Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

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.”

The Biggest Disappointment in the Lamar Odom Story

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

The Lamar Odom saga is a terribly sad one. There’s one part of it that is so intriguing to me. Anyone who knows Odom, or just knows of him, realizes he was dealt a bad hand growing up. He overcame such a disastrous childhood because of his size and basketball skills. As far as a player, he was nothing short of amazing, considered by many to be the next coming of Magic Johnson. And, having seen him as a prepster, I can honestly say that the comparison wasn’t all that far off. However, while Johnson had a strong family support, i.e. people he could trust, the group guiding Odom might not have always had the ballplayer’s best interests at heart. Another major difference between LO and Magic lay in the area of academics (as in “attitude toward”). Although Magic left Michigan State early and never did graduate, reports of his academic work were positive, as opposed to Lamar, who truly took advantage of the “one-and-done” rule.

Full disclosure: I know neither man – so in other words this is a “two degrees of separation blog.” From what close friends of mine who know and/or have worked with each guy say, though, both were great “locker room guys.” In that regard, Odom and Johnson were near equals in that both absolutely loved the game and were loved by their teammates. Also, both players won NBA Championships, although, for lack of a better comparison of the two, Magic led his teammates while Lamar followed his. Each of them were extremely popular but, other than both guys being “big guards” and womanizers, the similarities ended there. Magic speaks out against such care-free, dangerous conduct (granted, he did experience a rather sizable scare), while Lamar continued to embrace such conduct (let’s see what path Odom takes from here on out, assuming he can continue with a relatively normal way of life). Ultimately, what separated the two stars was that Magic understood how to be a pro better than Lamar did. Or, at the very least, knew how to have fame and fortune work for him instead of destroy him.

As a player Odom had the reputation of competing at a high level – and partying at a higher one. Once, when asked if his wife, Khloe, was going to be joining the team on a road trip, LO allegedly said, “Why would I bring sand to the beach?” As is blatantly apparent now, Odom’s off-court habits included many activities that, while they were a helluva lot of fun at the time, were basically nothing other than destructive. What’s so shocking to me is that, of all the people who knew him, none of them were remotely astonished. His friends and teammates were well aware of the big fella’s lifestyle and the choices he was making – maybe not to the excess he was living, but no one expressed shock when he was found in that Las Vegas brothel. Grief-stricken, yes, but not shocked.

I was a member of the basketball staff at Fresno State when Chris Herren played for the Bulldogs. When we discovered he had his demons, we did what we could to get him help. After his return from a facility in Utah, we truly thought he’d beaten his addiction. The primary reason was, as Chris says now in the speeches he gives throughout the country, because he was such an accomplished liar. That was not at all the case with Lamar Odom. His lifestyle was transparent.

So here’s what I need someone to explain to me. With all the outpouring of love and the number of prayers that have been sent Lamar Odom’s way in the past week:

“Why didn’t SOMEBODY intervene to keep him from doing what, for all intents and purposes, everyone who knew him had more than a sneaking suspicion he was doing?”

Random Thoughts from a Wild Football Saturday

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

What a day for college football. Although I didn’t get to see much of it live (due to other commitments), here’s my take on it:

The heat is on Baylor’s basketball team to average as many points as the football squad does.

Those who say Les Miles’ coaching is below par, explain the fake field goal in the fourth quarter – with the score tied. If anybody tries to tell you they saw it coming, give them a polygraph and I’ll bet big money they don’t pass it. Yet, when we see the replay, it was the perfect play to run against Florida’s alignment. Maybe the credit should go to an assistant coach but it’s time to stop criticizing Miles – just because his personality is so different from what we expect from a successful football coach, e.g. Nick Saban.

If reporters learned anything from last week, don’t ask Dabo Swinney about “Clemsoning” again.

In a story relating to “the Glass (Bowl) is (way more than) half full,” the Toledo Rockets are undefeated! I spent four years at TU (on the basketball side) and, believe me, the good people of the Glass City deserve this success.

It’s difficult to play in a rivalry game when the rivalry means infinitely more for one side than the other, e.g. Memphis-Ole Miss. It’s about an hour drive in a car and light years in tradition between the two schools, When it comes to football, Memphis is an Ole Miss city. No matter that the Tigers were undefeated, anybody – Tony Robbins included – would have had a tough job getting the Rebels ready, especially when you consider what needs to be done from a motivational point for all those SEC games.

