expect this rivalry to retain its regained intensity in the future years to come!

Speaking of Florida, it looks like Muschamp is “the guy” after all.  Folks had left him for dead at the end of last year after he went only 7-6 in his first season as head coach of the Gators.  Yet this year, he has lost only one game, has just defeated his No. 10-ranked, in-state rival, and his team is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation.  The Gators look to be in good hands after all.

Is the USC-Notre Dame rivalry back?  Could be. Brian Kelly has put enough pieces together at Notre Dame to make the team recall the physical squads that made the Irish top contenders for years on end.  Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin has gradually been putting pieces back together at USC after years of probation.  Notre Dame was downright dormant as a former national power for a decade and a half.  Meanwhile, USC was severely weakened by scholarship reductions due to probation, which they have now survived, and are looking to get back to where they were under Pete Carroll’s tenure.  Going in to the most recent game, this rivalry, like the previous one mentioned, was also one-sided over the past decade.  The Trojans won all but one of these games since 2002, and embarrassed the Irish in South Bend last year, 31-17.  This year, Notre Dame stepped up and won in Los Angeles, 22-13, against a Trojan team with a back-up redshirt freshman and a team that has yet to find itself in terms of a necessary level of discipline and consistency.  Regardless, though, the game was competitive, and we look forward to more of it in the coming years.

Speaking of one-sided rivalries:  The South Carolina-Clemson game is one that has overall been in the latter’s favor, as the Tigers led the rivalry 65-41-4.  Nevertheless, with the Gamecocks’ recent win, they have now won the last four games between them and the Tigers.  This is the first time South Carolina has repeated this streak since from 1951-1954, and it ties the record for their longest win streak against their upstate rival.  Moreover, South Carolina has won five out of the last seven of such games.

Is it too early to say that this is the greatest Vanderbilt team of modern times, if not of all time?  Don’t laugh.  When is the last time you saw the Commodores go 8-4?  In recent memory, Vandy teams showed some signs of brilliance (the Jay Cutler-led squads, for example), but even they struggled to win six games, most of the time falling short of that mark.  This team not only surpassed that mark for bowl eligibility, it blew passed it completely.  Along the way, they blew out Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest.  Not the most impressive opponents, to be sure, but the fact that they were able to hold off a rapidly-improving Ole Miss should count for something.  To be sure, they have proven not to be able to handle the true heavyweights of the conference, losing badly to both Georgia (48-3) and Florida (31-17), and lost the season opener at home to South Carolina (17-13).  Still, despite these weaknesses, the ‘Dores are bowl eligible for the second season in a row, something unprecedented in the history of the program.  If that is not enough, the team reached other key milestones as well.  The evidence speaks for itself.  That said, if any doubts remain, last year, Vandy went only 6-6 before losing to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.  This year, they are a stronger team, and are 8-4; a bowl win should quell any doubt that they are the greatest Commodore squad of modern times, if not since the program’s inception in 1890.

Here’s something to blow you mind:  Iowa and Kentucky, both cellar-dwellers in their respective conference divisions, are the only reasons why there is not some undefeated MAC team out there threatening to crash the BCS.  Check it out.  Iowa beat Northern Illinois by one point in the season opener, and Kentucky beat Kent State 47-14 in week 2.  Want to make things even more interesting?  Ask yourself the following question:  would either of these “Big Six” teams beat any one of those two MAC teams at this stage of the season?

Oh yeah, and Notre Dame will be playing for the national championship for the first time in 24 years.  Yay.

Memo to Big Ten: More is not always better November 21, 2012

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More is not necessary better.  If one of your favorite products introduces a new product line, will that help the overall brand, or will it detract from productive capacity and quality control resources for the product and you and others already know and love?  If your favorite airline adds more routes, instead of enhancing the brand, all it might do is cause more flights to be delayed.

The reason I bring this up is because the news has come out that the Big Ten is inviting both Maryland and Rutgers into their prestigious conference.  The invitation obviously benefits these two universities, but how does it benefit the Big Ten?  More is not always “more,” as in better.  It’s not as if the Big Ten is adding Notre Dame and Texas, in which there would be more great TV games and home games.

The benefits for Maryland and Rutgers are obvious.  Neither teams are making much money with their athletics programs (least of all Rutgers), not with the relatively lousy television deals they currently have.  By joining the Big 10, that problem instantly vanishes, since that conference has one of the best TV deals in the business.  It is not rocket science to figure out why a poor guy wants to marry into a rich family.

Moreover, while those two teams’ conference fit is a geographic stretch, academically it somewhat makes sense.  Like almost all other conference members, Maryland and Rutgers are both members of the Association of American Universities, for what that is worth (oddly enough, Nebraska is the only B1G member not yet in that affiliation).  Adding these two schools could further enhance the conference’s already solid academic reputation.

