Archive for the ‘golf’ Category

On Press Conferenes, Paul George, the Media and the Clippers

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Last night my wife, Jane, casually mentioned to me that LeBron and D-Wade did so much better a job of handling the media’s questions at the post game press conference than did Paul George. First of all, Jane doesn’t make a habit of watching post game pressers. For her to be even the slightest bit critical of Paul George was a pretty big shock to me. For those readers who don’t know, this blog originates out of Fresno where Paul George went to college. Here, he is everybody’s darling, the guy who, although not having a particularly spectacular college career, knocked NBA coaches and scouts on their butts at the Chicago pre-draft camp. Subsequently, he was selected in the first round (tenth overall) by the Indiana Pacers. He played so well that when his first contract ended, his agent and the Pacers negotiated a contract for 5 years and $90 million. One of the first moves he made was to buy all the tickets for a non-conference basketball game at his alma mater (Fresno State has a 15,500 seat arena and has struggled to attract crowds much greater than 5,000) and give them away (in groups of four) to anyone who wanted to see the Bulldogs play that night.

While I hadn’t seen last night’s press conference, it didn’t take me too long to realize that George was responding to reporters asking him about topics such as why the Pacers lost, was there a reason he wasn’t as aggressive as usual, what did being down 3-1 mean (isn’t that answer rather obvious?), what were the plans for regrouping once the series moved back to Indiana, did he think his team could beat the Heat, etc.

Reporters have jobs, players have jobs, coaches have jobs, people in the studio have jobs and on and on it goes. There is a 10 minute “cooling off period” following the game which is difficult for most people, especially at this time of the year. His team is one game away from elimination, from the championship he and the rest of his teammates have been waiting to claim after losing to this same team who beat them last year. Sure, you can say, it’s part of the job, it’s why they make big bucks (actually, every player is open game, independent of how much they make) and they shouldn’t complain but, as difficult as it is for some people to understand, they’re also human.

What has gone from a time of asking the participants to enlighten the viewers and readers regarding the game and the ins and outs of it has morphed into an almost inhumane meanness, a “can I ask the question that sets him off, so people will not only remember his response but who asked it” - possibly opening up all sorts of opportunities for me. The “investigative journalist” began with Woodard and Bernstein. That was necessary, they knew they were on to something big. Today seems more about creating something big. Even when, in the grand scheme, it’s not so big at all.

Maybe those asking the deep, insightful questions really believe what they’re doing is a vital service for society. I recall when the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated in the second round and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin came out for their final post game press conference of the season. It was apparent both were distraught, that after the franchise brought in Doc Rivers and allowed him to not only coach, but make player personnel decisions, that they truly felt they had a really good chance to win an NBA championship. And they had a good bit of company in that belief – for several good reasons. CP3 was the penultimate point guard, the guy whose only thoughts and actions during a game were, “What can I do to put us in a position to win?” In Blake Griffin they had a guy who redefined himself and his game, not that he’s by any means a complete superstar but a guy who is on a mission to do just that. His improvement in field goal and free throw shooting, as well as expanding his offensive repertoire from last season to this, has been nothing short of remarkable. Doc Rivers proved to be the perfect choice to lead the group, molding and motivating DeAndre Jordan into, arguably, the #1 defensive force in the NBA, bringing in the right pieces through free agency and developing a bench so that nearly anytime the Clips took to the floor, they were better than even money to win.

Some of the questions in that press conference for Paul and Griffin were necessary while others were highly questionable, but when I heard the last couple, I literally shuddered. “If Donald Sterling is still the owner, how does that affect you?” and “Do you think players will take some course of action?” The blank look on each of their faces illustrated that the topic, at that time, was the furthest things from their minds and they were stumped for answers – especially to such controversial, time-inappropriate questions. At the proper time, they certainly would have responses – intelligent, well-thought out ones at that. But, to ask them, right after they’d been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs? Really? Luckily, the Clippers’ PR guy had the sense to put an end to the conference right then. But not until everybody watching could feel how awkward the situation had become.