Talk about controversy. Iowa might get into the College Football Playoffs. The Big Ten office might be re-thinking the way they put the schedule together – Iowa doesn’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan (or even Penn State and Rutgers for that matter). Although they have the rest of their (extremely soft) schedule to play – and as everybody knows – anything can happen (see below for proof of that), if they get by the Big 10 Championship game, whoever is #5 in the country will be absolutely seething. And if #5 is a Big Ten team, look out at the Big Ten meeting in the spring.

Move over Cal-Stanford band play and Alabama-Auburn “kick-6″ because we have a new entry in the “Damnedest Play of All-Time” category. As if you need to read any further to guess which one it is, yup, it’s yesterday’s Michigan-Michigan State fray. Take into account, as with the other two, the overall impact and tradition of the contest, as well as how much it meant to this season’s college football landscape. Then, add to those factors that Michigan State never led until the game was over. From a human standpoint, however, independent of what team you root for UM, MSU or some other school, if you don’t feel bad for Michigan’s punter:

“You don’t have a heart.”


Do Brandon Weeden’s Comments Inspire Confidence or Fear in Taking Over for Romo?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a show on SiriusXM radio in which the hosts were picking whether they thought each NBA team would win over or under the game total predicted by the oddsmakers in Las Vegas (usually the show is  more interesting). For a certain team (I don’t remember which), one of them said he thought the team would go over the number because, although they had a poor record last season, they lost several of their better players to injuries. That remark sums up exactly why it’s foolish to try to forecast such things. What makes this guy think there won’t be injuries this season – maybe even more devastating than those that the team encountered last year? I understand radio hosts have to talk about something but the disclaimer here needs to be, “all things being equal” – which, of course they never are.

In fact, isn’t staying healthy the number one key to every season? Sure, we can think of isolated cases where teams won in spite of, or maybe because of a key injury, e.g. the 2001 Patriots season in which Tom Brady replaced Drew Bledsoe and the Pats won the Super Bowl with Brady being named MVP, but those examples are undoubtedly outliers.

In a similar situation, the Cowboys lost starting QB Tony Romo to an injury and replaced him with backup Brandon Weeden. The new QB assessed his promotion in the humblest of manners. “I understand what all comes with being the quarterback of this franchise,” Weeden said. Somewhat overstating the gravity of the case, but not by all that much, he compared his plight with a baseball analogy. “It’s like backing up (former Yankees shortstop) Derek Jeter in New York. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with it. . . You try and tune it out as much as possible because the situation is already big enough as it is.” Hey, in his eyes, he probably feels as though he is replacing Jeter. Think about this way – what would you say if you were in his cleats?

Weeden opined further, “It’s already hard enough to play in this league as it is, and if you get mesmerized by what comes with this position, the pressure that comes with this position, you’ll be so overwhelmed that you can’t even go out and function Sunday. . . Tony Romo has been doing this for a long time at a high level, a (four-time Pro Bowl selection), “he can do a lot of things I cannot do” (emphasis mine).

Is Weeden’s attitude refreshing or lacking the courage necessary for the task? For me, an admittedly old-school guy when it comes to a player’s bravado, I think it’s great a guy can take such a humble approach to quarterbacking America’s Team (even though they’re not and haven’t been for quite a while). There’s enough pressure on him that he doesn’t need to tell reporters how he’s “going to shock the world!

How do we know what the makeup of the Cowboys is? Weeden certainly understands his guys’ feelings toward Romo better than anyone outside the organization, e.g. those fans and media members who voice their opinions as though they were fact. Could it be that the team, especially the offense loves Romo and it would border on unwise bravado to say something like, “I feel bad for Tony but as long as he’s injured, it’s my team now and I embrace the role of leading it.” Rather, Weeden’s approach might just be his way of gaining the trust of his club under such difficult circumstances.

Besides, people who are going to boast better follow the philosophy of Satchel Paige:

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”


NBA Goes Global – at Players’ Expense

Friday, October 9th, 2015

Heading out of town for a wedding party – in of all places – Monterey. This means we will get a chance to visit with younger son, Alex, as he prepares for his final basketball season as captain of the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters – and, not to be forgotten – graduation. This blog will return Tuesday, Oct. 13.

