Sunday, June 10, 2012

2 comments Now Dana O'Neil Wonders Where the Character Coaches Have Gone

A few months ago Frank Deford wondered where the character coaches had all gone. Now Dana O'Neil wonders where the college basketball character coaches have gone with their zany antics. The answer she finds is that social media has taken the fun out of the coaches. Of course, social media has given the public more access to college coaches than ever before. She answers her own question when recalling previous "character coaches" and some of their hijinks as to why these coaches aren't around anymore. Simply put, these hijinks don't work well in a 24/7 news cycle where there is an immediate knee-jerk response to any comment or action that is deemed out of the ordinary. While Dana O'Neil blames the social media for the overreaction to off-the-cuff comments or off-color actions by college basketball coaches, she could probably take the word "social" out of that sentence and find the other party to blame. Do we really miss the days when we could ask, "Why don't schools hire coaches go get drunk at frat parties and then have pictures of this posted on the Internet?" Well, the answer is in the question.

When asked to explain why he called then-Missouri coach Norm Stewart "Francis the Talking Mule," Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs "apologized" thusly:

"I got Mr. Ed, the talking TV horse, mixed up with Francis the Talking Mule from the movies. I meant to say, 'mule,' because a mule is not a thoroughbred. A jackass is a thoroughbred, but a mule is a cross, I think, between a jackass and a horse. I think a mule is worse than a jackass."

That is very funny. I have to admit. Do I miss reading about comments like this from college basketball coaches? Not terribly. If a coach made a comment like this today it would be discussed at length with suggestions about whether Tubbs should be fired/hanged/celebrated until there was nothing left to discuss and Billy Tubbs had to apologize (for real) to Norm Stewart. There is no incentive for a coach to say something like this publicly.

Told he was likely to be fired during the season, little-known Southwest Minnesota State coach Pierre duCharme once had his team carry him to the bench in a casket.

One of the reasons he got fired, and I'm just guessing here, is he was too focused on being clever and not focused enough on putting a good team together.

John Chaney, as we all know by now, threatened to kill John Calipari.

We need more of this! We need more college coaches threatening to murder other college coaches! Even if the video is funny, I don't know if threatening to kill another coach is acceptable or a coach just showing his character. If a college basketball coach is going to threaten to murder another college basketball coach, then I am fine with both of these being muted.

And Bob Knight did, in fact, murder a chair.

Again, this was funny, but college basketball coaches (cue triumphant patriotic music) are supposed to be an example to their players and a head coach that slings chairs across the floor isn't setting an example. Bob Knight and John Chaney got away with actions like this because they are both Hall of Fame coaches. Obviously this type of behavior is not acceptable, but once a coach has built up enough equity with a school he can do things like this. Not to mention, this isn't being a character coach, it is being a huge baby and showing that coach has a temper problem.

Those, my friends, were the days, the days when characters -- uninhibited, unafraid and unapologetic -- ruled the sidelines.

They make good stories. That's for sure. I have a feeling in 20 years sportswriters will be talking about how they miss the character coaches that were running the sidelines 20 years ago. Maybe our society has become less accepting of people who say or do the wrong thing in public, but I'm not sure outside of being entertaining any of these comments or actions served a point. I wouldn't disagree the 24/7 news cycle has sucked the life out of coaches making crazy statements, but I am not sure this is a bad thing. I wish coaches could say and do what they wanted to more often, but threatening to commit murder and the tossing of objects doesn't really fall under the heading of "being a character" in my opinion. Amusing comments are fun to talk about but unapologetic coaches on the sidelines isn't always a good thing.

They made the game of college basketball just that: a game.

Now it is just a business run by greedy coaches who choose to coach their team without threatening attempted murder or throwing objects across the room. I miss the days when coaches called each other "asses" and got into confrontations in the press room. I know this is an example the parent of a player would want his/her son to follow.

The whole "the college game has become stale and is now a business" schtick has gotten old to me. I'm over it. College basketball isn't a game and it never really has been a game. It is a business and universities generally expect their employees to have the proper decorum. Universities don't accept this "unmuted" behavior from players, why should they accept it from the coaches? Would Cody Zeller be showing "character" if he threw a chair onto the floor? How about if James Michael McAdoo threatened to kill Elijah Johnson? Is that him not being muted? Let's suppose Scoop Jardine called Tru Holloway "a horse's ass," is that something considered acceptable? Of course not. Yet, Dana O'Neil thinks this behavior is acceptable, and even amusing, for grown men but we would expect college students to be better behaved. That doesn't make sense to me.

