The Rise and
Fall of El Supremo
Year by Year
The year: 2000 -- In faraway New Jersey, it is
winter. The skies are grey. At Rutgers University, an old eastern
institution trying to become "excellent" in the manner
of Ohio State and the University of Nebraska, Athletics Director
Robin Mulcavity is sad. He has been hiring football coach after
football coach. Nothing good has come of it.
On campus, students
and professors are saying things like "Can't we just go
back to being a really good university? Do we have to try to
be a sports factory?"
But even now, discouraged
as he is, Robin Mulcavity has a plan. He has heard about a backfield
coach from Florida. He has spoken to the man. He senses a messianic
personality behind the voice.
On the Board of Boosters,
there is unrest. "Why are you not delivering us the wins
you promised, with Rutgers jerseys running around on TV between
the commercials?" they ask him sternly. "We want to
go to a bowl game. We don't care if it's the Weedwacker Bowl."
Robin Mulcavity is calm.
"Worry not," he assures the Board of Boosters. "I
am about to make an offer to a messianic backfield coach from
Florida. He will take us to the Weedwacker Bowl or one of those
bowls. We will be able to buy "bowl rings" to give
to politicians in our pay-to-play legislature. The name of the
man I am about to hire is El Supremo. Try that one on for size."
In Florida, Robin Mulcavity
interviews his messianic backfield coach. "We really want
you to come," he says. "We have been having hard times
up there in New Jersey. Will you help us?"
"Of course I will
come," answers El Supremo. "This is a dead end job
down here. Plus which, the weather is incredibly humid in summer."
The year: 2002 -- The end of El Supremo's second
season at Rutgers University. The team has gone 1-11. It has
finished at the bottom of the "Big East" conference,
dominated by perennial football powers like the University of
Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College.
"What could have
been on your mind?" the Board of Boosters asks Robin Mulcavity.
"This messianic coach of yours isn't winning any games.
Why didn't you stack the schedule with patsies that Piscataway
High School could beat?"
"I did," said
Robin Mulcavity sadly. "Buffalo. 171 in the Sagarin ratings.
Army. A perennial punching bag. We played Navy last year. They're
as bad as Army. I scheduled Villanova. I scheduled Temple. But
we still play programs like Miami and Virginia Tech and Boston
College. What am I supposed to do?"
said the Board of Boosters, mollified. "There's not much
more you could have done. Well, this Supremo of yours better
start showing us something. Got that, Robin?"
said Mulcavity sadly.
"It will take a
miracle," he said under his breath as he walked out of the
The year: 2003 -- "IT'S A MIRACLE!,"
shouted Robin Mulcavity as he burst into the room. "ALL
THE BEST FOOTBALL TEAMS IN THE BIG EAST ARE LEAVING FOR ANOTHER
CONFERENCE. MIAMI IS LEAVING! VIRGINIA TECH IS LEAVING! BOSTON
COLLEGE IS LEAVING!"
"Calm down, Robin
Mulcavity," said the Board of Boosters. "Just because
every decent football team has left this 'Big East' doesn't mean
that El Supremo will win. Hadn't you better make sure that there
are a lot of creampuff teams scheduled for out-of-conference
Mulcavity studied his
nails. "I'm way ahead of you," he said. "Next
year, we'll be playing Temple. Kent State. New Hampshire. Got
that? New Hampshire."
Then a mad glint came
into his eyes. He did a little dance step. "Don't you understand?
All the real football teams are GONE! Miami is GONE! Virginia
Tech is GONE! Boston College is GONE! WE'RE UP AGAINST TOTAL
PATSIES! FROM NOW ON, WE CAN'T LOSE!"
The Board of Boosters
were impressed. Perhaps it was true.
El Supremo knew it was
true. Showing a Sports Illustrated reporter around Rutgers
athletic facilities, he confided that he was going to have the
open end of the Rutgers stadium closed in. "For a messianic
person such as myself," he told the reporter, "it is
important to have a closed stadium. You can't be messianic when
you have to look out at a lot of open space."
