Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Going from Low to High in a Couple Days

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Our younger son, Alex, is in his senior year at Cal State Monterey Bay and is one of this year’s captains on the Otters basketball team. Entering his final season, Alex is in the top 10 in school history in all the positive statistical categories, e.g. points, assists, steals and, even, rebounding (of course, the school is in its relative infancy but still . . .) His fourth campaign began last week with a couple of exhibition games in Utah on back-to-back days (Thursday & Friday). The Otters are a Division II school, located in one of the most desirable places to live in the country. The games were against two Division-I squads – the first, a date with the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, followed by a contest with Utah State in Logan.

Utah is ranked the #16 best team in all of Division I, their seven-foot center a legit pro prospect. Not only is Monterey Bay unranked in Division II (full disclosure: as far as I know, there are no D-II rankings); they’re not even preseason top three in their own conference (albeit one of the better D-II leagues in the nation). Against the Utes, Monterey Bay substituted in waves, a new five after each of the first half four media timeouts. The game went worse than expected, i.e. the Otters fell behind early and as the game wore on, the behinder they got. The final score was 124-70. Actually, the game was decided by a bad call – the call from Monterey to Salt Lake City requesting the game be scheduled. Sure, it was a bummer but, if sports teaches anything, it’s that you gotta take ownership of the result.

What’s great about playing back-to-back days (especially when you get thumped) is the next game is upon you in almost no time – and, like it or not, you’re strapping it on, er, pulling up your compression shorts – and balling again. Unfortunately, the Utah State game began in similar fashion when the Aggies jumped out to a 1-0 lead after their center made the second of two free throws.

But then the Otters’ luck changed. However, in sports your luck seldom changes. You change it. Cal State Monterey Bay went on a run of their own. In fact, they went on several runs - and never again trailed – winning easily, 77-60. A 17-point road victory – and a 71-point swing in one day! Says at least a little about the team’s character.

“How did Alex play?” you ask. Great – according to a fan at the game – although my wife tends to exaggerate when it comes to our second (and last) child’s athletic endeavors. Statistically, he scored eight points (on six shots) the first night and 14 points (on eight shots) the second. Although he was shut out in the rebounding column, he accounted for four assists and as many steals in the two games. His foul situation mirrored the game results, i.e. he fouled out the first night and didn’t commit one the second.

So when they lost to the Utes by ton of points, then beat USU by quite a few a mere 22 hours later – what, exactly, can the Otters say they learned about themselves? Not really sure but one thing about the two games that can absolutely not be refuted:

“Utah is better than Utah State.”


Premature Talk of College Playoff Is Fun But Absurd

Monday, November 9th, 2015

It’s that time of year when college football rankings take sports talk’s center stage. Arguing about college football in general is a fascinating topic – until November when, for lack of a better word, it becomes addictive. With the plethora of SiriusXM radio shows that have joined the mix of newspapers (granted, they’re headed the way of the buffalo), television stations (network and cable) and social media, as well as the old reliables – the local pub, water cooler and church (after the service, of course), people pontificating about college football has reached an all-time high. Blame first the BCS, and now the College Football Playoff committee.

Possibly because I was a math major (and math teacher for 12 years), my approach to this phenomenon is too logical but, for the life of me, I can’t understand the intensity of columnists, television and radio analysts (you can’t spell analyst without a-n-a-l) and callers to talk shows and the venom they spew (OK, venom mostly applies to the callers) after having heard/seen the committee’s first set of rankings.

This past weekend was dubbed “Separation Saturday” only because of the CFP rankings. Even ESPN’s Joe Tessitore said that this season’s first couple announcements were “unnecessary for a schedule that was backloaded,” i.e. that anyone who looked at the college football schedule could tell that no early ranking would hold water because of the inevitable match ups coming in mid-late November. Why get excited about LSU at #2 and Alabama at #4 when they would be playing each other in four days! Even if the game went a dozen overtimes – and we couldn’t detect an iota of difference between the two ball clubs – their rankings would still change.