It can be debated that the best commissioner ever, regardless of sport, was the NBA’s David Stern. When it came to having a vision, no one came close. Stern presided over the league as it went from a sport of meager fan interest to the mega popularity it now enjoys. His right hand man, Adam Silver, who succeeded Stern, is continuing with his boss’ dreams. With progress, however, comes some hurt.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Charlotte Hornets will play two exhibition games in, of all places, China (October 11 in Shenzhen and October 14 in Shanghai). Why? China is the NBA’s largest non-American market. Silver has even broached the subject of changing tip times of regular season games to accommodate fans in that time zone. The most popular sports league in China is the NBA and basketball is the nation’s number one team sport – with 300 million people playing it, according to the releasesent out by the NBA. Take that, ping pong. Some may wonder why the Hornets and the Clippers? One is a contender for the championship; the other hopes to make the playoffs in the weaker division. Think advertising. The most exciting NBA team (remember “Lob City”)? And if you think Charlotte got selected for their style of play, players, coaches, uniforms, well, dig deeper. 300 million people in a country and there might be only 12 of them who wouldn’t recognize the Hornets’ owner.

“Basketball is more popular than ever, and Global Games China 2015 is part of our ongoing commitment to growing the game in the world’s most populous nation,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “These games will not only bring the excitement of NBA action directly to Chinese fans, but will also provide the league another opportunity to experience the rich history and culture of China.” Still, if anyone isn’t sure of why the NBA has been wooing China (as well as other foreign countries), you can start with reasons numbers 1-4: money.

Is there any cause for concern? Any collateral damage, perhaps? Well, they’re taking two teams and placing them on flights (10 hours for the Clips, 15 for Charlotte) far from home. One complaint players have during the season is their bodies having to adjust to different time zones. Sure, it’s early and these are non-counting contests, but I’ve spoken to so many NBA players and coaches who have relayed stories of the wear and tear on their bodies (the coaches were talking of the wear and tear on the players’ bodies). While today’s NBA player enjoys an infinitely greater comfort level on planes than the stars of yesteryear did, that many hours cooped up in what amounts to a big room with a lot of chairs, has to take a toll on a person’s body – especially when that person is upwards of seven feet tall (are the bathrooms on those planes that much bigger)? Shhh, if you’ll listen, you can almost hear the fans screaming, “With the amount of money they make, they shouldn’t be complaining about anything!” And that’s a valid point because the salaries of NBA players doesn’t border on the obscene – it’s leaped way across that border. Note: check earlier blogs and you’ll see the reason salaries are so gi-normous comes back to us – the consumer.

Be that as it may, it seems as though each year, more and more injuries are occurring and that hurts the quality of the NBA Playoffs. How many references have been made to the fact that the Golden State Warriors didn’t have to face a healthy point guard from the beginning of their championship run through the Finals? Wouldn’t it have drastically changed the playoff picture had Kevin Durant not gotten injured, as well as a few key members of the Cleveland Cavs?

Stern had said on many occasions, while he was commish and after, to look for the NBA to eventually be a global league. Interest in hoops is a major reason. But, in this day and age, it still comes back to money. How much? To paraphrase the late Moses Malone:

“Mo’, mo’ mo’.”

If the Vols Listen to Their Fans, Their Program Is Doomed

Monday, October 5th, 2015

For college football fans, there is nothing like living in a “college town,” i.e. a place in which everything revolves around the university, especially one whose football team has a long, rich tradition (like the University of Tennessee). I’ve had restaurant owners tell me that no one, including families who have owned season tickets for generations, cheers harder during a game for the home team to win than do the local restaurateurs. Fans absolutely go berserk when “their boys” win – and they desperately need to have the festivities continue – and drinks to flow.

The flip side of the extended celebration is, naturally, when the home squad loses. Restaurants are usually still booked to capacity (although the wait for a table is considerably shorter) and, while drowning sorrows in alcohol is still profitable, it doesn’t fill the coffers like winning does, with its victory toasts and rationalizations for excess consumption.

Fans identify with their favorite teams. When the teams win, they’re overjoyed because they’re winners – even though they never made a tackle, threw or caught a pass or ran for plus yardage. Doesn’t matter. They’re winners. When their beloved university is on the short end, following the same reasoning, the fans are losers. This just in: nobody wants to be a loser. So what’s a fanatic to do?

Easy, find someone to blame. Officials are always a popular target because they’re the only group both sides agree suck. But that’s too easy and, unless your team only loses once a decade, hating on the refs gets old. And lame. The coach is the next best individual to spew venom at because, after all, the players are between 18-23 and what kind of adult places a loss (or losses) on a kid’s head? The media can play a major role in the fans’ reaction to a loss (or losses) by what they write/say and how they write/say it.