My initial thought was, “How insensitive can people be?” Imagine if the person being questioned were his or her child? Would they not want to intervene in that situation? How about if it happened to be the writers themselves - having to answer questions (10 minutes) after some similar negative event in their lives had occurred? Just because they’re grown men, can people not realize they still have emotions, especially after all the time and effort they’ve invested?  Keep in mind these same media members will be reminding fans of the “voids” in each player’s or coach’s career, e.g. how many “rings” they’ve won – when, every season, only one team will win it all. 

It’s almost like in golf when, after a major, the media can ask every golfer in the world, except one:

“How does it feel, not to have won a major, again?”

Of course, they’ll get over it

A Short Synopsis Heading Into Masters Weekend

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Everyone knows that the biggest thing on a television executive’s mind is ratings. The almighty ratings. No one knows what the exact definition of totally devastating news to a TV exec is but you’d be hard-pressed to top “Hey, did you hear, Tiger won’t be playing in this year’s Masters.” There just isn’t enough Kleenex. Sharp objects are removed (except for those tiny pencils).

But no executive ever rose to that exalted position without being able to pull himself (or herself) together – whether through motivational sayings, meaningful affirmations or deep diaphragmatic breathing. Soon the thought process becomes, “OK, so Tiger’s not playing. Let’s give fans a great show. At some point we won’t have Tiger anymore and golf will still continue (Oh, God, I just hope it doesn’t happen until after I’ve moved up or retired . . . or died). Before long undoubtedly, there would be positive attitudes abounding throughout the studio. After all, wasn’t it an executive who coined the phrase, “The show must go on?” (Actually, I don’t know who said it but if I had to guess, it was probably the owner who sold out the house and didn’t want to refund all that dough).

Then, Friday’s play concluded. Golfers all over the country were wearing their thumbs out sending texts to their weekend playing partners, “Did you see Lefty fly the green from one trap to the other – and back again? I told you my game and his had something in common.” That line lost all its humor when Mickelson missed the cut – by one stroke. No Tiger, no Phil. Ouch!

“Is there any good news?” asked the executive. At this point it would take unbelievable job security, e.g. the owner’s kid or someone with compromising pictures of people really high up in the organization, to bring up the fact that Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson also missed the cut. Heck, no wonder Bubba Watson has a three stroke lead.

If ever a company line was heard, it was in the evening wrap up show with Jim Nantz and David Feherty when the affable Feherty made the statement (with a straight face), “I love this leader board.” When people speak of this Masters (barring anything other worldly happening during the weekend), “A Tradition Like No Other” will definitely not be what’s attached to it, but rather:

“Sometimes people don’t notice the things others do for them until they stop doing it.”

Young Athletes with Millions Should Never Go Broke

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Posting this notice late (it was supposed to accompany the blog below last Friday). There will be a new blog on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Every weekend my wife and I are out of town watching our younger son, Alex, and the Cal State Monterey Bay basketball team. Blogs will run from Tuesday through Friday until his season ends. 

Whatever you thought of Vince Young as a football player, there’s no way he should be filing for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at 30 years of age. My life had barely begun when I was 30, yet as I complete my second year of retirement, my wife (retired one year) and I are living large. And neither of us ever had even a six-figure salary, much less were we paid the $34 million Young received. While Vince Young’s life is not anywhere near its end, he has put himself in quite an unenviable position. He currently faces hardships he never, in his wildest dreams, would have considered. Sadly, his case is not nearly the exception.

In a 2009 Sports Illustrated study, 78 percent of former NFL players are bankrupt or are undergoing several financial stressors within two years of retirement from football and 60 percent of former NBA players are bankrupt within five years of retirement. This probably proves two points: one, that these young guys are poorly advised, if not simply scammed and two, NBA players get paid more – because there’s no way anyone will ever convince me that they’re wiser than their gridiron peers.

I hope it takes something other than a fool or an egomaniac (because I don’t consider myself to be either) to quote himself, but in my 5/3/10 blog, I stated: “Why not give (future pro prospects) a curriculum to prepare them for the life they’re about to enter?  That’s exactly what the . . . coach is doing in practice.  How about offering them (and any other student at the university) courses such as money management (including philanthropy for those who hit the jackpot – or need a tax write-off and would like to give back), selecting advisers (mentors, agents, and, although, it could be a sensitive area, friends), dealing with the media, women’s rights (this should be mandatory in the wake of . . . front page stories), nutrition, maintaining (year-round) physical fitness, accepting the responsibility of being a role model and acting appropriately (whether they want to or not, athletes are role models) and, since (professional) players don’t have normal 8-hour work days, nor do they play year-round, a course in how to productively use “down-time” (from doing crosswords and sudokus to keep the mind active, to reading up on topics of interest, to tennis and golf)?  Many other course possibilities exist if people at the top would put their heads together.” For lack of a better term, call the course load: Striking It Rich Early.

