Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Apparently, There Are No Days Off for Coaches

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Back from Charleston, SC and the wedding of the son (to his lovely bride) one of my college roommates. Beautiful ceremony, fabulous event, great getting to see so many old friends. That happening was followed by a week in Myrtle Beach. Kind of like the spring break everybody had back in the day, that we missed. So we made up for it this past week – 45 years later. Jane’s younger sister, Susan, joined us from Nashville, as did (for a couple days anyway), Nancy, one of Jane’s former co-workers at TVA – and one of her best friends from Knoxville. The girls shopped and caught up while I watched, non-stop, March Madness.

Lost among the buzzer beaters, earth-shattering upsets and crazy celebrations is the insane life college basketball coaches lead. Come to think of it, maybe all coaches.

Exhibit #1 Where else would a 74-year-old guy who has struggled with relatively severe health issues over the years, go to work with a bad case of bronchitis? A man who, when the television cameras were on him, looked like he should have either been home in bed or in the hospital in bed. Yet, there, on the SMU bench, sat Larry Brown, the man who fit perfectly the prior description.

In the press conference the day before the game, he sounded like a person who should not have been at a podium, apologizing to the assembled media that he’d had a case of hiccups for the past couple days. Like that’s normal. Then, in the condition he was in, to have to sit through a rather poorly played game by his squad, who then made a monumental run to take control of the first round NCAA tournament game (OK, powers-that-be, second round), only to squander it – and lose on, possibly, the worst call in tourney history. Well, nobody in good health should have to experience that ordeal. Making matters worse was hearing officiating guru John Adams trying to justify the call: “It might have hit the rim and bounced in.” Undoubtedly, Adams failed high school physics – and every other class in which common sense needed to be used.

Exhibit #2 Your team, which lost in the conference finals last year and was kept out of the NCAA tournament, made amends by winning the Sun Belt championship a couple weeks ago. Naturally, you were thrilled. Your first reaction, as the horn went off, was to jump – but as you did, you tore your Achilles tendon. Still, you rolled around on the floor, in excruciating pain, hugging your son who had just hit two free throws moments before. That’s exactly what Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter did.

As the NCAA tourney got under way, Hunter was rendered to a, for lack of a better term, one-legged, four-wheeled scooter. How about you, Ron, are you going to call in sick – like Larry Brown should have? In a word – hell, no! It’s March Madness, baby! So he scooted on out to coach the #14 seed GSU Panthers against the #3 seed Baylor Bears.

And wouldn’t you know it, his star son, R.J., knocked down a deep three at the buzzer to vanquish Goliath. Of course Ron wanted to celebrate this crowning achievement. And he does so by falling off of his new means of transportation, admittedly breaking the cast and now has to be re-casted. He said he didn’t know what re-casted meant but he definitely understands what it’s doing to his pain level.

Exhibit #3 In the morning you find out your 84-year-old mom had a heart attack – and didn’t make it. If you didn’t show up for work that day everyone would certainly understand. But you’re Mike Brey and you coach the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, trying to get to the Sweet Sixteen. You count on your guys and they, in turn, count on you.

So, not only do you show up to coach the game but you have enough class (obviously taught to you by your mother) not to mention it to your team – to use it as a motivational tool. Even though you coach at the school that made “Win one for the Gipper” famous.

Then your guys go out and win. Over in-state rival Butler. In overtime. And what does Mike say about it? “It was kind of a tribute to her. It was really a special night.” Can you imagine how heavy his heart must have been during that game? How heavy it must still be?

Why would guys go out, under circumstances that any other employee would take off – maybe even should take off – and put in the day’s work? Although he was talking about the life of an NBA coach, Pat Riley’s comments on coaching sum it up perfectly:

“It’s not a good, healthy life. It’s a LIFE. It’s a very intense, competitive life that’s not really normal.”

A Golden Goose that Cannot Be Killed

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Some people might call the rash of injuries in the NBA this season an aberration. In just the first half of this season alone, there were over 2200 games lost to injuries. Yet, according to the 2/2/15 post by Jeff Stotts of the website In Street Clothes, should these numbers hold true for the second half, “the league is on pace to finish below last season’s record setting total and below the league average over the last nine seasons.”

From a fan’s viewpoint, a great game such as this past Sunday’s Warriors-Clippers battle was made, if not insignificant, certainly far less entertaining, than it would have been had Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford suited up for LA. Don’t get me wrong. The game featured some of the best players in the world and was better than anything else going on in the Bay Area – if hoops is your thing. But it just was a mere shell of what it would have been had both teams been at full strength. The fact that the next time they meet, the injury situation might be reversed doesn’t even things out, just further proves my point.