Both Ohio State and Michigan State were undefeated – but they still had a game to play against each other. This is no longer a factor for the fans who thought their Spartans got screwed out of the College Football Playoff because they now have a bigger “We got screwed” complaint. #6 Baylor, #8 TCU and #14 Oklahoma State each had to play the other. There are no ties in college football anymore. Ok State just beat TCU, so fans who were all up in arms that the Horned Frogs got screwed by not being included in the “first” first four, can kindly take their case for “exclusion-collusion” and save it for next season – unless there is an unprecedented faltering of a whole lot of teams down the stretch. Iowa fans feel their Hawkeyes have been disrespected. If they run the table – including the Big Ten championship game – they undoubtedly will. They don’t, no discussion.

Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama were, respectively, the first four of the first set of rankings. I’ll bet all of Steve Ballmer’s money (I’m certain I can get him to go along with the wager) that rankings 2.0 will change. Other than the pharmaceutical companies who supply blood pressure medicine and the people who sell TV advertising for the college gridiron shows, I just can’t see the benefit in publicizing rankings until the games have been played. Wait, there is another reason.

A close friend of mine works out at the same gym that Colin Cowherd does. When he broached this topic to “The Herd” – in private, not as a caller – CC’s response was:

“We gotta talk about something.”

A Telling Comment Made by a Radio Host

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

College basketball season has begun. Our son’s last season. This blog will return on Sunday, November 8.

Yesterday, a caller on Sirius-XM’s NBA radio show gave a breakdown of which coaches ought to be hired by certain college football teams. Naturally, every team mentioned already has a coach under contract – but isn’t that partially what call-in shows are for, i.e. to give fans a voice to show how smart they are? Yesterday’s caller used a term that many fans do – “back up the Brink’s truck.” What they’re displaying is what we see in other areas of life (people with expense accounts, politicians, consultants) which is, it’s easy to spend other people’s money.

That term was directed to the University of Texas, alleging the school should pay $100,000,000 ($10 mil a year for 10 years) for Jon Gruden. Of course, Gruden is mentioned for nearly every high profile head coaching job – college or NFL – that opens (or, in this case, have yet to open). When Gruden’s name was mentioned, the show’s host, Mark Packer (son of legendary basketball color commentator, Billy Packer) made a statement that, to me (a former coach as well as a television color commentator and a co-host of radio shows), spoke volumes about the differences between the mind-set of media people and coaches. For the record, I think Mark Packer is as good as any radio host out there.

Packer’s line was something to the effect of, “Why in the world would Gruden, who’s making $6.2 million for the football season – and the time he spends running his camp – give up such a cushy life for that of a head football college coach? His co-host, my friend from our University of Toledo days, Brady Hoke, (he serving as the linebackers coach and me holding the title of associate head basketball coach) let the listeners in on a not very well-kept secret, namely that a head college football coaching gig is a 365 day job. That there is nothing in your life holds the importance of recruiting, e.g. if a prospect and his parents are just on an unofficial recruiting visit, the head coach must be on campus because when that kid and his folks go to a rival school, you can bet their head man will be there for them.

Brady’s assessment of the job of head football coach in college only strengthened “Packman’s” position that Gruden would be crazy to make such a move. “You can’t spend $10 million. Heck, you can’t spend $6 million” was the gist of Packer’s comment. To Mark Packer, as well as his dad, the pressure that came with coaching (many people don’t know that Billy was actually an assistant basketball coach at his alma mater, Wake Forest, although his career was short-lived) was a foolish choice when a wonderful, financially rewarding life could be realized in broadcasting. And without the pressure and potential loss of job that’s so attached to coaching.

As I mentioned, I, too, coached for a living (30 years at nine colleges) and, while not ever having a career in electronic media, I did part-time work in radio and television, in some capacity, for 21 seasons. Mark Packer is right. Hosting a call-in show, having a weekly radio program, doing color commentary – all are cushy jobs. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be successful without a great deal of preparation and hard work. It’s just a lot easier (and to most people, more fun) criticizing and second guessing coaches, dealing with wacky callers and handling the glitches that are bound to happen (microphones not working, power shutting down, fools behind you trying to photobomb or distract you) than it is to recruit, teach, run and attend meetings, recruit, game plan, motivate, recruit, deal with the media, administration, boosters, officials and parents, give speeches, recruit – and try to fit in some quality family time. And even when you give it your best shot, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Still, you have to put up with the media and disgruntled fans, and have your family be subjected to nasty comments from people who don’t realize (or some who do) who they are.

