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Why Your Program Should Be Like Tuscany

Stunning views and good steak are a plus, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I spent the last three days in Montepulciano, one of the hill towns of Tuscany. Living in Naples, Italy while my wife is stationed at the Navy base there has some real downsides—the fact that nearly all major US sporting events happen during the night is one of them—but being close to some of the most beautiful countryside on earth is one of the plusses.

The city has existed in some form since a few centuries B.C., but the town as we know it dates to the middle ages. It has old churches and art to see. It has wine cellars dug into the ground below it, some dating back millennia thanks to once being Etruscan tombs. The restaurants are fantastic and serve the standard Tuscan fare. For now, before the summer tourist flood comes, it's an idyllic place to spend a weekend.

The thing, though, is that the town is not everything it seems to be. Between noticing all the things it has, I noticed what it doesn't have: the infrastructure of normal living. I saw one hair salon, two bank branches, and fewer than five grocery stores (and the stores were basically holes-in-the-wall and not really what you'd think of as a "grocery store"). The old town only still exists to serve tourists. It's nearly empty from late fall to early spring, and a lot of the stores will close during that time.

It's almost like a European Colonial Williamsburg, only instead of women in frocks teaching butter churning, there are men telling you that their winery is actually the oldest one for one reason or another. The real city where people live is outside the remaining medieval walls where they could actually build modern infrastructure. It's the same story all over Tuscany, where preserving the past is big business but isn't otherwise much of a part of people's actual existences.

I've gone back and forth a few times over whether I think the statues for the three Heisman Trophy winners outside of Florida Field are a good idea or not. I am certain there are better uses for the $550,000 it took to pay for them, and I'm also inclined to think that statues should never be made of the living. That said, maybe they do serve a decent purpose of connecting people with the past, even if that past is as recent as 2007.

The past is the main reason why so many people keep coming back to Tuscany. There are other beautiful places in the world; Lake Bled is not far outside of Italy and most people have never heard of it. There are other places that make good wine and steak. But Tuscany is Tuscany because of the history: the old cathedrals, the art, the Medici family, the leaning tower, the Romans, and all that. Even so, the world moved on because having a modern, industrialized economy requires moving on. Preserving the past in these old towns helps keep Tuscany feeling like Tuscany, but it didn't stop people from setting up shop elsewhere and keeping up with the times.

There are plenty of college sports programs. They contrast today because they have different kinds people in charge, but those people come and go. What makes them unique is their pasts. Not forgetting the past is how a program retains its character and keeps people coming back.

But like Tuscany, programs shouldn't hang on too tightly to history. How many times have we seen a program hire an underwhelming coach due to ties to a previous successful coach, like Florida with Ron Zook, or due to his being an alum, like Alabama with Mike Shula? Explicitly trying to rekindle the past in the present basically never works because the past is in the past. It's never coming back.

So hang up banners and paint tributes and hey, maybe even build a statue or two. Just make sure the people who are there today are only looking forward and not backward. If even Tuscany can find a way to manufacture pharmaceuticals between the agriturismos and Chianti vineyards, it can't be that hard for a football program to make its decisions solely based on what is best for the future.