This season not one NBA fan has gotten to see either Steve Nash nor Paul George, although there’s hope the latter might be returning prior to season’s end. In Nash’s case, no one really expected to see someone with the health problems he’s had to endure throughout his career, and if the Lakers didn’t owe him so much money, he might have retired. Consider this season’s salary a severance pay for a future Hall of Famer. George, some say, got hurt for asking too much of his body, only for a different team than the one that pays him.

Since I’m retired, I felt I ought to devote some of my free time to solving this problem (although no one from the league office, to my knowledge, requested my assistance). Whether or not my solution would have enabled Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, A’mare Stoudemire, Joakim Noah, Ricky Rubio or Blake and Jamal to avoid prolonged time in suits is irrelevant, this is my blogspace and I’ll use it as I see fit.

One thing that’s for certain is that it would definitely not have aided in either Joel Embiid, who was out of commission before the season ever began, nor Jabari Parker, who played only 30% of his rookie year. My proposal is the league shorten the 82 game season. It’s a difficult answer – the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy – but someone needs to notice that, in fact, something is broke. The players. My idea is to lessen the number of poundings an NBA body must take.

Here is where I came up with this concept. I have heard everyone I have known who is close to the NBA scene (and believe me, that number is well over 100) – be they players, head coaches, assistants, trainers, GMs, VPs, or former members of those groups – describe the NBA season using the same word: grind. And what’s being ground are the bodies and minds of the players, who each year get bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled.

The main reason this won’t happen is, naturally, money. When Steve Ballmer shelled out two billion dollars (the absurdity of that price has been repeated so many times, it almost sounds sane), everything escalated – including the demand the league put on the bodies of their golden geese, undoubtedly because the owners realize there are an unlimited number of geese. Should a player play in every game for his team – exhibitions, regular season and playoffs – there is a possibility he would play in 118 contests. 119, if he was an All-Star. That’s 8 exhibitions, 82 regular season and 28 post season (should every playoff series go seven-games).

With the proliferation of pick-and-rolls being used (because they’re the hardest to guard, certainly from a wear-and-tear aspect), the players’ bodies are subject to more and more punishment, leading to an increased number of injuries. And injuries are why so many regular season games lack 1-2 stars from each squad. Therefore, wouldn’t it make for a better product to cut back the number of, certainly exhibitions, but mainly regular season games? Purists will say statistics will be skewed but weren’t they done so with the introduction of the 24-second clock, three-point line – and, even, the change in defensive rules, e.g. no hand checking?

I proposed this idea to a friend who’s currently in the association and his reply was succinct – and probably unanimous as far as those in the NBA are concerned:

“Never happen.”

 

The True Beauty of Vermont

Monday, March 9th, 2015

At this time of the year, I enjoy listening to channel 91 on Sirius XM radio. My favorite show is called College Basketball Today with Mark Packer and Tom Brennan as co-hosts. While I personally know neither of them, Brennan is a South Jersey guy with a sharp wit (and a Philly accent) whose gained fame in the coaching world when he led the University of Vermont Catamounts into the NCAA tournament. Three times!

UVM has a special place in my heart as it was the first of my nine college coaching jobs. Brennan not only had success there, including four 20+ win seasons, three America East championships and the school’s first three NCAA Tournament appearances, but pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tourney history when his #13 seeded Cats beat #4 Syracuse, 60-57 in OT.

Packer lives in Charlotte while Brennan still makes his home in Burlington and, more often than not, the subject of the weather comes up on the show, with Tom kidding how beautiful (albeit a tad cold) it is in northern New England. I can appreciate exactly how he’s feeling and here’s a story that I regularly tell people when they ask me how cold it got.

It was 1972 and I was a grad assistant at UVM with a $1,000 stipend, plus tuition for my master’s degree. One of my classes began at 8:00 am. Not being “a morning person,” I would get up at 7:30, brush my teeth, take a quick shower and get dressed. Ed Sweeney, the GA for football and I were renting rooms from the owner (who also lived there), John Moynihan, “the radio voice of Vermont hockey and football.” The house was a bit of a mess (it was like three “Oscars” were living there) but it was directly across the street from Lake Champlain.

That particular morning I was wearing pants, sneakers, socks and a t-shirt. The reason I distinctly remember was because I was always wearing pants, sneakers, socks and a t-shirt. Like I said, I wasn’t much of a morning person and that was the easiest combo to throw on at such an ungodly hour. (Suffice to say, it was a bit of an adjustment to the 5:45 am practices we had at USC but that’s another story for another time).