Here’s one of about five articles in the hometown Knoxville News-Sentinel in Sunday’s paper after UT lost another game it, according to every Volunteer faithful anyway, they should have won. Yes, they did have a lead on Arkansas (whose supporters also have taken issue with their cherished Razorbacks – if a pig can be cherished). The Big O also had double-digit leads against two other schools steeped in tradition, Oklahoma and Florida, so this snatching defeat from the hands of victory is wrecking havoc with the self-esteem of the Tennessee patrons. Anyway, the article graded the Volunteers in a number of categories. The grades were as follows – QB: C-, running backs: B, wide receivers/tight ends: C-, O line: B-, D line: C, linebackers: C, secondary: D, special teams: A- (kickoff return for a TD so the missed FG must have accounted for the -), coaching: F, culminating in an overall: F.

I wonder how the writer would have felt if his child (assuming he has one) had the same scores in a class, i.e. 1 A-, 1 B, 1 B-, 2 C, 2 C-, 1 D and 1 F and received a final grade (which “overall” encompasses) of F. He’d be on the phone to the teacher, principal, maybe even his lawyer, about the lack of fairness in the grading system. When fans read these grades, what other solution can they come to than fire the coach?

I recall a conversation I had with a writer for that same paper (who is deceased) when I worked at UT (Johnny Majors was the football coach then). My question to him was why his articles had to be so negative (as opposed to the columns by Ben Byrd – see yesterday’s blog). His answer was that he wasn’t hired to be a cheerleader – which really didn’t answer my question. Seldom do writers say to fire the coach. Fans, on the other hand, many of whom get their only exercise by jumping to conclusions, are lightning quick to pull the trigger. With the advent of social media, there are a host of geniuses who know exactly what’s wrong with Tennessee football. One guy who, when he’s not posting pictures of himself with his “good friends” (people of moderate fame), is writing incessantly about firing all the football coaches (as well as a few others in the department), the athletics administration, the chancellor and anyone who’s not from Tennessee. He constantly mentions how much money the football coaches make – as if he’d be happy if they didn’t pull down so much dough.

A “good friend” of mine sent me a YouTube link of BigVOLDaddy, a Vols lunatic fan and his reaction after the loss to Florida (my wife graduated from UT and she was furious that anyone who associated himself with the university could, not only act in the manner he did, but actually put it out there for the world to see). It was as depressing to watch as it was funny.

Although no one has asked for it, here’s my assessment of the football situation at UT. Follow my logic. There is no one who doesn’t feel that Butch Jones and his staff aren’t sensational recruiters. They’ve had top 10 recruiting classes in each of his two full recruiting years (when he first took over, his class, while possessing a few fine players, is not a true recruiting class). The criticism from the fans, stoked by the media and, certainly, the Internet, is that they feel, with all that talent, his guys should win more. Sure, they’ve had injuries, but so what? If you were to ask these people which conference is the best in the country, 105% would say the SEC (a couple of guys would vote more than once). Therefore, his players are basically freshmen and sophomores. No matter how talented your frosh and soph classes are, you’re going to struggle in the SEC. Let the players and the program grow.

Fire the coach? Coaching turnover is mainly what got the Vols in the place they’re in. They fired a long-time coach, had one leave after a year (and take some recruits with him), then fire another coach (granted a bad hire) after three years. Each time a coach is fired the program takes a step back, i.e. they lose a recruiting season. This is only Jones’ third year. The worst thing they could do is fire him! That would set them back yet again. Tennessee will be great soon (although soon is never soon enough for fans). They want to win now. Because that will make them winners. The people wanting to run Jones out of town now will be at the front of the line when he turns them into big winners.

I remember telling a friend of mine one of he greatest things about coaching was you got to meet so many brilliant people.

“I meet folks every day who, not only can do their jobs, but can do Johnny Majors’ job, too.”

Certain Players Have Different Priorities

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

If you’re a frequent reader of this space or just a hoops fan in general, you are well aware of the fact that George Raveling is a true Renaissance man. As a college coach, he’d look for anything to help his team get an edge. Well before other coaches were bringing in speakers to address their squads, George was providing such outside inspiration.