But what Packer, and most media members who never played or coached, i.e. who never laid it on the line to have the courage to be judged by a scoreboard – doesn’t understand is the competitive fire that grows inside coaches, the intense feeling that you want to be judged because you believe you can succeed – in spite of the fact that the guy(s) who preceded you didn’t. The desire that you desperately need such a challenge – to be able to make a difference. Why else do we see coaches who lose their jobs become talking heads – until they can return to coaching? OK, one answer is that coaching pays more. However, money isn’t the end-all for the overwhelming majority of coaches. Much of it the exhilaration of winning – with a group of guys – of overcoming odds. Call it ego if you will – and, in many cases, you’d be spot on.

It’s a heckuva risk to be a coach and it’s something that many people can’t make sense of – especially if they have the talent to be successful in other, tamer occupations. Possibly, the answer to why someone would leave a media job for a more highly scrutinized profession as a coach (or an actor, since the two careers have quite a bit in common) lies in a quote by Denzel Washington:

“Don’t just aspire to make a living; aspire to make a difference.”

The ACC Office Should Be Reprimanded

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

By now, every sports fan – and even many who don’t particularly enjoy “games people play” – has seen the replay of the final play of the football game between Miami and Duke. For the record, it began with 6 seconds to go in the game, Duke with the lead, had eight laterals, took 46 seconds to complete (think of the last football play you saw that took more than 20 seconds) – and never should have been allowed into the records books. Much less decide who won – and lost.

Give credit to the Hurricanes who, although they were in panic mode, looked like they had actually practiced the situation. All teams have a segment of most, if not every, practice designed for such weird, desperate occasions. The “U” always had a player behind the ball (in such an instance, passes are only allowed to be thrown laterally or backward) and looked like there was a convoy of blockers for whichever player decided to “make a break for it.” This was especially true for the last guy to touch the ball. Check the video – there were a wall of teammates escorting him to the end zone.

But just because the ‘Canes practiced the situation, doesn’t mean they should receive the type of credit they ended up getting, i.e. a win. Independent of how slick the play looked – and the fact that it was certainly legal – there were some flaws that prevented it from changing the game from a Duke victory to a one for Miami. The most talked about is the one I have the greatest issue with, i.e. the runner who allegedly had his knee down before he lateraled the ball. To my eyes, it looked like, when the commentators showed the video of his knee “definitely” touching the ground that, in fact, his knee was not quite on the ground and a case could be made that he did flip the ball back just before he was downed. Where I found the replay lacking was, in other instances like this one, the camera usually freezes the frame where his knee touches (while he still has control of the ball) and then zooms in to actually show knee on grass. Possibly this was done in a broadcast I didn’t see but I watched the play numerous times at various sites (different TV stations, as well as on the Internet) and never saw the zoom-in feature used.

Beyond that, how could all the officials miss the initial “block in the back” call somewhere around Miami’s 16-yard line? The play is spread out across the entire width of the field and the infraction occurred in the exact vicinity of the ball career (at the time). That block was clearly illegal. The botched explanation of the “other” block in the back call (which, from my perspective, was a legal block in the side) was somewhat excusable considering all the confusion that existed at the moment. The Miami player running on the field, helmet in hand, prematurely celebrating the “victory” really had nothing to do with the play, however, it is a blatant violation of the rules and should have been enforced. Imagine how popular that kid would have been if the play was negated for his move only?

What’s most ridiculous, though, about the whole ordeal is the ACC office suspending the officiating crew for two games (which, I would think, is justified as long as there is a precedent for it) and listing each of the four errors they made, yet coming to the conclusion that the outcome of the game cannot be changed because, in their words, “Our hands are tied!” That statement has to rank at the top of greatest all-time cop outs.

What do they mean, “Our hands are tied?” They’re the conference office, for crying out loud! On PTI, ESPN’s award-winning show, Tony Kornheiser said as much when he referred to the absurdity of that statement. Why in the world would the conference office not have the authority to “right a wrong?” This was, as administrators love to say, “a teachable moment.” In athletics terms, the conference office choked. Possibly they feel to strip the win from Miami and award it to Duke after the fact would be an embarrassment to the league. To that I say:

“Too late.”