When I got outside, the first thing I’d do would be to start the car and crank up the defroster to the highest heat setting it had. Then I’d get out and brush the snow off of my windshield (there was snow on the windshield every day – usually until early-mid April). While the snow was deep and heavy, it came of rather easily, especially when the defroster started heating up.

I finished getting the snow off of one side of the front windshield and, as I walked around the front of the car, I thought to myself, “Boy, the air is really brisk this morning.” As long as there was no wind, breathing the Vermont air was invigorating. It was so . . . clean. After finishing, I got in my car for the short ride to campus and turned on the radio.

If I hadn’t been totally awake at that point, what I heard next opened my eyes:

“Good morning everyone. It’s 7:50 am . . . 15 degrees below zero.”

Assembling the 1984 Olympic Team – and Who Would Play

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

First and foremost, a shout out to one of this year’s inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, George Raveling. A couple years ago, George was inducted to the College HOF in Kansas City as a contributor (the same honor that’s being bestowed upon him in September), as well as winning, earlier that same year, the John Bunn Leadership Award at the Springfield HOF induction ceremonies (I was humbled when asked to write his one page tribute for the Hall’s program, which was sold at the TV show and online).

The following is an excerpt of a conversation I had with George. One of the topics we discussed was about his experiences as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team in 1984. Team USA’s head coach was Bob Knight who, at that time, was the head coach at Indiana University. Player selection proved extremely difficult (in fact, four future NBA Hall of Fame players were cut from the squad –  Joe Dumars, Karl Malone, John Stockton and, as has been mentioned numerous times, Charles Barkley, who just happened to lead those Olympic Trials in the main three categories: points, rebounds and assists).

An aside: As the van that took the last players cut was headed to the Indy airport, Dumars tells the story of the four of them, plus A.C. Green and Terry Porter driving away and Stockton saying, “Wow! Are you serious? I’d like to take the six guys right here and play whoever they keep on that team.” He did have a point. Although Knight cut those guys, he explained he would help them as much as he could as far as speaking to NBA people about them, as nice a send off as one could hope for – after getting their dreams crushed.

Back to our story. According to Rav, Knight knew exactly the type of team he wanted in terms of offensive and defensive philosophy. In addition, he placed tremendous value in having great team chemistry. Even though the Russians weren’t playing (their way of retaliating for our Olympic teams boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow), there was enormous pressure to “win the Gold.”

It was Knight’s philosophy that, although there would be 12 players on the squad, that he was only going to use a core group of eight – and he wanted to make that point perfectly clear. Maybe it was because he knew how some parents can be, maybe there was another reason. In any case Rav told of how the Olympic head coach was going to meet, in person, with the parents of each of the “bottom four” (Jon Koncak, Joe Kleine, Jeff Turner and, I believe, Vern Fleming – although I’m not certain about him) so everyone would be on the same page.

George recalled the trip to Turner’s home. He said Knight got to the point and spelled out to the parents and Turner that they should be proud of Jeff making the team. However, he went on to say that he would not be in the rotation. Basically, it’s like saying, “Congrats, your kid made the club . . . but he ain’t gonna play.” What gave George a minor shock was Knight’s closing line:

“And this is the last time we’ll ever speak.”

When Highly Successful People in One Area of Life Get Involved in Another

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Occasionally, someone will say something that jogs my memory. Because of the strange way my mind works, it’s usually about a humorous experience that occurred anywhere from earlier that day, all the way back to my childhood. In fact, that’s how I wrote my book, Life’s A Joke. After deciding to write it, I went home and began jotting down notes from every funny story I could remember. When I was finished, I had . . . eleven.

I was stunned. There had to be more than eleven! What I started to do was carry around an index card and anytime somebody would say something that rattled my brain, I would put a few key words on the card and when I returned home, would add the day’s “haul” to the original list. Two and a half years later, I had 265 stories and my book became a reality. That was in 2001 and I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if I planned on doing another. The answer is yes but this time around, it might be an eBook.

While listening to all the bracketology talk that pervades the TV and radio airwaves, I was reminded of another story. The talking heads were discussing strength of schedule. What flashed in my brain was the following tale.

At Fresno State one of my duties was to schedule all of our non-conference games (the conference office would schedule the games within the league). One part of our schedule that was terrific for our team, but hell on me, was the December tournament we hosted. Great for us because it meant two home games without having to return them; difficult for me because 1) I had to schedule three teams (one of which we wouldn’t even end up playing) for only two games, 2) even when I could find interested teams, nobody wanted to open with us (their thinking was, “Give us a neutral site game we have a chance to win and if we don’t, at least we can beat up on the patsy you played the first night”) and 3) we had much less money to offer the participants than the “big-time” schools did.