The year: 2004 -- With Miami, Virginia Tech,
and Boston College gone, and with Temple, Kent State, and New
Hampshire on the schedule, El Supremo's team goes 4-7, finishing
1-5 in the Big East.
said El Supremo, closing the door to Robin Mulcavity's office
behind him. "I want a raise to eight million dollars."
million?" said Mulcavity, aghast. "Eight million for
winning four games against creampuff opponents? For losing five
out of six conference games? I know you are messianic, El Supremo,
but eight million sounds a little high."
El Supremo pouted.
said at last, "I will stick with my miserly salary if we
can come to a few agreements right now. Let's deal."
Robin looked at him
"What do you want?"
he asked after a long pause.
"You know that
nature preserve Rutgers controls over across the river?"
asked El Supremo. "I like it. It's quiet. Leafy. No houses
around to get in your way. Get me a slice of it to build a house.
A house worthy of a messianic coach like myself."
Robin Mulcavity was
he said, spreading his hands helplessly. "That is a nature
preserve. It is a conservancy, where tiny woodland creatures
can rustle through the forest glades. It is one of the last places
in New Jersey that hasn't been covered over with asphalt. Please,
El Supremo, not the nature conservancy."
"The nature conservancy,"
said El Supremo. "I want a house with space where you can
hang nine or ten flat-panel TV screens. Plus a helicopter."
asked Mulcavity. "You mean, your own private helicopter?
In the name of God, why?"
answered El Supremo. "You get to make lots of noise and
everybody looks at you and thinks you're cool. I am cool. And
messianic," he added.
that you're messianic, Supremo," said Robin Mulcavity, "but
really. Couldn't we rent a helicopter? Couldn't we just rent
you a helicopter whenever you wanted one? Please, Supremo?"
El Supremo. "A rental job. For the time being."
The year: 2005 -- "Well," said El Supremo
with a small smile of satisfaction. "I got you your wins.
We went 7-5 and we're going to the Insight Bowl. Are you prepared
to give me my ten million dollars now?
"What's the Insight
Bowl?" asked Robin Mulcavity.
"Never mind that,"
said El Supremo. "It's a bowl. You can buy rings for your
pay-to-play pals in the legislature. They'll never know the difference.
said Mulcavity. "We've taken over the nature conservancy.
We've rented helicopters. We've raised your salary. Listen, with
this creampuff schedule we've got next year, you're a cinch to
go undefeated. Why don't we wait until you go undefeated?"
El Supremo glowered.
He was silent for a long time.
said at last. "But in the meantime there's something you've
got to do for me."
said Robin Mulcavity, hoping that the request would be, for once,
a small one.
"I want $200 million
to close in the open end of the stadium," said El Supremo.
"Have you ever asked yourself what a messianic coach like
myself is doing in some dirtball stadium with an open end?"
consider it a dirtball stadium, Supremo," said Mulcavity,
his pride a bit wounded. "I've poured millions and millions
into that stadium for you. The whole Hale Center. We built that
Hale Center for you while classroom buildings all over campus
were falling apart. There's a lobby that looks like a Hooters
franchise, really classy, just for you."
"It's a dirtball
stadium," said El Supremo firmly. "I told that Sports
Illustrated guy back in 2003 that I was going to have the
open end filled in. I want it done. Luxury seats. Skyboxes. Wet
bars. Get it done."
Robin Mulcavity hesitantly, "I'll try, Supremo. But you'd
better go undefeated."
"Don't worry about
it," said El Supremo. "With the puffball schedule you've
set up, Piscataway High School could go undefeated."
The year: 2007 -- Okay, Robin," said El
Supremo. "I've done it. Nine wins. Let's have the ten million."
said Robin Mulcavity, "you didn't go undefeated."
El Supremo, "those clowns on the Board of Boosters don't
know the difference between nine wins and undefeated. Besides,
we're going to the International Bowl."