Elite athletes would see the relevance of these courses (certainly more than they do accounting, world history and ultimate Frisbee). Attendance should still be monitored (as it is at most universities) so the “special admits” (the guys who wouldn’t have gotten into school based on their academic record alone) would be forced to attend. Undoubtedly, before too long, they would feel more comfortable in the classroom. Then, athletes like Vince Young (who may or may not have been a special admit at Texas) would be exposed to the numerous examples of others – like him and before him – who’d been misled, lied to and swindled. The goal would be to have athletes who lost considerable amounts of money serve as guest speakers, if not adjunct professors.

Maybe one bit of advice would be, “If you want something, go ahead and buy it, as long as you invest an equal amount of money in something safe, e.g. Roth IRA, with the stipulation none of the invested money could be touched without two signatures, the athlete and someone trustworthy.” Who would be considered trustworthy? The athletes can be taught that if they ever want to withdraw out of that (those) account(s), the other person on the account should be someone who would not sign. Maybe that idea is too over the top or impractical, but Vince Young and others like him probably wishes they’d done something like it back then. There’s absolutely no reason any 30-year old person should have gone through – should have been able to go through – $34,000,000. It’s posted that way for effect because $34 with a word following it doesn’t have the impact on your brain.

Young invested poorly, overspent and, generally, suffered from bad advice. Ed Butowsky, a Dallas financial adviser, who was shown in an ESPN Films documentary about pro athletes’ inability to properly manage their money, said of Young:

“He’s ultimately responsible for all his decisions, but the people around him should have taken better care of him.” 

Talent Is a Trait We All Can Admire Even If We Don’t Have Much of It

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

There are all kinds of talent.  Currently I’m listening to an audio book on Steve Jobs.  Although that’s not the type of wunderkind I dealt with during my working days, it still blows me away that people can be that much better than their contemporaries.  Our house guest, Albert Van Troba, is the beneficiary of incredible art skills.  Maybe the reason art has always amazed me is because I can’t even draw stick figures.  Same with sculpture.  And musical talent.

While I was a decent athlete, when I got into coaching at the college level, I got to see guys with sensational skills perform daily.  Not superior to mine, but superior to 99% of the population.  When I got to certain institutions, I’d witness and get to know world class athletes.  I’d marvel at Washington State and Oregon track and field performers but that was nothing compared to the overall programs at Tennessee and USC, be they football, basketball, baseball, tennis, track and field, volleyball, swimming, water polo – you name it – men’s or women’s.  Not to be outdone by the more prestigious schools, at Fresno State we had – in one year – David Carr, the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Melvin Ely, regarded as the best post player in the nation and a NBA lottery pick, Stephen Abas, Olympic silver medalist (stop and think for a moment, that meant he was the second best wrestler in his weight class in the world) and future PGA sensation Nick Watney (who’s possibly has made more money that all the others).  And a couple of years prior to the guys, Laura Berg, the zillion-time Olympic gold medalist starting centerfielder, matriculated at FSU.

Watching magnificent athletes is like witnessing poetry in motion.  Another form of artwork (see how I tied the opening together) is seeing perfect photos of these marvelous athletes.  Just as there is debate as to who is the greatest player in a sport, similar dialogue takes place with photographers.  Always in the discussion, often at the top, is Walter Iooss Jr.  While I was rummaging through old boxes, I came across the SI from December 12, 2011 in which Iooss is asked why he’s stayed so long in his profession.  His response is not surprising:

“. . . because I’m still fascinated by people who do things the rest of us can’t.”