The title sponsorship changed hands after a couple years. A local builder, whose owner was enormously wealthy, took over that role. He had been a football player at USC and had built a thriving business in Fresno (this was at the time of the housing boom). He also was a guy who felt “no” was an unacceptable answer, so when I first met with his PR guy, I sensed we’d be butting heads. And that feeling proved to be right on the money.

After I explained how I went about filling in the field, his representative’s body language alone told me I would have to revamp my philosophy. This led to a second meeting – which the boss attended. One thing I’d learned early in life (since I had recently turned 50, the lesson was cemented in pretty good) was that money talks, so when you have less of it, sit back and listen. Since this man’s company was footing the bill for the tourney, it behooved me to give the floor to him anyway. Footnote: As I found out later, due to the fact the previous sponsor had been a beer distributorship, the athletics department was forced to find another – as a good will gesture (and rightfully so with the problems our players, and college kids in general, had with alcohol) – and that the deal for the new sponsor was heavily weighted in his favor.

Back to the meting. This guy told me, in no uncertain terms, that the fields we had in previous seasons were a joke and any tournament with his company’s name on it was going to be first class. Getting all four games to be televised would be no problem because of his, and his PR guy’s, contacts. With more and more games being televised, this wasn’t nearly as big a bargaining chip as he wanted me to believe. Especially when he told me which teams I was to have complete the field.

Naturally, he guaranteed that he could deliver the Men of Troy (which I found out later was not exactly the case). For the other two teams, he wanted “big-time schools,” not like the previous ones who had made up the field. The first two names he tossed out were . . . Kentucky and North Carolina. We were at lunch and I recall being so thankful that I wasn’t drinking anything at that precise moment because his message definitely would have caused whatever was in my glass to expel through my nose. While he said that any teams “like them” would suffice, his message was loud and clear. Our encountered ended with him telling me not to be concerned with money, he would take care of that.

Rather than attempt a rebuttal (even though he was commenting on my expertise, not his), I simply took the notes I made, thanked him for lunch and said I’d get right on it. I drove directly to the basketball office and called C.M. Newton, the AD at Kentucky. He and I had known each other from the days I was an assistant coach at Tennessee and he was the head coach at our in-state rival, Vanderbilt. Luckily (it was about 4:30 pm his time), he was still in the office. When I told him of my “showdown,” we both had a good laugh. He certainly understood boosters like the one I described. After all, Kentucky has a ton of them and Vanderbilt and Alabama (where he’d been the head coach prior to Vandy) each had their share.

I asked him if he would do me a huge favor, and after hearing it, he just said I could write the letter, send it to him and he (of course, with editing power) would put it on UK letterhead and sign it. Here’s what the contents of that letter were: 1) they hosted their own UKIT (Univ. of Ky Invitational Tournament, a tourney we played in when I was a grad assistant at Washington State – and was truly big-time), plus their rivalry games with Louisville and Indiana, as well as the guarantee games, i.e. at Lexington with no return) that all coaches wanted (to pump up their record), so he couldn’t see how it would be possible for them to come, 2) I was asking his Wildcats to give up two of their non-conference games where they sold out 23,500 seat Rupp Arena at an average ticket price of $25, totaling $1.175 millionnot including parking, concessions and souvenirs (he knew such a guarantee would be impossible) and 3) for this, UK would receive no return games in future years, 4) his coach would have to sign off on playing UNC (because he knew we would choose SC as our opening opponent – I mean, two reasons teams hosted tournaments were because they expected that many wins out of it) and 5) because of their prestige, nearly all of their games were on TV anyway (there weren’t the proliferation of televised games at that time as there are now).

When the letter arrived, I showed it to the PR man (the head honcho saw no further need to attend any meetings). I have to admit, he showed no signs of shock when he read it (which had to take every ounce of restraint he could muster) but when he met my gaze, it was understood ramping down expectations would be necessary. I tried to explain that most schools his boss thought would jump at the chance to play in the Central Valley (during foggy season) had the same issues UK had, albeit with smaller numbers.

This was how I developed my philosophy of boosters:

“People who would become completely indignant if you tried to tell them how to do their jobs have absolutely no qualms about telling you how to do yours”

 

When Will This OVERsensitivity Abate?

Friday, March 6th, 2015

First of all, I fully admit I come from a different era. My sons remind me quite often. Actually, it’s more like it’s obvious when I was born by the questions I ask them. Yesterday, it was panic time when my wife and I tried to stream a game from her iPad onto our 55″ television, using Apple TV that he gave us about a year and a half ago. We called in a frenzy and he talked us through it.

