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Politicians Who Look Like Disgraced Basketball Coaches is the Twitter bit of 2017

In a vicious news cycle, a study of what a struggling MEAC coach looks like is an oddly comforting coping mechanism.

White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci Interviewed By Television Reporter At The White House
Central Connecticut head coach Anthony Scaramucci, pictured after winning his first conference game in his third year at the helm of the Blue Devils.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Just as Helen of Troy earned the pseudonym, “the face that launched 1000 ships,” I nominate a tweet from just over 1500 days ago that, to date, has gotten one retweet and five likes as “the tweet that launched 1000 tweets.”

Here, in all its glory, is the first example of the “Politicians Universally Look Like Disgraced Basketball Coaches” bit.

It’s possible that you’ve managed to miss this trope. It hasn’t gotten the exposure of David Roth’s more popular “crab rangoon, things of that nature” opus, which was detailed in a loving profile on The Awl. But, in positing that Texas Lieutenant Governor looked like “Fake Ass Defective Tim Floyd,” Roth established a foundation that would launch hundreds of similarly accurate, and similarly hilarious comparisons. A hearty sampling can be found in Roth’s 2015 article for Vice Sports (editor’s note: despite Roth’s assertion that Mike Huckabee took over from Clemson after the “firing” of Oliver Purnell, Oliver Purnell was not fired by Clemson and, in fact, has never been fired from a head coaching job).

History

While the origins of the bit can be found in the Dewhurst-Tim Floyd Tweet of 2013, it had been rattling inside of David Roth’s head for a good while longer. Said Roth, the idea had been rattling around his head since 2008 during the Democratic primary, when one candidate, coincidentally, also looked like a certain former USC head coach.

“I remember seeing John Edwards who was a democrat who looked like Tim Floyd too. Janky Tim Floyd is a popular look for politicians.

“I believe I gave him $20 in 2008 and attended a fundraiser—a very inexpensive fundraiser—it seriously was just like $25. I liked him. I liked the two Americas stuff, I liked the fact that he looked like he could’ve coached UNC-Wilmington to a 12-seed, obviously I had no idea how all of this...did not stand up very well. But that was very much on my mind.

“When I started putting it on Twitter I don’t think I ever used it anywhere before that. But it’s like a thing that you think about. Like the college basketball people and politicians who are stressed out are just like guys in suits who look really anxious, so there’s a natural through-line between the two I think.

When asked to go farther back in history to try and find Patient Zero of the “Politicians Who Look Disgraced Basketball Coaches,” Roth finds it a little more difficult.

“It’s tough because there are definitely guys that like—like Reagan looked like a drawing of Reagan, right? He looked like a cartoon. Jimmy Carter didn’t look like a basketball coach. Nixon...was put in charge of the country for, you know, parts of two terms and yet I think everyone would know that he should not be involved in youth sports. I don’t know when, I think Clinton had a little bit of that [coach’s look]? And maybe that’s where it is, because the Bushes seem too patrician sort of. Like being a basketball coach is too stressful a job for someone with those features. But Clinton definitely has that kind of–like Bruce Pearl is not the right comparison but there’s something like that, you know what I mean? Corny, huckster-ish sort of vibe to him. Maybe he would be a kind of pioneer in the field.

Other of Roth’s forefathers include Massachusetts’s Ed Markey, who “looks like a guy who could have been a peer of Bobby Cremins’s,” and “an Ed Rendell or a Biden type but not actually either of those guys. Like the dudes who clearly came up in a big northeastern city. Like who looks like Jim Calhoun? You can’t think of one you can think of like 20.”

Process

To hear David Roth talk about his process of determining which coach looks like a UW-Milwaukee coach rather than a Texas A&M Corpus Christi coach or a Portland coach is akin to asking a jazz musician about the process of improvising a solo. “I think a lot of it is instinct, I won’t pretend that there’s any science to it...to be honest I haven’t really examined the process as much as I should. That’s something I can use this period of unemployment to do is to really meditate on this.”

And yet, the hit rate is astonishing.

