There is no greater pain in life for a child than the loss of a parent. From conception on, a child is closer to his or her parents than anyone else. Even when there’s a disconnect, whether it be from adoption, estrangement, etc… most children still miss their mom and dad. It’s no secret among Buc fans that head coach Murry Bartow truly is a “Chip off the ol’ block.” As an undergrad, I remember seeing the late Gene Bartow visit and be at games, much like Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson and his father Wimp Sanderson.
Upon reflection, I’ve noticed the declining health and eventual passing of the elder Bartow has appeared to take a severe physical and emotional toll on the younger Bartow. His approach to everything he does publically seems different now. From coaching style, recruiting, interviews and even his physical appearance makes it seem as though he’s lost focus. He didn’t have discipline issues other than one hiccup in the 04-05 season, which is still his only losing record in his time leading the blue and gold. One wonders if he’s gotten complacent in his job, multiple trips to the NCAA’s, 20 win seasons and statistically being the most successful coach in school history. The bottom line is, he’s lost a step the last few years. The program has been plagued with discipline problems, underage consumption/DUI, domestic assault, and other legal issues are the things that have made the papers. Whispers off lockerroom issues with teammates who have now left, alleged drug use and even dealing from on campus apartments, and squabbling over who’s getting shots have led to a disconnect among teammates, and an in house cancer has made for a rough patch.
After the abysmal loss to an overly pedestrian James Madison, the Bucs were shown mercy at North Carolina, which to me I would have rather UNC given an honest effort rather than playing the pep band, male cheerleaders, and Phil Ford. This is a territory that ETSU hasn’t been through in a long time, and one that a man grieving may find challenging to pull out of. Gene Bartow was more than just a father, he was a colleague, friend, mentor and confidant to his son. His loss may very well have led to complacency and perhaps even a level of apathy that seems to plague ETSU not just in athletics, but the campus as a whole. Time will be the factor in telling whether or not Bartow “wakes up” in time to salvage an already tough stretch.