While I am well behind the times regarding anything technological, I understand how important the advances in that area are. Naturally, progress is mandatory in order for people to advance the quality of living, although the not talking to people, i.e. texting, emailing, instagramming, snapchatting in lieu of actual conversation, does freak me out quite a bit. I just can’t believe that not having dialogue with other human voices throughout a workday (or worse, a day away from work) makes us a better society.

How we speak to one another has come under fire. Everyone (at least every coach) can remember the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers. It was horrifying to see how degrading and humiliating those videos were. There wasn’t, nor could there have been justification for such harsh actions and words.

That said, when Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings was caught on camera saying to one of his players that he was going to kill him – and dropping an F-bomb in the “threat,” it became national news. Let’s start with the “going to kill you” part. How many times have you been so mad at someone (perhaps one of your children), you said, “I’m going to kill you!” to him/her? Were you really planning on killing that person? Now, let’s deal with the F-bomb.

For the first 24 years of my life, I lived in New Jersey. I played three sports in high school and one in college. While I can’t come up with the exact number of coaches I had (including assistants), the number had to be upwards of 20. There might have been one or two who didn’t curse (although I can’t recall any) but, right or wrong, it was a way of life. The joke used to be, “I’m from New Jersey where we’re bilingual. We speak English and profanity.”

Just because there’s a movement to be politically correct, don’t think someone who grew up with profanity to be able to immediately wipe it from their vocabularies. (If we looked, I imagine we could find something everyone says or does that offends someone). Should that type of language be verboten in the military? If you say yes, maybe you can start a cult of your own and move elsewhere, preferably to a different planet. If you think that people in that line of training, who may be called to put their lives in danger, should be allowed to slip up every now and then, consider some may get into coaching when they leave the military. Which happens to be the case with the all-time winningest coach in college hoops. Several years ago, a student from the school newspaper was granted access to practice. He lambasted Mike Krzyzewski for the language he used. It seems he was the only one in the gym who was offended. Everyone else listened more to the “other words” and all have felt they became better people because of it. Not sure who that student reporter influenced.

In yesterday’s paper I saw an article in which the New York Mets captain David Wright apologized to pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard for scolding him for eating lunch in the clubhouse during an intrasquad game. The reason for the apology? Wright did it within earshot of the media. How could what Noah Syndergaard did be reported in any other way than acting like a horse’s ass unprofessionally? In today’s world, if Wright hadn’t said anything, the media would have called his leadership skills as a captain into question.

How you look at people has changed, too. I was alerted, via the Internet, to a YouTube video of Kenny Smith giving “the once over” look to Carrie Keagan at the NBA Fashion Show. She is sitting on the table where Smith is seated and says, “Meet Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors” and he begins looking up at her, until his eyes scan downward. I checked it out. His eyes were moving during the “Golden State” part – maybe one second. Check for yourself. And he gets criticized for that? She ought to be flattered! Heck, she probably is!

It’s others who find such stares as those of a morally bankrupt individual. One comment called him a “pig.” For looking at a girl. Are we that PC that guys can’t check out pretty women who, by the way, know what they look like – and do their best to look that way.

As H. Jackson Browne, Jr. said:

“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.”

Is Nothing Sacred?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Is it me or do more athletes than ever before seem to be blessed? Following so many athletics contests, the winner, when interviewed, injects into the conversation that he is “blessed.” It’s the same with athletes who are on talk shows. Maybe it’s because only the successful ones are asked to be on the air. I mean, when was the last time you heard the question, “Well, the last time you won, Tim Tebow was still playing football. Do you think you’ll win again before he returns to the gridiron?”

The reason I bring this topic up is because a few of my friends and I were discussing today’s athlete and one of the other guys in our group brought up exactly what I’d been thinking. I knew I wasn’t the only person who had this feeling. This began a lively discussion.

Someday, after a buzzer-beating upset loss that knocks his team out of a tournament and ends his career, we all agreed we were waiting for an emotionally distraught player to look into the camera and say, “I don’t know why we got beat tonight. We worked so hard. We were the better team. Now, my college career is over because of some lucky half-court shot. Maybe I’m just cursed!”

As we laughed about it, a story came to mind (yes, that happens to be in my book, Life’s A Joke). During the 2001 National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Convention (held in conjunction with the Final Four), I heard, firsthand, of something that occurred one evening that, if it wasn’t so pitiful, might actually be funny.

