If you happen to be a frequenter of this blog, you undoubtedly have read of my dislike of those talking heads and columnists who feel compelled to criticize players or coaches who fail to live up to their self-proclaimed standards. If Jim Rome has a legacy, it’s that he created such an industry. He knew, well before others, that a large section of the American public can be made to feel better about themselves when others, whose lives seem infinitely more successful, are ridiculed for something they’ve done or haven’t done. Although the latter group’s accomplishments in their chosen fields far surpass what most of society can lay claim to, still it is comforting to point out the “superior” groups’ shortcomings.
While we’re not dinner companions, I count Bill Self as a friend of mine. We became acquainted when he was the coach at Tulsa and I was on the staff at Fresno State. One year, his Tulsa team lost four regular season games and three of them were to us – by one at Tulsa, by two at Fresno and by three in the WAC tournament (the one year it was held in Fresno). I coached for 35 years so I feel I can comment intelligently on what makes a good, even a great, coach and what doesn’t. This year, Bill Self led Kansas to a Big 12 regular season championship – for the 13th consecutive season! As far as defining coaching greatness, that definitely qualifies.
Yet I came across a piece, written a year ago following the Jayhawks’ first weekend loss to Wichita State, in which Bill was blasted for his underachieving NCAA tournament record. Certainly, losing during the first weekend of March Madness – which his KU clubs have done three times – is no one’s idea of a successful conclusion to a season. But to dismiss his 2008 national championship (KU’s first in 20 years and, by the way, the only Final Four to feature all four #1 seeds) as the only national championship he’s won, is downplaying an overwhelmingly successful career.
The author of the article compared seven coaches’ post season records: Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Bill. Self’s record was the weakest of the seven, having reached the Sweet Sixteen 10 times, the Elite Eight seven times and the Final Four twice. My answer to that is that somebody had to be seventh out of that list – and it’s not like the group is a bunch of shlubs. In fact, if Kansas were to win it all this year, he’d still rank seventh of that septet. Was the point that Bill Self is just an outstanding regular season coach but, when it comes to the postseason, he forgets how to coach – or, worse, he chokes? If so, what is the explanation for the 2008 season? Or his appearance in the title game in 2012? Luck?
Earlier in the week, I caught the end of a rant by Bomani Jones regarding Self’s poor NCAA tournament coaching record. Jones has strong opinions and expresses them eloquently. He’s obviously incredibly bright guy. But to hear him refer to the NCAA tournament as the “Bill Self-gag tourney” (or a some such term – the exact terminology escapes me now), makes listeners think there’s a hidden agenda of some kind here. As for the list of awards Jones has to his credit, in January 2014, he won three consecutive Around the Horn episodes and, as of October 30, 2014 (sorry, my search to find the updated Around the Horn stats proved more difficult than finding NCAA champions), has 104 wins in 373 appearances on the show. When it comes to winning actual awards, his greatest claim to fame is his sister is an award-winning novelist.
Wonder how he’d feel if someone went on the air with a, “Yeah but …” rant regarding her writing career? As in, “sure she won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction and the Lillian C. Smith Award for New Voices but where is her name when Pulitzers are handed out?”
Although I fully understand that a large segment of sports fans enjoy listening to shortcomings of those more successful than we are, I still have to think:
“Isn’t it a sad commentary on America?”