One year at USC, our players and staff were witness to a powerful presentation from a guy who was a member of the National Speakers Association named Ray Pelletier (who has since passed away). Ray had a captivating style. Near the end of his performance (part of which included his own version of mind-blowing magic), he asked one of our players to join him in front of the group. The kid he picked was African-American (and one of our starters). Ray was an older, rather rotund white man with a full gray beard.

He began by saying that he felt, at that time, the biggest problem in the world of intercollegiate athletics was racism and that, by the end of his demonstration, he planned on breaking down some racial barriers. Ray sat down and had our player sit across from him. He looked directly at him and said, “I’m going to make a statement and after I do, I’m going to give you a little tap on the arm. Then I’m going to do it again – and again and again and again. When I’m finally finished, you’re going to have a chance to turn the tables and do the same thing to me.”

Ray began the role play by saying, “I think the only way you could get into a school as good as USC is because you’re black,” and then he tapped our player’s arm. “I think most people on welfare are black” was his next racial insult and he tapped his arm again. “I think blacks are better athletes than whites” which, while not an insult, still a trite remark. He followed the statement with another tap. “I think blacks are lazier than whites” (tap). “I think there are more black criminals than they are white ones” (tap). “I think your dick is bigger than mine” (tap). “I think most cases of domestic violence are committed by black men” (tap). “I think the only way you can get through school is if you have a great deal of academic tutoring” (tap). “I think the majority of drug users are black” (tap). He continued with nearly every racial stereotype for another 2-3 minutes. I looked around the room and could see that this activity was making many of the players uncomfortable while others were bordering on irate. When he finally finished, Ray said, “Okay, now it’s time for you to turn the tables on me.”

The kid looked at him, tapped Ray’s arm (getting the order of the exercise wrong right off the bat), and followed that miscue up by saying something that had George and me laughing so hard, it nearly knocked us out of our chairs.

“I think my dick IS bigger than yours.”

The Type of Guy Doc Rivers Really Is

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

As promised, what follows is blog #2 on Glenn “Doc” Rivers (for those who are on this site for the first time, or those of you who haven’t been around for a while, yesterday’s post was the first of two blogs on Doc). It explained how he got on my “Fertig Notes” mailing list. If you’re interested, check it out.

My goal had always been to be a head basketball coach at a Division I university. One of several reasons I started the mailing list – which consisted of one book summary each month for about 10 years – was to stay in touch with people who might be helpful in achieving my goal. Doc had been a color commentator when he landed the head coaching gig with the Orlando Magic, one of several commentators-with-no-head-coaching-experience-turned-head coaches (Pat Riley, Tom Heinsohn, Doug Collins). In order to supplement my income, Tark allowed me to be the color commentator for Fresno State’s televised games (the ones that weren’t on network TV or ESPN). While the previously mentioned commentators became NBA coaches, and I wanted to be a college head coach, I felt having somebody from that group would be a great reference – especially to the new breed of athletics directors, i.e. bottom line fund raising types as opposed to former coaches.

Since Doc had asked to be on my mailing list, he knew who I was. I wanted to meet him, chat it up a little and ask if I could use him as a reference. My “in” was the Magic’s first, and only, play-by-play man, David Steele, one of the first four employees of the expansion Orlando franchise. David was the sports anchor at WLOS-TV in Asheville, NC when I was an assistant coach at Western Carolina University in the late ’70s and we connected immediately. After I left for a similar position at the University of Tennessee, David became the “voice of the WCU Catamounts.” A few years later, David also “moved up” in the business, becoming the “voice of the Florida Gators.”

One of the SEC teams I scouted was UF (this was a period when off-campus scouting was permissible by the NCAA). It seemed like at least twice a year I’d be in Gainesville to scout either Florida or their opponent who, coincidentally, happened to be one of my scouting assignments. On each occasion David would have me as a guest on his pregame radio show. I called him and asked if he could set up a meeting with the Magic’s head man. He came through like a champ and I booked a flight from Fresno to Orlando for a dinner engagement with Doc.

After a tour of the Magic’s facility with David (who was treated like royalty because he’d been there from the franchise’s inception – sort of a “founding father” image), I showed up for dinner with Doc. Naturally, I got to the restaurant early. The reservations were in Doc’s name (since it would be easier for me to recognize him than the other way around). Shortly after I arrived, Doc’s wife, Chris, and his agent (whose name I can’t recall) showed up, apologizing that Doc would be a little late because he played in a charity golf tournament. About 15 minutes later, still in golfing attire, Doc walked in and apologized for being late. I got up and walked out!