A Myth that Might Just Be True

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Maybe it was a coincidence but last week, during my visit to Barnes & Noble, one of the books I bought was The Power of Myth. When I looked up the definition of the word myth, one that was given was “any invented story, idea, or concept.” Although there are thousands of them, I’m going to comment on just one – because of an experience that I was, by proxy, part of.

Last Friday afternoon I called our younger son, Alex, a senior at Cal State Monterey Bay. When he answered he told me he was leaving basketball practice and was on his way to his apartment, a few miles away, in Marina. I’ve been there a number of times. It’s a subdivision of condos with one entrance (a one way street) and one exit (another one way street) as well as a 25 mile an hour speed limit. So the two of us were talking, Alex on blue tooth of course, and he was telling me about a presentation he had worked on for one of his marketing classes, how basketball practice went and was about to tell me what he had planned that night, when he said, Dad, I gotta call you back.”

I said, “Are you alright?”

He said, “This lady is pulling me over.” Then he hung up.

A while later I got a text which said, “She gave me a ticket for ‘following too close.’ ”

Naturally, this new form of communication, i.e. texting – I can’t imagine sending a text at a time like that – piqued my interest so, as we baby boomers are prone to do, I called him. It turned out that he had pulled into his subdivision and was driving behind a police car. He said that, two blocks away from his apartment, the officer pulled over to the curb, allowed him to pass and then, pulled back in behind him. The policewoman then turned on her lights and pulled him over.

He obeyed. She got out of her car and told him she was giving him a ticket for “following too close.” Alex said he realized it was a police car in front of him and didn’t think he was dangerously close. She explained that drivers needs to be one car length behind the car in front for every ten miles per hour they’re driving, a fact anyone who passed the written driver’s test knows. At least he was wise enough not to say, for which I am both proud and grateful, what he (and pretty much anybody in that situation) was thinking. Something to the effect of, “Are you serious? It’s a Friday afternoon, we’re in a 25 mph zone, I saw your car was clearly marked as a police car – and you seriously think I would tail you? Not just that but I’ve seen cars on the 101 be closer together than we were – and they’re doing 70!

For those readers who know me, I have no problem holding my kids accountable. During my 10 years of teaching at an upper middle class school, I had to deal with more than my share of helicopter parents. But when I heard this story, I was really upset. Why would this happen? Then a question occurred to me. “What’s today’s date?” I realized it was October 30. This happens to be a time when police officers are coming under scrutiny for less than ethical tactics and, while my son was not physically assaulted, an incident like this certainly doesn’t endear a person to law enforcement. Trust in police is decreasing and this is another example.

I called a police officer I know (who also knows Alex) and told him what had happened. I said the fact that something so absurd would happen at the end of the month told me maybe it wasn’t a myth that “police have a quota,” and if they haven’t reached it, the end of the month will see a flurry of tickets being given out – tickets that wouldn’t be written at any other time of the month or if the quota was realized. He chuckled and his answer was telling:

“What can I tell you?”



Panic After Three Days of NBA Play

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Health issues are suspending this blog for the weekend (at least). Please check back on Monday, November 2.

The NBA season has started and the emergence of Chicken Little followed shortly thereafter.

The New Orleans Pelicans experiment, i.e. new coach Alvin Gentry’s idea of making Anthony Davis into a stretch big man, is a failure. Yes, AD did go through most of the opener 1-15 before hitting a few buckets late to wind up 4-20 from the floor. According to Johnny Louisiana (yeah, that’s the moniker he goes by), “Some hypothesized that the effect of signing a $145 million dollar contract this summer may have taken away some of his drive to prove himself.” I always find it amazing how a media member, even one who follows the team – especially one who follows the team – makes such a statement so early in the season.

True, the Pelicans are 0-2 to start the 2015-16 NBA campaign but both contests were on the road. First, the opener was at last year’s champion Golden State Warriors home joint – after last year’s players and coaches (including the Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry) were presented championship rings and the banner was unfurled – for the first time in 40 years. Then, the NBA’s reigning MVP, Stephen Curry, came out cooking! The next night in Portland was an abomination, beginning with an 18-43 first quarter that would have been difficult to come back from for the Dream Team. Not only is it a long season, but the first two games were with a new coach, new system and on the road. Chances are Davis will improve his performances. As long as he stays healthy, bet on it.