In addition to the booths advertising sporting goods, the clinics and the meetings, there are other groups that get together. One of those is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), an organization that has been affiliated with the NABC for longer than I can remember. I believe it was on Sunday night, between the semi-finals and final game that the FCA held their season-ending dinner. A close friend of mine attended the event with his wife. I saw him shortly after it ended. He was incensed.

Following the social part of the evening, the participants were requested to take their seats at their respective tables. As the invocation was about to be given, whoever was at the head table said, “Let us pray,” at which time everyone closed their eyes and bowed their heads in prayer. When the prayer concluded, my buddy’s wife turned to him and said:

“My purse was just stolen!”

Marshawn Lynch Is an Easy Target

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

All kinds of people are having the times of their lives with the press conference – in Turkey – in which Marshawn Lynch was asked about that fateful play (if you don’t know which play, log on to another site because nothing that follows will be of interest to you). Sportswriters, sportscasters, talking heads, callers to talk shows, schmucks like me with a blog (and how many zillions of those are there) – everybody is taking turns at who can be the wittiest (if that’s their schtick) or cruel (if that floats their boat). My take is somewhat different.

Lynch was in Turkey with fellow NFL pros DeAngelo Hall and Gary Barnidge promoting an international camp called American Football Without Barriers — a non-profit organization that supports the growth of American football in countries such as China, Brazil and Turkey. Once the dialogue about the AFWB concluded, naturally, the questioner asked Lynch what everyone has wanted to hear, i.e. what were his thoughts about “the play?” To say Lynch rambled would be akin to saying he is a pretty good running back.

When I began thinking about his roller coaster answer, something occurred to me. What was he supposed to say? Let’s try one of those role playing scenarios. You, the reader, be Marshawn Lynch. Not Marshawn Lynch, the guy answering the question (that’s too easy), but the real Marshawn Lynch – the one who has to return to the United States and answer continual questions from the media here. The guy who has to report to Seahawks training camp (or elsewhere – or nowhere if he so chooses) and continue getting on with his life.

First, let’s take a trip back in time – right after you, Marshawn, had just run the ball inside the one-yard line. How much of a lock did it look like the Seahawks were to score once they had second-and- goal from that close? Honestly, I mean honestly, how many people felt the Seahawks weren’t going to be (back-to-back) Super Bowl champions? I’m sure there were a number of people who actually thought the Patriots would win the game at that point and I’m also sure that number was, or hovering around, zero!

Then, Russell Wilson did not hand the ball to you but rather, threw a pass – which, we all know now – didn’t work out so well for Seattle. OK, given that moment in time – and all that has happened since – how would you answer the question, Marshawn? Would you say, as many have, that it was the single worst call in the history of football (if not all of team sports)? Remember, you still have the rest of your life to live. That certainly wouldn’t be a prudent answer if you plan to return to the Hawks, or even if you decide to play elsewhere (assuming elsewhere is on this planet). Even if your immediate future is outside of the sport, what benefit – other than satisfying your own ego (if, in fact, you do genuinely feel that way) – does that response have? Does it change anything, such as the game’s outcome?

And, to think, that is the easiest of queries. Have you considered your reply to the rumor that the Seahawks really wanted Wilson to be MVP? Can’t just lower your shoulder and bulldoze that one, can you? OK, our little game of role playing is over. Mainly, it was just to prove a point – that it ain’t so easy being Beast Mode, no matter what your opinion of him. Considering that Marshwan Lynch doesn’t have a reputation for kickin’ it with the fourth estate, I’d offer up that he handled himself about as well as anyone could have.

Circumstances being what they were – and still are, albeit now not nearly the emotional time it was directly after the game – Lynch, for all intents and purposes, handled the situation, if not in a sophisticated manner, certainly in a unique way. With all the possible comebacks he could have employed, an argument could be made that his rambling (paraphrased) response of – yeah, I was expecting the ball, but that’s life, and it’s a team game, so I had no problem with the play calling, but I would have been the MVP, so what went into that call I don’t know, maybe it was good because even though it cost us the Super Bowl, I have full confidence in my teammates, yet would I love to have the ball? Yes, I would have.

For a guy who could (probably should) have gone apoplectic after his team blew the freakin’ Super Bowl, I say kudos to him for not blasting everyone and everything in sight. After all, how many chances does a player get to win a Super Bowl – and in their case – win back-to-back Super Bowls? For a guy whose character has been questioned, I say he’s conducted himself as what can only be termed the truest definition of a team player.

Plus, there couldn’t have been a better closing line than the one he gave:

“But the game is over, and I am in Turkey.”