But aside from that, how does the Big Ten benefit?  From a fan’s perspective alone, this could border on havoc.  Think of the traveling distance.  Many Big Ten fans travel by the busload to some away games.  A band of Nebraska fans traveling to Piscataway, N.J. to see their beloved Cornhuskers play Rutgers would literally be journeying halfway across the country.  That’s a huge difference from a more typical conference matchup in which some Wisconsin fans would have but a [roughly] three-hour run to Iowa City to cheer on their Badgers against the Hawkeyes.

Moreover, think of home game schedules for a moment.  So few great home games are available year in and year out.  Think about how many season ticket-holding fans have to put up with lousy match-ups at home.  Wisconsin playing Cal Poly or Ohio State playing Youngstown State at home might be easy wins, but they are horrible games for the fans.  Ditto with the Buckeyes playing the Blazers of UAB; yuck!  Fans of B1G teams wait patiently from great match-ups, such as the Buckeyes coming in to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for a night game, or Michigan State coming into Northwestern for a close, hard-fought match-up.

With Rutgers and Maryland now in the mix, those great regional rivalries that fans hunger for are now further in jeopardy in place of a potentially mediocre match-up with these mediocre teams.  Again, what has the Big Ten, on balance, to gain from this?  The Terrapins’ affiliation with the conference will not make the program improve.

It also messes with traditional rivalries.  The Terps have nothing to do with the Spartans, Buckeyes or Badgers.  Their rivals are Virginia, North Carolina, etc., all in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Leaving the ACC for the B1G means all those rivalries instantly vanish.

Ah, but adding Rutgers and Maryland into the conference means that the Big 10 can tap into the New York City and Washington, D.C. markets, say the expansion advocates.  But people in those markets don’t care about either team, so says Nate Silver, who has a great piece that voices that same concerns written on this page.  Silver’s analysis shows that there are low percentages of college football fans in those two large metro areas.  Why compromise teams’ schedules for such a diminishing return?

The bottom line is that the Big Ten, arguably most prestigious athletic conference overall in college athletics (notwithstanding football alone, in which the SEC is, at this time, head and shoulders above everyone else), is running a serious risk of diluting their brand.

If you want further proof of this real possibility of brand dilution, look no further than the Pac-12 to see how this move makes no sense.  Any benefit of adding Utah and Colorado is marginal at best.  The Utes have been mediocre this year, and the Buffaloes have been an outright embarrassment, as they are arguably the worst team in the FBS (see: “Dang, they’re bad,” see: “Can the season end?”).  Yes, the Pac-12 has some great teams right now:  six of its member teams are, as of his week, ranked in the top 25.  But Utah is not among those who are ranked, and, as already mentioned, Colorado is embarrassingly abysmal.

At least when the SEC expanded, it brought in Missouri and Texas A&M; two quality programs.  Maryland and Rutgers just dilute the brand, and further weaken an already teetering Big East.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany may think that bringing these two teams in will allow for it to reach certain key “demographics,” but not only does Nate Silver show that those demos are not as inviting as they would initially appear, Dan Wetzel of Rivals/Yahoo! points out similar problems.  Delany and the rest of the conference leadership need to snap out of this trance before they make a horrible mistake that will ruin the brand.

Buddy Holly still timeless at 75 September 13, 2011

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Last week (September 7, to be exact), marked the would-be 75th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s birth.  In case you have been under a rock, though, for the past 52 years, Buddy Holly has been dead for that long, having died in a plane crash in the wee morning hours in a frozen Iowa cornfield.  It is not uncommon for rock stars to burn briefly but very brightly.  But the degree of brightness to which Buddy Holly shone as a star eclipsed most others in his day, and influenced countless others in the years that followed.

Buddy Holly is rightfully recognized as one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Founding Fathers.”  The most notable of our nation’s Founding Fathers each made their own unique contribution as our nation was born.  Washington, for example, was the most gifted leader and capable administrator.  Adams was one of the leading advocates in Congress for independence.  Jefferson was the philosopher-statesman who was able to articulate the American experience and the rights of all men.  Hamilton was the sharpest financial mind, Madison was the most detail-oriented, and Franklin was the most pragmatic, hence the most practical of an already-practical bunch.

When it comes to the founding generation of rock music, the unique contributions in that field manifest themselves as well.  Some examples would include Bill Haley, who inaugurated the era; Chuck Berry, who combined blues music and folk themes for his own inimitable style; Little Richard, who found the holy grail of rock with his freight train-style tempo; Jerry Lee Lewis, who changed our paradigm of what a piano was meant to do; Carl Perkins, who owned the Rockabilly sub-genre; Elvis, who sang our kind of songs the way we wanted them to be sung; then there’s Buddy Holly, arguably the most timeless artist of a bunch who recorded music that remains timeless after more than five decades, and the most pioneering in a rare group of accomplished pioneers.

The music speaks for itself.  “That’ll Be the Day” — the first record this author ever recalls hearing in his life — was his only Number One hit State-side, but he and his group The Crickets recorded a slew of other songs that helped define the era as well.  In just 18 months, Buddy Holly and the Crickets had 27 Top 40 hits.