The Los Angeles Clippers are undefeated after their first two encounters but talk already abounds when fans saw Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith displayed some negative body language. If you consider yourself a pro hoops fan, what did you expect – smiles and hugs? These are two guys who wear their emotions on their wristbands. The question is how they’d do? The chemistry issue is something that will need to monitored by Doc Rivers and his staff all season. Talented guys who are a pain in the butt always are a better option than angels who can’t play. At least in a profession that fires people for performance. Charitable acts are great – and the Clips have an abundance of those cats – but nothing threatens job security worse than non-playing dudes.

The Los Angeles Lakers lost at the buzzer when a last second shot failed to drop. Critics complained that Kobe should have taken it. The same critics who bitch about the excessive number of shots he takes throughout the course of a game/season. Rather than take a wait-and-see attitude, looking forward to whether the young talent the Lakers have learns from the Black Mamba.

Cleveland and Chicago got after it, with the Bulls winning by a deuce. Apparently, there’s no problem between Derick Rose and Jimmy Butler (until the bulls lose). Cavs fans saw Kevin Love and LeBron James each doing their impersonations of Larry Bird – Love knocking down threes while Love lay prone on the floor.

Water cooler talk, guys chatting at the end of the bar and social media is exploding with theories and opinions. As far as what can be deduced from the season so far, use the term made popular by the Millennials:


Changing Styles Easier Said Than Done

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

As I read the previews for each of the NBA teams for the upcoming season, occasionally the evaluation will say something to the effect, “They used to be a defense first team but look for Coach _____ to go to an uptempo attack.” Or “They liked to pound it inside last year but Coach _____ will be counting on his guys to make threes this season.” Don’t forget the “Coach _____ needs to give ______ a bigger role.” And the assessment, “Coach _____ has the luxury of playing big or going small.” Then there’s the doling out minutes and exploiting match ups that writers and talking heads print and speak of so intelligently, as if hoops was football or baseball.

Let’s analyze these appraisals, some of which are even plausible. I’ve never been an NBA coach but don’t think for a second that NBA coaches are some sort of creatures who dwell in a divergent profession. There’s no question the NBA is composed of better players than college buckets (heck, NBA players are the best athletes in the world). Plus there are more games, player trades, somewhat different rules and no academic issues. NBA coaches make more money (than nearly all of their college counterparts) but their shelf life is quite a bit shorter (although the buyout sets them up pretty well – until they’re recycled to another club).

All that said, the basketball coaching profession is much more alike then it is different. Most coaches played, even if it was just at the high school level. All of them were “smitten” by coaching. Few of their former coaches or friends are shocked when they decide to enter that particular business. Every coach had a mentor or, most likely, several mentors who instilled in them a certain belief in how the game should be played. The baby boomer generation of college coaches was strongly influenced by coaches like John Wooden, Bob Knight and Dean Smith. Prior to them, Henry Iba was the coach who “young coaches” modeled themselves after. In the NBA it was Red Auerbach, Red Holzman and Jack McKinney who had the clout while Hubie Brown held all coaches in a trance at every clinic in which he spoke.

What all that means is that, as a coach grows in the profession, he or she develops a philosophy of how the game is to be played. Basically, there are two theories about how to play basketball – decide how many points it will take for your team to win and keep your opponent under that number or decide how many points you’ll give up and execute a game plan to score more than that number. Tom Thibodeau is an excellent example of the former while Mike D’Antoni is a perfect illustration of the latter. Imagine Thibodeau deciding to launch threes (and freely substitute to give some guys bigger roles) because his players didn’t have the quickness to defend. When, exactly, do you think it would cross D’Antoni’s mind that, in order to win, the best system would involve “locking people down?”

While most coaches aren’t are so rigid in their beliefs of how the game is supposed to be played as Thibs or Mike D’ are, the truth is coaches just aren’t all that flexible with their approach to the game either. The NBA is a player’s game. When a team has lost because it gives up too many shots close to the basket, they don’t design a defense to solve the problem, nor do they just jack up threes in an effort to play three-for-two. They trade for a shot blocker. Need to score more? Get guys who are hard to guard. Practice time is limited (once the season starts, don’t expect your favorite team’s bench guys to show a marked improvement. Even in the off-season, a small percentage of NBA players are going through rigorous player development programs (don’t for a minute think that the work put in by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is typical). P.S. In college, it’s called recruiting. Deciding when to go with a big lineup or a small one depends either on your team being more talented than the opponent you’re facing that night (so you get to dictate lineups) or whether you need to gamble because the game’s not going your way – and not making a change of some sort would lead to a sure loss. The game goes just too fast to be able to employ all the possible strategies media members and fans discuss.