People Speak of “Golfer’s Mentality,” Few Understand It

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Most kids grow up in the United States playing some kind of team sport, be it kindergarten soccer, little league baseball, pee wee football or some version of biddy basketball.  In central California the first time a youngster has an opportunity to play an organized individual sport (unless the parent is Earl Woods, Richard Williams or Phillip Agassi) is fourth grade with cross country and wrestling.

By that time, they’ve already been ingrained in “team sport culture” and whether we’ll admit it or not, part of that culture is hoping an opponent “screws up,” e.g. misses an open net kick, strikes out with the bases loaded, fumbles or misses a free throw – each at such a crucial time in the game that the only way their team would win is if the opponent made such a mistake.  As the kids grow up, games are often won by great performances, sometimes by the team, more often by an outstanding individual effort.  Yet there are still moments when the outcome will be decided by the opponent.  A clutch performance and “the good guys” are doomed, a mistake and we win!  

Back to the individual sport situation, golf in particular because there’s nothing (short of gamesmanship) golfers can do to hurt their opponent’s chances.  Sure, someone can win when their opponent snap hooks a drive OB on the final hole but in golf, the competition is between the golfer and the course, and, in some cases, the elements.

If anyone’s played a team sport, there’s bound to be a time when the only way your team can win is if the other guys mess up, whether you cause the errors or they’re self-inflicted.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, but most of the friends I have grew up playing team sports.  Anytime we’d go golfing, there would always be a trash talking or kidding which was used to get somebody off their game.  We couldn’t help but wish a putt was missed or an errant shot was made so as to keep the match close.  Another trait of team sport guys is that there needs to be something on the game “to make it interesting.”

The difference for the professional golfer is the hours, days, months and years of practice.  Most of them start so soon in life that their mindset is ingrained in them by their parents, coaches and/or mentors early on.  They are dependent on no one other than themselves.  No respectable coach would ever teach methods of distraction to a player.  First of all, golf has always been a gentleman’s game.  Besides, it’s much easier – and certainly more enjoyable – to attempt to master the game than it is to try to distract an entire field.

Call me naive but I don’t believe when a golfer is over a 5′ putt to win the match that his opponent is hoping he’ll miss.  He certainly realizes that if the putt drops, he loses but I truly think that every golfer has empathy for his fellow competitor.  He understands and appreciates someone who can calm his nerves, focus on what needs to be done and come up clutch.   Possibly it’s because the flip side is misery – and he has been there at sometime in his career.  So, when the putt drops, there’s admiration for the winner – even though it’s not the guy he hoped it would be.

I admit my feeling is solely based on observation – of listening to post match interviews and talking to the few golf pros I’ve known – but in a golfer’s world, the phrase that seems to apply is:

“There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Another Difference Between Golf and Team Sports

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

People who compete in golf have no one else to blame when they lose.  It’s just you against your opponent.  There are no substitutions, e.g. put in someone who putts better than you do when you have a tricky eight footer.  Conversely, you know when you win, you did it (with help from your caddie, coaches, medical staff, etc. but the point is, you did it.  You hit all the shots.

Fair and square.  Everybody plays by the same rules.  The difference is that in golf, the rules are sacred.  You don’t have other people blowing whistles for you or against you.  In other sports someone else enforces the rules and when the players disagree with the (paid) officials’ calls, they show their displeasure sometimes by yelling through mouthpieces and body language (football), other times by “showing up the referee” by running down the court or some other theatrics (basketball), or the ultimate – making a jackass out of yourself by screaming at the authority figure, nose-to-nose – with your hat on backward (baseball).

Because others enforce the rules in team sports, the players will do whatever they can to influence the officials’ calls.  Including flat out cheating.  One of the stories people have been talking about the past few days is the recent (absurd) “flop” by Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat.  The referee waved off a basket by the Spurs at a crucial spot in the game.  How much the outcome was affected is up for debate but the fact that, after watching the replay and seeing how boldly Bosh cheated, begins a debate on integrity vs. gamesmanship.

Dirk Nowitzki, one of the better floppers in the league, said he thinks flopping is part of the game.  While the NBA is naturally opposed to intentional illegal play – and because they won’t subscribe to Dirk’s philosophy – what can be done?  This year the league office has been doling out fines but, really, with how much the players make, and the fact the calls can’t be retroactive, the fines are like putting a bandaid on cancer.  Example: Chris Bosh is making $17,540,000 this year and was fined $5K for the dive he took.  That would be like fining a guy making $100,000 a grand total of $28.50.