No I didn’t. I might be crazy but I’m not stupid. I told him no problem, that I’d enjoyed speaking with Chris and his agent and appreciated his taking time to meet with me. The four of us were outdoors at the restaurant, having a pre-dinner cocktail and making small talk, when the maitre d’ came out to let us know our table was ready. As she got up, Chris, unintentionally of course, knocked her drink over. It spilled in Doc’s lap.

She began to apologize profusely when Doc said, “That’s OK. No problem,” as he picked up a napkin wiping his shirt and pants. It was his immediate reaction that absolutely astounded me. Maybe you had to be there to actually witness it, or maybe you run with a different crowd, but the first impulse of nearly everyone I know would have been to say something profane – at the very least, be annoyed – not necessarily at the person who spilled the drink (especially because it was the spouse), just at the situation of having to “wear” an alcoholic drink. Throughout dinner. Yet, his initial response was, no worries, everything’s fine.

This past Monday I watched the Clippers’ training camp. Near the end of the workout, at a break in the action, Doc came over to greet those of us in attendance. When he got to me, I reintroduced myself to him (he remembered the Notes) and told him of that encounter over 15 years ago. The comment I made to him was how shocked I was at his attitude at the moment – that few, if any, other people I know would have reacted in such a manner. He sincerely thanked me after I remarked on my assessment of his chivalry. I said:

“Doc, how you reacted couldn’t have been faked.”

Buzz Williams Is His Definitely Own Guy

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

One of the nine collegiate head coaches I worked for used to say that “coaches are a different breed of cat.” Buzz Williams is living proof. Virginia Tech’s head man was one of ten speakers at recently Hall of Fame inductee George Raveling’s coaching clinic in Los Angeles. One aspect that sets him apart from his peers is his dislike for speaking at coaching clinics.

The only reason he agreed to speak at Rav’s clinic is his admiration for his mentor. While George had a solid winning percentage at Washington, Iowa and USC, including leading each to two NCAA Tournament appearances apiece, the reason he was enshrined in the HOF was because of how much he gave back to the game – mainly to so many other coaches at every level of the game (from elementary school to the NBA). Buzz Williams was a major recipient of George’s wisdom.

I first met Buzz at the Hall of Fame induction weekend two years ago when Rav received the John Bunn Leadership Award (and my last boss, Jerry Tarkanian) was enshrined. A few of us had eaten with George (as always, he picked up the check) when he said he was looking for Buzz. I had to attend a function with Tark’s family. As I was leaving the Hall, I saw Buzz coming through the door. Since we’d never met, I introduced myself to him and mentioned Rav was looking for him. He stopped and said to me, incredulously, “You’re Jack Fertig?” Somehow, at no time did I think he was putting me on – even though no one had ever greeted me in such a manner. In a subsequent meeting with him, he explained that George had spoken highly of me when the subject of assistant coaches came up during one of their conversations.

After hearing George tell me he’d been mentoring Williams for years, I wondered how the two of them had gotten together. Apparently, young Buzz, to use the word George did, stalked him. It seemed that there were “too many” chance meetings, e.g. Williams would be where Raveling was – and would always be going up asking for advice. Sometimes the questions would be about coaching, sometimes about recruiting, sometimes about “connecting” with people – be they recruits, players, parents, administrators, whoever. There would be frequent notes, emails and calls from Fort Collins (Williams was an assistant at Colorado State). During recruiting trips of his own, Raveling would hear from recruits and coaches about this young coach from CSU who was an incredible hustler who seemed more sincere than others.

The two coaches just bonded, each with a genuine admiration for the other’s skills. During each of the three occasions I was at George’s house to film the JackAndCoach segments for the website (check them out if you haven’t already), George would get a call from Buzz Williams. One of them was after he’d decided to leave Marquette – without a job. He had his reasons (which will not be shared here) but, suffice to say, it was a move few coaches would make.

At last weekend’s clinic Buzz explained that he intensely dislikes speaking at clinics – not because he doesn’t enjoy sharing information, quite the contrary, but that his distaste for that type of venue has to do with how impersonal it is. His speech was enthusiastic, which will surprise no one who knows him. He’s not the slick recruiter most big-time coaches are but there’s no doubt that if your child (or player) went to VT, he’d be with someone who cared about him as if he was his own son. If you don’t believe he’s a different breed of cat, his final line was something I’ve never heard any other college coach do. He concluded with:

“Here’s my cell phone number.”