Now, new coaches will change styles (Chicago Bulls being one example) but a specific coach making what amounts to a 180 degree change in belief (even 90 is a stretch)? Ain’t happening. Same in football. Chip Kelly isn’t going to the “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy any time soon, nor will Pete Carroll become conservative.

For the record, the only coach I ever knew who would totally change his strategy was my last college boss, Jerry Tarkanian. He won playing 1-2-2 zone at Long Beach State (and his final year at UNLV), full court pressure, half court pressure and amoeba zone at UNLV and half court, with a little amoeba, at Fresno State. Yet, even Tark was unyielding in his offensive outlook. When it came to running set plays, continuity or even using passing game rules, his favorite phrase was:

“The more a player thinks, the slower his feet get.”



The Cowboys Are Disintegrating Before Our Very Eyes

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

A coach, by definition, is a leader – and leaders fully realize they can’t do it all by themselves. Every coach understands that peer pressure can be tremendously inspiring among teammates. The best teams always have a player or players who have the ability to galvanize the others. Mostly, that person is in a pivotal role, e.g. Peyton Manning requesting (demanding) receivers, especially new ones, to meet him to improve (perfect) their timing or Kobe Bryant “inviting” new teammates to 5am workout sessions, Actions such as those are meant to establish a certain culture within the squad.

Occasionally, there will be players (and coaches) who mistake yelling for leading. This takes place when another player or players have made a mistake and the upset party (who had nothing to do with the error, at least, that time) still bestows his wrath on the offenders. What these guys don’t realize is that they equate anger with leadership and their actions exacerbate the situation more than improve it.

A prime example of that was seen Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys’ Greg Hardy . . . lost his mind on the sidelines after the Cowboys’ special teams let the rest of their guys down, allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown just when the ‘Boys had narrowed the gap to . Plus, those special teams players knew they screwed up – and not only on that occasion (fumbled punt as well). Maybe personnel changes need to be made but if that is the case, they won’t be made by Greg Hardy.

Not only was no discipline meted out to Hardy for his insane outburst but owner Jerry Jones actually lavished praise on his controversial acquisition. “He’s of course one of the real leaders on this team,” Jones said of Hardy. “He earns it. He earns it with respect from all his teammates. That’s the kind of thing that inspires. I have no problem with him being involved in motivating or pushing any part of the football team. He plays and walks the walk.” There’s been no official word that Jones forced head coach Jason Garrett to toe the company line, but with Garrett saying there will be no punishment, he could place himself in danger of losing the team. The players know what’s going on and it’s nothing less than the top dogs of the franchise simply enabling Hardy, a player who has had numerous issues in the past. No one is doing Hardy any favors, nor is the big defensive end doing anything positive for the organization. While he is a very disruptive DE on the field, it’s readily apparent that Hardy has anger issues, is out of control and is a major reason the franchise is completely dysfunctional.

When Tony Romo got injured, the old football tough guy slogans, “Next man up” or “Pick up the flag” sounded great but there comes a time when the team needs to face reality. That doesn’t mean they should pack it in but, rather, expectations need to be tempered. At least with the decision-makers. It is also the time to close ranks. Nothing can be gained by anyone displaying the behavior that Hardy did. That conduct is terribly destructive. It’s just Greg Hardy blowing off steam, displaying actions that are nothing but selfish.

The Cowboys need to band together as a family because they still have a chance to get to the playoffs. If they’re to do so, Greg Hardy is a vital piece but, if his current attitude continues (and with no disciplinary action taken, what’s to make anyone think it won’t), they have no chance. While it might be true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, what’s also true is that:

“A chain can be broken by its strongest link, too.”