One of the more underrated part of Roth’s bit is that it works in reverse. Though not as often used, it works just as well and the results are every bit as funny.

“Business-oriented seven-term Republican representing a South Carolina district in which there is one golf course for every 2.75 citizens.” —David Roth on Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: Summit Conference Tournament-North Dakota State vs South Dakota State
“Represents what is generally agreed to be "the angrier part" of Wisconsin's Fox River Valley. Has frequently compared governance to a push-up contest, but refuses to say what that means.” –David Roth on North Dakota State head coach David Richman
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Fairleigh Dickinson vs Florida Gulf Coast
“Former Merrill Lynch managing director elected as a Democrat to represent a district in Westchester. His campaign slogan was ‘Rich People Care.’ –David Roth on Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Greg Herenda
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
“That's actually Mick Mulvaney.” –David Roth on Ball State head coach James Whitford
Kent C. Horner/Getty Images

The All-Stars

A truly successful Twitter bit always has its superstars, and for Roth, there are two politicians who are the gift that keep on giving.

“Rand Paul is a guy who I think of as one of the earlier participants of the game. Rand Paul has always reminded me of Tom Penders and it’s because they both have the same haircut and always look a little checked out.”

But the platonic ideal of Roth’s bit erupted onto the national politics for just 10 days in July.

“Scaramucci was the one that really jumped out at me as a guy that had a like former unpaid student assistant for Pitino kind of a vibe the way that all of those dudes sort of dress and model themselves after that Calipari/Pitino type,” said Roth of the ex-White House Communications Director.

“So many of the greater, outer Trump universe, the mutants that are a part of that...like Bannon...honestly does not look healthy to be a college basketball coach. Which is something to really think about for a little while. But [former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey] Lewandowski definitely has it and Scaramucci is just like–it’s perfect! He looks like he’s dressing as Billy Donovan for Halloween. The whole slickness, the grooming. He was the one that when I saw him this might be the end of it. Not that it isn’t going to remain funny to me and like the 8 people that find it amusing, but it’s never getting better than this.”

The exceptions who prove the rule are every bit as notable as Roth’s favorite targets. Roth detailed the few politicians who remain outside his grasp.

“Rahm Emmanuel because he’s too physically fit, I think. And honestly I think Trump doesn’t look like a basketball coach, just because he’s hilariously out of shape is part of it, but then also the way in which he’s out of shape. Like Rick Majerus is like the college basketball body type. Less so now, but you can be fat in that way where all you do—like your diet is entirely cheese curds and Miller Lite. But like Trump’s whole physique and his whole like—the suits that he wears are different. They’re both more expensive and then somehow fit significantly worse than the average college basketball coach. Jay Wright, I’m sure, cannot look at a picture of Trump dressed the way he is without sweating and getting upset.

“That’s the one that really jumps out at me.”

The Future

The appeal of this game so fun lies within in its ability to turn the politics of the day, which are evermore horrifying and totally inescapable, into a game played by feckless, overmatched men in ill-fitting suits desperately trying to keep their heads above water in the WAC.

There is something strangely soothing to imagine that person in Washington who seems impervious to your wants and needs as a middling Ohio Valley Conference coach on his way to getting fired instead of as a tremendously powerful senator who is setting the future of the country.

As such, it isn’t surprising that as the politics of the day seem to spiral farther and farther from the norm, Roth’s Twitter game has grown in popularity.

Roth is quick to concede, though, that “nothing is more funny in 2017 than it was in 2015. Maybe it is, maybe you laugh harder but it’s definitely harder to make these sorts of jokes. Aside from what you think about Trump or whatever, our politics are clearly in a very bad place. I think they were in a pretty lousy place in 2015 too but it felt less like we were on the edge of something. Now I sort of need the jokes more. But I also feel a little more conflicted about making them.”

Gallows humor is a necessary coping mechanism, and the more ridiculous the political arena becomes, the stronger the urge to say that an FBI director, or a budget director, or any other politician caught in the news cycle’s vortex looks like an MVC coach caught in the midst of a tough season.

It’s a gift that truly keeps on giving.