"What's the International
Bowl?" asked Mulcavitiy.
said El Supremo. "It's a bowl. Tell me, what are you doing
about my stadium upgrade?"
said Robin Mulcavity pleadingly. "I told you it's tough.
The state is reeling under revenue
deficits. The university got hit with huge budget cuts. They're
cancelling hundreds of classes. Firing staff. Every building
on campus is falling apart."
El Supremo. "We'll talk about that later. Let's talk salary."
Robin Mulcavity, brightening a bit. "Here's what I've done.
I've gotten the Board of Boosters to agree to extend your contract
to 2016. That gives us some breathing room. We're going to pay
you $1.8 million a year from now on, and . . ."
"One point eight
million?" screamed El Supremo, cutting him off. "A
lousy one point eight million? Do you know WHO I AM?"
"I know, I know,"
said Robin Mulcavity placatingly. "You're the messianic
"I'm through with
this penny ante stuff," said El Supremo. "Look, Robin,
get me two million dollars and get the damned stadium underway
or I'm out of here. Gone. Through. Done. There are other college
football franchises that know a messianic coach when they see
one, did you happen to be aware?"
"Give me a couple
of hours," said Robin Mulcavity desperately.
Two hours later, he
knocked at the door of El Supremo's office.
said Robin Mulcavity, "I've talked to my pay-to-play pals
in the legislature. They say we can ramrod the stadium thing
through without anybody being able to stop it. There might be
a few newspaper editorials, but you'll get your skyboxes and
your luxury seats."
"That's more like
it," said El Supremo. "What else?"
Robin Mulcavity, "they say there's no way to raise your
salary straight out. A lot of people in the state are out of
work. Gas prices are going up. The university is falling apart
with these budget cuts."
Robin Mulcavity, "they just can't see giving you another
million-dollar raise when people are losing their jobs. But,"
he said, brightening," we've figured out a way."
"What is it?"
said El Supremo suspiciously.
"Don't worry, Supremo,"
said Mulcavity. "It's foolproof. We're just going to have
a few hundred thousand that some sporting goods company pays
the university put in a secret account in your name. That puts
you over two million. The beauty of it is, nobody will ever know."
El Supremo grudgingly. "Sounds okay. Now. About that stadium
said Mulcavity, "it's a breeze. We've got the earthmovers
out there. I go out to the site every day myself, to keep a time
clock on the work crew."
said El Supremo. "You told me you were going to get me ten
million dollars when I went undefeated--"
"--but you didn't
go undefeated," Mulcavity broke in. "You went 9-2.
With the creampuff schedule of all time."
whatever," said El Supremo. And now you're getting me a
measly two million by slipping me a few hundred thousand extra
under the table. How do I know you're not going to stiff me on
this stadium deal?"
"Supremo, you know
I wouldn't do that," said Robin Mulcavity. "What do
you want from me?"
"What I want,"
said El Supremo firmly, "is a secret clause in my contract
saying that if you don't get this damned stadium thing done PRONTO, I get to walk away from my
contract without paying any penalty."
said Mulcavity, "I had to kill myself to make sure the newspapers
would never find out about the secret salary payments. A secret
contract clause is a lot harder to cover up."
"I have faith in
you, Robin," said El Supremo with quiet menace. "Talk
to your buddies in the pay-to-play legislature. Go chat up that
Board of Boosters of yours. Do I have to tell keep telling you
that there's other college football franchises that know a messianic
coach when they see one?"
said Robin, knowing when he was beaten. "I'll get you the
contract clause. The newspapers will never find out."
said El Supremo. "You can go now."
As Robin Mulcavity closed
the office door behind him, El Supremo turned once again to look
at himself in the mirror hanging directly across from his desk.
He tilted his jutting chin this way and that, admiring his profile
from a number of angles. That one there, he said to himself,
holding his pose and looking at his reflection. That's the one.
The year: 2008 -- The newspapers find out.