 

Should Fans Stop Rushing the Court?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

After witnessing the irresponsible scene in Manhattan following Kansas State’s upset of intrastate rival Kansas – yet before the wild (but) civil display the Maryland fans exhibited when they knocked off Wisconsin – talk radio was absolutely buzzing on the issue of storming the court. Mark “Chicken Little” Packer led the charge, condemning the actions of the Wildcats’ students (assuming they were students). He claimed rushing the court should be outlawed in arenas and that there is no place for that in college basketball. For the record, surprisingly, his partner, former Vermont coach and, for my money, the best basketball talk show guy there is, Tom Brennen, concurred with him. With all the years in college hoops Tom put in, I can’t believe he’d be anti fans storming the court. All I can say is he was caught up with the picture of K-State fans not allowing KU’s team and coaches off the floor peacefully. Their anger at the situation certainly was justified. The problem was they painted what happened with too broad a brush.

What precipitated the outrage was the fact that several of the Jayhawk players were bumped (intentionally or not) by Wildcat fans as they rushed onto the court. True, there always is that jackass factor, i.e. the loudmouth who’s been razzing an opponent (who may or may not be showboating) and, in the aftermath of the game (in all likelihood due to either the “strength in numbers” or “liquid courage” theories), the fan comes face-to-face-back with the opponent who’s been torching his beloved team, so, hey . . . why not take a (cheap) shot? Things like that (or getting a beer poured on a player’s head as he goes into the locker room) have been known to happen. I’ve witnessed the latter up close.

KU coach Bill Self, who is an expert on court stormings since his teams have always been Top 10 (or better) caliber and, as such, are targets for lesser programs who, on infrequent occasions, manage to beat them. As an aside: I was at one of those when I was on the staff at Fresno State and we beat Bill’s Tulsa team in the finals of the WAC Tournament (which just so happened to be hosted by Fresno that year), giving us the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. At that time, Tulsa had lost four games, three of them to us – the first one by a single point at Tulsa, the next by two on a buzzer-beater in Fresno and the third in the conference tourney final by three (a late three-pointer accounting for the game’s final points). After the last nail-biter (in which their team and staff got off the floor completely unscathed), our coach, Jerry Tarkanian, went into their locker room and told Bill’s team how much he admired them and wished he could get his guys to play as hard as they did. Bill Self has retold that story on several occasions.

As far as the Kansas State game, Self had this to say, “It’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us, that’s your business. That’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint. Somebody is going to hit a player, the player is going to retaliate, you’re going to have lawsuits—it’s not right.” Storm the court, he’s saying, just do it responsibly and, for goodness sakes, the school needs to have protective measures in place!

There is little doubt that what happened two nights ago was a complete bungling by the security people at Bramlage Coliseum. It’s not like the game ended on a miracle half court shot, with the home team behind at the time (the final score was 70-63). Why there weren’t more security – and why they weren’t in better position for the possibility of an upset – boggles the mind. K-State is having a less than their typical success from a wins and losses standpoint. Kansas came into Manhattan firmly planted in the Top 10. And it was Kansas vs. Kansas State for cryin’ out loud! How many warning signs did they need? The bottom line is that things got a little too rambunctious at K-State and it never should have escalated to those heights.

K-State AD John Currie, for whom Packer has tremendous respect, having interviewed him “a gazillion times,” apologized to Kansas for what occurred. He covered for his security people but you can rest assured, they got more than an earful from him behind closed doors. By the way, Packer admitted that, as a student at Clemson, he was part of a court storming. He stated when they got out there, it was like “what do we do now?” He referred to him and his friends as idiots and his advice to college kids was not to do as he did. Easy to say now. Packer’s actions at Clemson were what college kids do. His advice now is what adults do. Why don’t kids listen to their elders when they are so much older and wiser? Because they’re kids – and college students do stupid things. Then, we hope, they mature – as we did (at least most of us).

Dan Graca, also of Sirius XM, cleverly played the ESPN card. He blamed them – and every television station that played and re-played the incident, for continually showing such raucous behavior – as if the kids who storm the floor are doing it to get on TV – as opposed to displaying unbridled emotion at their school having done what no one but their own gave they a chance to do. Somehow, if Graca were offered a job doing TV, I imagine he’d be able to justify moving over to the evil side – of more money, visibility and fame.

Look, of course there needs to better security than the travesty that took place at Kansas State. The safety of the visiting players, coaches and traveling party on the floor must be first and foremost in the minds of the security team. It’s not that difficult. First of all, is there a possibility of a court storming? Examples: Is the home team a big underdog or the visiting team a massive favorite? Is the visiting team #1 or (as in the case two nights ago, a big rival)? Is there something special at stake – a milestone victory, a spot in the NCAA Tournament? Finally, and the one that’s the hardest to predict, is there a possibility of a game-winning shot that will evoke that much emotion by the crowd?

