Loren Tate: Coaches open for business

Loren Tate: Coaches open for business

Methods and manners vary greatly from sport to sport. It’s as though each resides in a different universe.

Baseball skippers wear uniforms, sit on the bench and only occasionally come out kicking dirt and allowing decorum to get out of hand.

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On the football sideline, ball coach Steve Spurrier prefers a ballcap or visor, Bill Belichick is known for his hoodie, and Jim Harbaugh has baggy khakis. Engaged in making or overseeing play calls, they only occasionally erupt with complaints.

Why, then, do college basketball coaches show up exquisitely dressed in freshly pressed suits and ties ... the picture of propriety ... and routinely act as though they’re kindergarten escapees?

Where else do multimillionaires toss discretion and accepted behavior out the window? Why would a senior citizen like Bo Ryan (age 66) dare to test his cardiovascular limits? Where else would these men be allowed to publicly display such weak self-discipline?

Suit coats don’t fly off by themselves. But, face it, this is the accepted nature of the game.

There’s Bruce Weber shouting such obvious entreaties: “Rebound!” “Block out!” “Get a layup!” Aren’t these basic tenets of every teaching session? At Illinois, Weber ranted at the officials so incessantly that a ref once turned to him and said: “Bruce, I can’t tell when you mean it.”

There’s Kevin O’Neill — at Marquette, Tennessee, Northwestern, Arizona and USC — discharging four-letter words that he’d never use in a family setting.

Even Tom Izzo, delightfully introspective in his calmer moments, got so furious against Ohio State that the TV heads could talk of nothing else. It carried over to such an extent that Izzo admitted he couldn’t even enjoy Michigan State’s overtime victory.

And there are two Selfs (selves?). Bill can go from rage to friendly and back again with a sweep of his hand across his face.

For every Brad Stevens who operates as though he’s snoozing, there are dozens who throw a 40-minute fit.

Different looks

College basketball coaches are community leaders who raise money for charities. They hammer sportsmanship to their athletes and emphasize academics. They stay fit. They’re great with their families and in person.

Then the horn blows, and they don’t like the ref’s toss. They become Jack Nicholson harassing Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” They forbid their players from showing the slightest reaction to a call, displaying the ultimate case of “don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

They not only refuse to sit down, blocking the view of those behind them, but they disregard the restraining line and, in heated moments, treat their space like a long-jump lane.

It is oftentimes more fun to watch the coach than the game.

Here’s my question: If they’re similar in salaries and intellect to CEOs, why do they meet pressure situations by defying the rules of corporate leadership?

Method to their madness

OK, what causes these dual personalities?

First, furious action is taking place virtually in their lap, and the officials are attempting an impossible task within easy earshot. The temptation is overwhelming.

Couple this with a firm conviction that they can influence the refs the way the former winningest coach, Bob Knight, did at Indiana. Knight’s personality was marked by a tendency toward intimidation ... of players, of zebras, of media, whoever.

The desire of coaches to impact officiating is so strong that they believe — though they might not admit it — that extreme measures (technical fouls) are sometimes beneficial in reversing momentum.

Iowa’s Fran McCaffery acknowledged this at Wisconsin, stating that he didn’t mean to get himself ejected (two technicals) but felt that one technical was necessary even though the Hawkeyes led 41-39 with 11:51 to go. Five resulting free throws proved to be the difference for Wisconsin, 75-71.

These men are consumed with the belief, percolating deep in their psyches, that they’ll get the game-deciding calls if they complain longest and loudest. Maybe psychology works that way. Who knows?

Oh, and here’s my other question: Why do coaches resist donning the same colors as they implore their fans to wear? Another subject for another day.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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jturner wrote on January 21, 2014 at 11:01 am

Nice article, Loren.  You point out several key points - 1. the hypocracy (composure and discipline from the players, but I can go nuts). and 2. the differences in sports - the nebraska football coach goes off a couple of times in a couple of games and he is criticized heavily while basketball coaches go off frequently in every game and they are just being strategic.