And then he actually gave it to the 200 or so coaches in attendance.



America’s Favorite Game

Monday, August 31st, 2015

It’s that time of year again. Time for football. During my childhood there was little debate as to which sport was America’s past time. Soccer. No, seriously, baseball was king – whether it meant playing the game, watching it or talking about it. We played football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. Back then, the most fun game to play was baseball. Football practices were too hard and, believe it or not, basketball, although we did play it, just wasn’t that popular.

Baseball is steeped in tradition which might be what sunk the sport in the eyes of the fans, especially the young players. To me, a child of the ’50s and ’60s, playing baseball, collecting baseball cards and “flipping” them (competitive games – a story for a later blog) took up most of our summers. What could be more fun. Remember, this was before computers, and all the games that are associated with them.

To our younger son, Alex (who grew up in the ’90s and, what the, ’00s?, the only redeeming quality of baseball was, as he told me after he decided not to play the sport any longer (in 6th grade), “The only thing that’s cool about baseball is that you can eat sunflower seeds while you’re playing.” It’s become a cliche that the modern athlete is all about instant gratification, which certainly doesn’t play into baseball’s strength. Football is a series of collisions, with a brief rest period in between each. It’s the modern day version of the gladiators (although those guys would have loved the huddle and time out concepts). It has, however, become more and more dangerous. When I played, we were concerned about broken bones and blown out knees – but being part of a team trumped any injuries. Plus, the football players got the girls. Or so the saying went.

The most redeeming aspect of football is that it is the ultimate team sport – in this regard. The team is composed of all sorts of body types and skill sets – and everybody has to depend on everybody else if the team is to secure victory. There are all kinds of players. To begin with, a good quarterback who has to possess a myriad of talents, not the least of which is leadership and, for the best ones, the ability to share the glory, is mandatory. Next are the running backs who have to have a combination of speed, strength, shiftiness, desire to at least pass block, and the most important trait – hold onto the ball. Receivers, wide and slot, in addition to catching and holding on to the ball, must be able to get off the line of scrimmage (a major talent considering the defensive game plans of today), run precise routes and, occasionally, block. Speed and size seem to matter at the higher levels of play, except for those whose hearts overcome the tape measures and stop watches.

With all the “skill” that’s been discussed, nothing good can happen if there are no interior linemen – guys with zero ego – who just want to open holes for runners and keep the quarterback’s jersey as clean as when he put it on before the game. Then, to complete the offense, you’ll need a tight end (sometimes, two). This position combines the receivers talents, to a point the runners’ skills, and the O lineman’s ability to block.

Let’s not forget the special team players who have to do things that others can’t (don’t want to, in some cases, refuse to) do – trying to block someone running downfield at breakneck speed, or being the guy running downfield at breakneck speed trying to tackle the kick returner – without getting laid out yourself. Also, every good team has a punter who can “flip the field” with a good kick (or put the team at a distinct disadvantage with a bad one). The place kicker is a position held near and dear to my heart because, a long time ago, I was one. NFL kickers have made their job look so easy, the rules makers changed the PAT. If anybody thinks it’s so easy, try it sometime – with people coming at you. Of course, every place kicker will tell you a good long snapper and holder make life a whole lot simpler. Increasingly, games are being decided by a small margin of points. Those fans, announcers and former players who mock kickers need to remember the next time your favorite team is behind by a couple that, deep down, you know you’d want no part of that kick. And, most impressive, kickers come through many more times than they miss.

With all of those positions adequately filled, you still only have half the game covered. D linemen, linebackers, corners and safeties can bale out a team that is having trouble moving the ball – even score a time or two. Or they can make the game difficult by giving up scores too early and/or easily, putting too much pressure on an offense. As with everything else in football, the opposite is true, e.g. a “pick 6,” a fumble deep in your own territory, too many “three-and-outs” can doom a defensive unit.

No one player has all the talents discussed. But he doesn’t need to. It’s working together that makes the game what it is. It’s like a mini-corporation in which there’s a CEO, other executives who are in charge of their own departments, e.g. marketing, advertising, sales, technology, etc. There are also custodians, secretaries, security people – all of whom make up the business – and just as in a successful business, if everything goes as planned, success is nearly certain.

As Henry Ford said:

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”