Why Flip Saunders Was So Loved

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

One of the saddest facts of life is that people have to die in order to hear the world say wonderful things about them. Prior to their passing, people whose jobs put them in the category of “public figure” get to hear compliments when they do something to deserve them but, more often than not, they are subjected to criticism, even ridicule, for mistakes they’ve made. Or what cynics perceive as mistakes. In a society where Stephen Covey’s poignant analysis, “We judge others by their actions, ourselves by our intentions” has become our nation’s mantra, it’s nearly impossible for any type of celebrity to go unscathed.

Flip Saunders died Sunday and, although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, many of my friends and former colleagues would bring his name when we’d discuss coaches who could create the ultimate – get their players to reach their potential. Flip’s ability, though, wasn’t only developing players and motivating them to perform to their maximum, but to do it in such a way that they loved him for it. Not only was he able to accomplish that gargantuan task but, and unless you’re a coach, it’s difficult to grasp this next comment. He did his job without ever offending other coaches. The coaching fraternity is one that, whether you’re aware of it or not, is highly critical of each other. Call it ego, call it the need to find fault (because that’s all putting together a scouting report is), call it professional jealousy, coaches will, on occasion, cut down their peers. Yet, I’ve never known anyone who has ever had a negative word to say about Flip.

The hoops world was shocked at the announcement of his passing, mainly because of the timeline of events. When he was first diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma, not only did the doctors say it was treatable but the coach maintained he planned on leading the Timberwolves while he received treatment. Then we heard that there were complications and that Saunders would not be coaching this season. However, at no time did the public hear that his condition was life threatening. Until Sunday when . . . it was reported he was gone.

From players to coaches to ownership to the commissioner, the past two days have been terribly sobering. The image of Kevin Garnett sitting outside Flip’s parking space was eerie, especially for those who know the relationship the two of them had. The articles, tweets, television and talk show interviews have all portrayed him as a saint. Tom Izzo, who goes back 30 years with Saunders, explained why. “Flip had many great qualities, (one of them) an outstanding coaching resume, but what made him special was the way he treated people. . . To Flip, everyone was special.”

One of Flip’s last tweets was, “The outpouring of support today has been overwhelming, has truly reminded me that the goodness of people should never be questioned.” Even close to death, Flip was speaking of “the goodness of people.” That positive note probably says more about why people who didn’t even know him, feel such a loss.

Talking about the 2014 draft, coach-turned-executive-turned executive/coach, Flip Saunders, had this to say on the subject of leaders. “The leaders are delivered from Heaven; that’s where they come from. . . You either have those qualities or you don’t.”

Judging from all that we’ve heard about Flip Saunders in the past two days, as well as while he was alive, it’s safe to say:

“One of those leaders has made a return trip.”

RIP Flip Saunders.

Did Rick Pitino Know What Was Going On?

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Another weekend out of town. Too bad, too, now that Fresno is experiencing its best weather. This blog will return on Tuesday, October 27.

Whether or not you believe Rick Pitino when he claims he had no idea what was going on during (the illicit parts of) the recruiting visits to the U of L largely depends on whether or not you know him. Since I’ve known Rick since he was a junior at UMass (and I was a graduate assistant at fellow Yankee Conference member Vermont), my guess (and that’s all anybody can honestly say) is that he didn’t.

Wait, you say, how about his boast to a Cardinals’ booster group that, “…if one (of our players) has a beer downtown, I hear about it the next day?” First of all, no matter how omnipresent head coaches claim to be, they’re not. Head coaches like to think they know everything that goes on in their programs. As a 30-year assistant at nine Division I schools, I assure you that’s not the case. Plus, in today’s version of college basketball, and all the responsibilities that fall on a head coach, it would be impossible. A good sound bite, but just something that’s untrue.

The scandal of his extramarital affair from years ago doesn’t help his image in this case – or any other, for that matter – but it has nothing to do with what’s being reported now. Of course, committing adultery is wrong but, believe me, if every head college basketball coach who had an affair while while he was married was arranging or condoning the use of prostitutes during official campus visits, there wouldn’t be enough prostitutes to go around. Pitino’s indiscretion was a mistake and if you want to judge him as a poor husband or role model, do so. Regarding that affair, he had to answer to his wife and family. Beyond that, it’s old news.