Golf, on the other hand, expects the players to call fouls against themselves.  Purists were incensed that Tiger Woods didn’t disqualify himself when he took an illegal drop a month or so ago even though the move didn’t have much of an impact on the tournament and, if you believe Tiger, he didn’t realize what he did was against the rules.

Bill Bennett’s quote might just serve people from both sides:

“When what we want to do and what we ought to do are two different things, character is built in the choice we make.”

How Is an Athlete Defined?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

A few months ago I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine who, like most everybody our age, loves to play golf.  We were marveling about the guys on the PGA Tour.  In addition to shot making talent (with nearly every club in the bag), possessing nerves of steel (especially when there are millions of people watching), being able to get out of terrible trouble (with no worse than a bogey – and usually a par) and the ability to play well in any kind of weather, the overall mental – and physical – toughness golfers must have in their game labels them elite athletes.

Along came another buddy of mine (who’s never played golf and definitely has no plans to pick it up in the near future) asked what we were talking about and when he heard, I thought we might have to call 911 he became so apoplectic.  “What!!?!!  You’re calling golfers athletes?” he screamed.  After the other patrons were assured no physical harm was coming, I asked him who, exactly, he considered athletes.

His reply was similar to the one Justice Potter Stewart gave when he was asked to describe pornography: “I know it when I see it.”  We discussed the topic for hours that day/night and brought up a zillion examples – tennis players, wrestlers, bowlers, ping pong players, archers, swimmers, synchronized swimmers, dart throwers, long distance runners, shot putters (and the other throwers), high, long and triple jumpers, cheerleaders, chess and checker players, spelling bee championships, you name it.  If there was something in which score was kept or people competed, we added it to the argument.  After all was said and done (and, believe me, more was said than done), we called a truce.  I now realize that was four-five hours of my life I can never get back.

I recall reading a quote somewhere by Rhonda Rousey who became the first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo since its inception as an Olympic sport in 1992 as well as becoming the first UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.  I don’t necessarily agree with her definition but would never tell her that.  She has her definition and, until someone comes up with another, it’s illustrates what she does and her belief in it:

“If you don’t break a sweat doing it, it’s a skill.  If you do break a sweat doing it, it’s a sport.”

Life Lessons Can Be Found at Sports Illustrated

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Most people, myself included, read Sports Illustrated for the articles.  At least until the swimsuit edition arrives.  But other than that issue, pictures are secondary (after the first few pages) to the written word.  The last page has become an audition to see which writer comes as close in popularity to the readers as Rick Reilly.  It might be a stretch to compare him to John Wooden but there seems to be no outright favorite yet even though there have been several very good columns.  It seems that there are many Gene Bartows, Gary Cunninghams, Walt Hazzards, Jim Harricks, Steve Lavins and Ben Howlands (most of whom were outstanding coaches) at SI but no one like Coach Wooden.  For my money, there hasn’t even been a Larry Brown yet.

When SI first asked its readers which of a list of sports, other than football, basketball, baseball and possibly a couple others that currently escape my mind (which shows my particular tastes), they had an interest in, e.g. tennis, golf, auto racing, etc. my choices came down to tennis and golf.  It was a tough choice and if I were younger – and still playing tennis – that would have been what I’d have selected.  Since my back issues eliminated playing tennis about a decade ago, I chose golf.  Now I get additional articles on the sport as well as special extra editions.  A good friend of mine is a scratch (or close) golfer so those issues go to him, after I’ve briefly scanned them.

The one on the Masters that just came out intrigued me enough that as I perused it, the article with their panel of (three) experts (and one anonymous pro) caught my eye.  Opinions abound in sports and I’ve found (through experience) it’s always a good idea to hear what others who are deeply involved in a sport or topic think before you start popping off, or even discussing, issues so as not to look foolish.  Although I’ve read some interesting points in the past, little did I think I’d come across as introspective an explanation as Gary Van Sickle’s regarding Rory McElroy’s approach to his profession.  Van Sickle said of the young star:

“He’s not all golf like Tiger was.  Rory is going to take the time to enjoy his life.  He reminds me of Arnold Palmer a little there.  He’ll be streaky great, and he’s got other interests.  He’ll have a better quality of life, and if that means a couple fewer major wins in the long run, that’s all right.”