To say storming the court should be outlawed is like saying no fan of a visiting team should wear that team’s gear to the game (hasn’t that caused problems in the past – in professional stadiums). But we can’t – and shouldn’t – live our lives in fear. Then, in the words of Mark Packer, “the idiots” win. Implement stronger security measures, install more cameras, but don’t think fans are going to cheer and scream and go crazy – especially when they hear from their head coach (as so, so many of them do after big wins and championships), “Thanks to the greatest fans in the world!” – and then, after a major upset or huge win, expect them to orderly file out of the building.

The people we’re discussing are passionate, emotional kids. A caller to one of the shows made the statement that we never see storming the court at professional games. This is not the pros. The players are their friends, guys they see in class, maybe fellow athletes or fraternity brothers. Possibly, some recent grads are in the stands cheering for their alma mater, hoping to see something they were deprived of during their undergrad years.

It’s simple. As Bear Bryant said:

“Win with dignity; lose with class.”

Sam Hinkie Is Asking the Sixers’ Fans to Be Something They’re Not

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

The Philadelphia 76ers GM and President of Basketball Ops Sam Hinkie is all about potential. His decision to embrace losing in order to build not only a winning team but a contender, is a novel approach but one, given the 76ers recent history, that had merit. Yet, his intense secrecy means everybody has to have blind faith in his plan, something tough to do when he won’t tell anyone what, exactly, that plan is. Especially in Philadelphia. As David Aldridge wrote after Hinkie was hired, “Philly sports fans are knowledgeable and passionate, if occasionally obdurate and often loud.”

Hinkie’s background couldn’t be much more impressive. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and was named one of the top 60 undergraduates in the country by USA Today. He then earned an MBA from Stanford, during which time he worked part-time with the Houston Rockets. With those credentials he’s obviously smart but, when it comes to building a team in the NBA, is he smarter than everybody else? A better question might be, does he think he’s smarter than everybody else? For someone whose hoops career ended after high school, he’s going head-to-head with other executives who have MBAs from the NBA – guys who might not understand advanced basketball analytics but, at season’s end, get sized for rings.

USA Today‘s Jason Wolf wrote, “(Hinkie)’s more concerned with the future than with the present, with what ought to have happened rather than what does, an approach that doesn’t always sit well with the masses.” When the Sixers bought the former Utah Flash NBA D-League franchise and moved it to Delaware, Hinkie was quoted as saying, “You can better manage the development of your own players that you have down there. You can better scout the D-League overall – more coaches, more training staffs, more scouts. And because, honestly, you can experiment down there. You can try things that are good for your coaches, good for your players – (things) you would never do at the Wells Fargo Center, because the stakes are too high.” Aren’t the stakes pretty high with what they’re doing – at the Wells Fargo Center – over a year and a half later?

When Hinkie began his experiment, the NBA’s former deputy commissioner, Russ Granik, testified to The New York Times, “I don’t understand this strategy at all.” Fans, sportswriters, talking heads, even players spoke of tanking. Michael Carter-Williams, Philly’s starting point guard (and soon to become Rookie-of-the-Year, albeit of an extremely weak rookie crop), addressed the question of players tanking. He put the issue to rest – or at least should have – when he sensibly said, “Grown men are going to purposely mail it in for a 1-in-4 shot at drafting somebody who might someday take their job? Nope.

A succinct point of view was pointed out by writer Pablo Torre who stated, “NBA title contention, for all its elusiveness, is depressingly simple. You need stars.” With all the cap space the Sixers will have, chasing that superstar, or superstars, is what this stage of the Sixers rebuild is about. “When we have a set of players that can carry us deep (we will focus on winning), Hinkie exclaimed. “That’s the only way. That’s the only way to get to where we’re going,”

When further asked about that strategy, the GM/Pres said, “I think our fans do the same thing that we do here. They look at our set of players and they think about ‘How good is he? How much better will he get? How about the next guy? How good could he be?’ Then they turn on their television and they look at college basketball and they think about that guy, and how good will he be?”

“I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it other than that,” Hinkie concluded.

For all his bravado regarding analytics, what’s frightening is that Hinkie might not be as confident as he comes off. With the results they’ve thus far posted since he took over, what’s more frightening is that he is.

Neil Armstrong, someone who was wise to avoid overconfidence, said:

“Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”