Rick Pitino, although he was a very good player, was born to coach. And he’s had quite a career, taking teams from each of the four colleges he’s coached to the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t do it while luring kids to those institutions by using hookers. Whether he’s speaking at a clinic or just discussing the game with fellow coaches in between summer league contests, it’s apparent he’s fascinated – and fascinating – on the subject of the game of basketball. In terms of “risk-reward,” there’s no way he would allow what has been written in the book by Katina Powell to take place if he knew. When you speak with Pitino, you realize he’s a very bright guy – and, while he’s definitely not beyond trying to “get a call” from a referee, I refuse to believe, with the combination of all that’s at stake, coupled with his innate knowledge of hoops and self-confidence as a coach, that he would allow, or even turn a blind eye, toward the seedy activities that are being reported.

So why was the book written? Is cashing in on a juicy story the sole motive for Powell? After reading her quote, other issues were revealed. “I did everything to make those guys sign,” said Powell. “And I felt like, well yeah, I brought ‘em. Look at what I had to do to get these guys here. I mean, they didn’t care anything about U of L. They didn’t … it was just U of L. It wasn’t nothing spectacular to them. So when you offer what you offer, then of course … I’ll sign on the line. If this is what they’re giving, they’re providing. Sure.”

Hold on, now. As implausible as Pitino’s denial might sound to many skeptics (especially those who truly want to believe he orchestrated all of this), what I got out of the madam’s mini-speech is, somewhere along the way, she wasn’t given the credit she craved for such a highly successful program, i.e. a booster scorned. “I brought ‘em. Look at what I had to do to get these guys here,” she claimed. Not even the use of the word we. After all, Katina, who really “put in the work?”

Next statement for analysis: “…they didn’t care anything about U of L. They didn’t … it was just U of L. It wasn’t nothing spectacular to them.” Nothing spectacular? 1) Louisville is one of only nine programs in the history of college buckets to win multiple national championships under different coaches? One of nine isn’t spectacular? 2) Rick Pitino is the only men’s coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools to a Final Four and the only coach to lead two different schools to an NCAA National Championship (how could he have been so successful at those other schools – or does he have a book listing madams in all the college cities in America)? Pretty spectacular, I’d say. 3) He is an accomplished author, speaker and a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame. At least somewhat spectacular (certainly when compared with other coaches’ resumes). 4) Over 30 of his former players and assistants are or were head coaches. Over 30 - from a coach’s perspective? Spectacular. I shudder to think of Powell’s definition of spectacular. A mother who knew (encouraged?) her daughters to have sex for money, i.e. they were prostitutes – with her full knowledge and support. Maybe everybody wants their kids to be pros. Spectacular indeed.

Let’s critique her comments a little further. “So when you offer what you offer, then of course … I’ll sign on the line. If this is what they’re giving, they’re providing. Sure.” The coaches are the only people who are allowed into a prospect’s home for the purposes of recruiting. What, exactly, does Powell think their pitch is? That their child will get laid on his visit? And what if another coach gave the same spiel? How could the parent(s) help the boy make his decision?

Believe it or not, this post is not simply to discredit Katina Powell as much as it is to illustrate how out of touch she is with why a prospect chooses to sign with a school – and the death wish Rick Pitino would have to have to allow such shenanigans. Her line of work – and only point of reference – is focused on her profession. Apparently, she takes a great deal of pride in it. Not only does she believe strippers and sex is the compelling reason for a person to select a college but she is so enamored with her profession that she proudly employs her daughters.

Rick Pitino is as relentless a competitor as there is but, with his chosen profession on the line, and all the fame and fortune that goes along with it, I can’t believe he would knowingly go along with such a sordid scheme – one that if he, in fact, did condone, would take away his livelihood and forever ruin his reputation.

Beyond all of this is something that has bewildered me since this story hit the news. As a graduate assistant at the Vermont, I was paid $1,000 plus tuition for the year; at Washington State, I made $1,550 plus tuition (plus $2,000 for camp) for each of two years, and at Oregon I got nothing (they got us outside jobs, e.g. working at a sporting goods store for $2.50/hour, at a lumber yard for $3.75/hour and, finally, the mother load, painting apartments at $4/hour). My question is, “Where does a graduate assistant get $10,000 for that kind of entertainment?”

I think that when the smoke clears, where Andre McGee got that money is going to shed light on this saga. It comes down to the advice Woodward and Bernstein got nearly 50 years ago:

“Follow the money.”