In addition to expertly defining the differences between the two golfers, the Van Sickle quote speaks volumes to most everybody who has a job.  If you’ve just entered the working world, those are your choices.  How do you approach your profession?  Do you love it so much that it consumes your every waking minute?  In the business world, that type of an employee is called a workaholic.  Those people often find an abundance of material wealth, yet, frequently, there is something missing in their life in another area of it.  In the field of sports, we call them single minded and driven.  Some (most?) people think a person’s life should be balanced.  We all remember the old adage “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” 

The times and people (and salaries/purses for sporting events/endorsement deals) have made that quote obsolete.  Now, it’s “get it while you can” and “the window of opportunity is open only so long.”  Maybe not so much in golf where some wise brilliant old golfer had the imagination – or told somebody else – to create a Seniors Tour.  Still, people don’t want to see extraordinary talent not pushed to the ultimate.  Usually parents and agents because 1) nearly all of them weren’t as athletically blessed and 2) they don’t have to do the heavy lifting.

Far too many people have altered the line so that it turned around the original message.  Maybe Rory McElroy has it right but for now it’s become:     

“All work and no play make Jack (or Jill) a champion.”

Sometimes a Dad Just Has to Brag

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Unless you’re a person like George Washington, Thomas Edison, Ludwig van Beethoven or someone else who’s given something to the world that will never be forgotten, your legacy is your kids.  Chances are you did your own thing for a while (longer for some of us than others) and then decided to settle down and do what your parents had been bugging you about.  Which included having kids.

I fit into that category, but was one of those who started settling down late.  I waited to get married until I was almost 39.  My wife, Jane, and I had two boys.  We never really thought about what we’d do when they grew up because we got so used to having them around.  Andy was the first to leave, attending UC-Irvine and graduating with a BA in four years.  As if that wasn’t amazing enough, he immediately found employment, albeit as a salesman whose job description contained a good deal of cold calling.  This meant walking past “No Soliciting” signs on many occasions and getting cursed out often by owners (once, in front of the guy’s five-year-old son).

The greatest aspect of that gig, though, turned out to be its training – which helped Andy with his current job as Sales Executive at a company named Booker which sells software, mainly to spas, health clubs, etc.  Keep in mind, what I know about technology can be put on the head of a pin – with a little room left over.  But the fact that I have a 24-year-old who’s living on his own (in Orange County), has a good paying job (with benefits and commissions), is debt-free (we followed wise advice and started early but he’s been smart too) absolutely thrills me no end.  He’s active in his fraternity (SAE), loves golf (which I wish I’d taken up earlier) and is living the dream.

Alex came along five years later and early on, it was evident that he had exceptional hand/eye coordination.  My last coaching job was at the high school level so understand I’m aware that parents think highly of their kids’ athletic prowess.  Alex, however, does have the numbers – and the awards – to back up my beliefs.  He finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of, not only his high school (Buchanan) but the entire Clovis Unified School District.  For that matter, he scored more than anybody who ever played in the Fresno Unified School District.  He finished as the sixth leading scorer in the history of the San Joaquin Valley.

Many thought he’d wind up at a Division I institution – including several scouts and professional coaches – but, while he had some D-I interest, at none of those schools did he feel comfortable.  He played very well during an April evaluation period and was contacted immediately by Cal State Monterey Bay.  An official visit followed that next weekend and he found a match.  His play this year was good enough (he averaged 13.4 ppg) for him to be named Freshman of the Year in the conference (he finished 6th in the league in total points scored) and, just yesterday, received notification that he was named to the Division II Bulletin All-Freshman team, the only player from the West region to be so named. He is the first Monterey Bay player to receive that distinction.

I know all of this sounds like I might throw out my shoulder patting myself on the back so hard, but as Satchel Paige once said:

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”

Many Dream of Coaching in College, Few Leave Satisfied

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned as a website that is well worth visiting.  One area of George’s site is a Q&A in which I ask him questions about himself – information that very few people are aware of – in order for people who don’t know him (as well as those who do) to better understand this complex individual.  To date there are somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty such segments.