Just try to avoid tapping your feet to “Oh Boy,” or joining The Crickets in call-and-response fashion to the lyrics that make up the title.  Same thing goes for “Rock Around with Ollie Vee“, “I’m Looking for Someone to Love” (the flip-side to “That’ll Be the Day,” fyi), with a guitar solo that would even make Ted Nugent proud.

Same thing goes for “Rave On.”  Speaking of which, “Rave On” personifies the “hiccup” vocal style the Holly pioneered (that is, he introduced it to Rock, as it was already long-standing in Country-Western singing).  But that just scratches the surface of Holly’s firsts.  A full decade before Jimi Hendrix made a name for himself playing his Fender Stratocaster, Holly had already given the Fender Strat guitar a mystique all its own.  Compared to the warm tones of most Gibson hollow-bodies, Holly’s Fender Strat had a distinctly piercing tone, which one can readily recognize in Ollie Vee or, better yet, “Blue Days, Black Nights”, both of which were recorded during a session for the Decca label in Nashville in 1956.

As an aside, there is often confusion on the part of many with regard to Buddy Holly vs. “The Crickets.”  “What’s the difference?”, or some variation thereof, is the top FAQ.  The historical evidence on hand does nothing to alleviate that confusion, as the group recorded on two different labels — both Decca subsidiaries at the time — and due to contractual quirks had to essentially split their name in two. Examples are shown below.

Source: author’s personal collection

Despite the separation of names, it was all illusory:  on both labels, the complete group of Buddy Holly & The Crickets were performing the songs.  Speaking of which, it is on that note that Holly’s pioneering is most pronounced.  Putting things into context is the key to understanding this important point, for this was a time when solo artists and groups alike sang songs written and produced by others.  Not Buddy Holly and the boys, though.  They were the most notable first four-piece band (two guitars, a bass and drums) who wrote their own songs, then performed them their own way.  In so doing, they created a template that rock bands of all sub-genres have followed for more than fifty years.

Holly was also one of the most influential artists of all time.  The Beatles not only drew inspiration from Holly and his group, they even drew inspiration from The Crickets’ group name — wanting to follow along the insect-themed name in tribute to their own favorite group.  The band that defined the genre in the 1960s, that ushered in the “British Invasion”, cut their teeth covering Holly’s hits.  Indeed, as one article in particular points out, it was Holly who led an “American Invasion” into Britain in the 1950s.

But that does not even scratch the surface of Holly’s lasting influence.  An excellent LA Times piece puts it in nearly-poetic words:

“Listen to Me” opens with Stevie Nicks happily rocking atop the Bo Diddley beat of “Not Fade Away” and includes the Fray handling “Take Your Time,” Ringo Starr shuffling through “Think It Over,” Chris Isaak crooning “Crying Waiting Hoping” and Cobra Starship reimagining “Peggy Sue.” Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, who said “Buddy Holly’s sweet voice and his trademark hiccup always intrigued me,” layers his signature harmonies into the title track.

Zooey Deschanel sweetly follows in Linda Ronstadt’s footsteps on “It’s So Easy.” That’s one of three Holly songs Ronstadt — with Asher producing — brought back to the radio airwaves in the mid-’70s, a time when it wasn’t universally hip to revisit the ’50s rock canon.”

Keep in mind that Holly accomplished all of this before he died tragically at age twenty-two.  As long as the issue of youth has been mentioned, it is to that very end that notable artists are serious about keeping Holly’s music relevant in the minds of the young people of today.  Such is the reason why this anniversary coincides with a recently-released tribute album to Holly.  Other tributes have coincided with the birthday in question.  Sept. 7 was declared “Buddy Holly Day” in Los Angeles, where he was posthumously given a star on the Walk of Fame.

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Buddy Holly’s star of fame on a sidewalk in Hollywood is, interestingly, right next to the famous Capitol Records studio building. Photo by author, Jan., 2015.

His widow Maria Elena was there to witness the unveiling, along with Don and Phil Everly (a.k.a., the Everly Brothers, who were friends of Holly, as well as fellow performers), and, appropriately, Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for portraying him in The Buddy Holly Story (1978).

Evidence of the timelessness of Buddy Holly’s music is everywhere, not just in recordings such as “Listen to Me” or “Words of Love,” but others as well.  AT&T even used “Every Day” (the flip-side to “Peggy Sue”) in one of their recent commercials.

Holly, along with Richie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, left this world on Feb. 3, 1959, in what became known as “The Day the Music Died” (even his death inspired a number-one hit song – who can forget Don McLean’s “Miss American Pie“?*).  But given Holly’s lasting influence and timelessness, perhaps the name of that fateful date should be seriously called into question.

*For the sake of clarity, “Miss American Pie” was the name of the plane that crashed in 1959, taking the lives of Holly, Valens and Richardson.