A week or so ago George and I had lunch when he told me he wanted to video another set of vignettes in the near future.  As sort of a scoop for those of you who read this blog, I’ll let everyone in on one questions I plan to ask him during our next recording session.  It’s no secret that there are infinitely more people interested in coaching on the college level than there are positions.  Ask any head coach and he (or she) will tell you that on a seemingly daily basis they’re getting letters, phone calls, emails, recommendations – whatever type of communication available – from or about candidates for coaching positions.

Something I’ve noticed since I began in college coaching 40 years ago is that while coaching is such a coveted profession, an overwhelming majority who earn their living in the coaching business (on the Division I college level) are bitter when  their careers end – especially those who ascend to the position of head coach.  One would think that someone who finally reached the pinnacle, who got to grasp the brass ring, would be elated when their careers ended.  One would be wrong.  By a lot.

For example, of the ten head coaches for whom I worked, I’d say eight of them didn’t leave on their own terms.  While some get over it, others never do.  Bump into them – I’m talking about all former coaches now, not just my ten bosses – and when the conversation gets around to their career, they’ll either start to reminisce about when times were better or tell you (for the nth time) how such-and-such administrator/booster/player/assistant/you-name-it stabbed them in the back or didn’t give them enough time or didn’t understand how difficult the job was.

George wasn’t one of them, although his departure from coaching came after a retired professor ran a red light on the outskirts of USC’s campus and broadsided his car, not only forcing him into retirement but nearly ending his life.  How many more years George would have coached is unknown but with multiple broken ribs, a broken pelvis, broken back, punctured lung and numerous other injuries coaching took a backseat to . . . living.

A couple of former coaches with whom I’ve been reunited – if only via Sirius FM radio – are part of the small minority of D-I head coaches who got out of coaching on their own volition and are loving life.  It shows in their radio personalities and in their voices.  One is Bobby Cremins whom I first met when he was the head coach at Appalachian State and I was an assistant at Western Carolina.  For those of you who are unaware (meaning nearly everybody), these two schools are bitter rivals, Appie State on top of the mountain and WCU in the valley.  It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  We had some epic battles in the Southern Conference.  We got the better of them; they got the better of us.  Bobby did well enough to land the Georgia Tech job.  He did so well there, they ultimately named the floor at Alexander Coliseum after him, but not before firing him first.  He said he was going to take a year off before coaching again. That year became six – before he took the reins at the College of Charleston where he led them back to the glory days of legendary coach John Kresse before retiring to a life of radio and golf.

Another guy who had a nice run in the profession was Tom Brennan.  Tom led the University of Vermont into the NCAA tournament, a feat similar to climbing Mount Everest.  With mittens.  Barefoot.  I began my 30-year journey through nine D-I institutions at UVM and while I realize the situation was better for Tom than it was for us, it’s only because . . . it had to be.  In 1972 I went there as a grad assistant for $1,000 plus graduate school tuition.  Oh yeah, I was the only assistant.  Our head coach, Peter Salzburg, was in his first year and was hauling in $12,500.  Our entire budget, not including salaries and scholarships was $9,975.  I don’t care what kind of improvements they made, there should be a statue of Tom Brennan outside Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium.

When Bobby or Tom are on the radio, each has a wonderful sense of humor – usually the self-deprecating kind.  When they are pointing out interesting and insightful information, neither takes himself too seriously.  They enjoyed their head coaching successes, endured their failures (which were numerous since each took over absolutely dreadful jobs) and exited gracefully, moving on to where they are thoroughly enjoying their current gigs.  The other ex-coaches (whose agents got them radio and TV jobs) sound like they’re interviewing for their next job every time they express an opinion. Because they are.

Brennan, however, after hearing of lavish gifts heaped upon someone when he announced his retirement (I can’t recall the name now), joked that when he left Vermont, they gave him a barbeque.  “And I was thrilled!”

Since nothing good comes from stress – and no one’s getting out of life alive – probably the best way to view what’s going on in the tournament is to use the line retired Texas Tech football coach Sonny Dykes said:

“We are fixin’ to have more fun than a little.”