When, in 2006, Chaney quietly rasped Frank Sinatra's "excuse me while I disappear," it wasn't just the Temple coach who was headed off to retirement; he was taking his era into the sunset with him.

It was an era of fearless and unfiltered coaches, men who could be a little controversial without fear of recrimination or termination;

Jim Boeheim seems to say quite a few things without having to worry about being fired. He has equity built up with Syracuse University, so he can get away with more.

men who could be a lot off color without worry of a social media firestorm.

Of course there wasn't a hell of a lot of social media prior to the 2000's. So Bob Knight didn't have to worry about his chair throwing incident being dissected on Twitter or Facebook. Social media is at fault for publicizing any coach's blowups, but the sports media is responsible for blowing it out of proportion.

"I couldn't wait to hear what was going to come out of Lefty [Driesell]'s mouth or see what was going to happen with the family feud between Wimp Sanderson and Sonny Smith," said former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who once memorably painted his chest orange in support of the Lady Vols basketball team.

Bruce Pearl painted his chest and cheered on the Lady Vols basketball team in 2007, after John Chaney retired in 2006 when Dana O'Neal is claiming all of the character coaches left the college game for good. I feel like when a writer is trying to prove a point by nailing down a timeline that writer should stick to the timeline. I'm old-fashioned that way.

It's not that there aren't characters in the game anymore. There are plenty. It's just that their personalities and their convictions have been muted.

Here comes my typical response from a sportswriter about an athlete/coach who has been muted from saying anything interesting...who is also at fault for taking the smallest comment and blowing it all out of proportion? (all together now) The sports media!

The sports media are the group of people who take a comment by Ozzie Guillen about Fidel Castro, talk about it for a few hours, chew it up and then spit it out into a bigger issue than it probably should be. The 24/7 news cycle is responsible for sucking the life out of athletes and coaches to where there is absolutely no incentive to come close to speaking their mind on an issue. This news cycle takes place on Twitter and Facebook, but also on sports television shows on ESPN...which not ironically is Dana O'Neil's employer. Creating a controversy over a coach or athlete's statements is how ratings are drawn. So for a sportswriter to complain an athlete or coach has had his personality and convictions muted is very ironic to me.

"If those guys then had social media monitoring their every move and every word, just think about that," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.

I wonder if Dana O'Neil thinks Bob Huggins is being a "character" by being arrested for DUI? If she appeared on "First Take of Cold Pizza" or whatever that show is called now and was asked to comment on Bob Huggins being arrested for DUI, would she say, "He was just being a character and I'm glad his personality wasn't being muted" or would she come down hard on him? I'm guessing she would come down hard on his being arrested for DUI.

Let's also say Dana O'Neil was asked to comment on two college coaches almost getting into a fight after a game on "First Take of Cold Pizza" you think in 2012 she would say, "I miss the days when two coaches could almost get in a fight. Everything is so corporate now. I have no issue with Roy Williams threatening to beat Bill Self's head in. Roy Williams is just showing his convictions and showing some fire." I would say she would absolutely not say this. I am betting, despite her wistful tone about this era, she would come down hard on both coaches for their actions that led to death threats and a possible fight.

Marquette coach Buzz Williams was called out for being disrespectful and immature. His crime? Celebrating a Marquette win at West Virginia by two-stepping to "Country Roads."

I thought it was funny. I also did an Internet search for "Buzz Williams immature disrespectful" and it seems like many of those who called Buzz Williams these terms were WVU fans or commenters who don't like Marquette or Buzz Williams. These people are biased anyway about Williams, so really their opinion should not mean too much. Of course WVU fans aren't going to like Buzz Williams dancing on their logo, but these people don't represent majority public opinion. The first time Dana O'Neil cites the opinion of anonymous commenters as proof of something should be the last time she should cite anonymous commenters opinions as proof of something.

Iowa's Fran McCaffery was vilified for slamming a chair in a huddle, even though his frustration was directed at his team.

Coach K slams things in the huddle all the time without being fined or vilified in any way. Frank Martin gets in the face of his players on a frequent basis. So this vilification of McCaffery doesn't extend to every college coach and perhaps isn't indicative of how every college coach who slams something down in a huddle would be treated.

"I just think," Pearl said, "there are less people who can take a joke anymore."

Then Bruce Pearl excused himself and continued his attempts to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for "most recruiting violations committed in a one hour span."

I apologize for that comment, I was just being unmuted. It turns out Bruce Pearl wasn't committing NCAA recruiting violations, he was just being a character and showing his personality. Man, people can't take a joke.

Larry Eustachy's entire career was derailed because of a camera phone. Ultimately more good came out of that than bad -- he was forced to confront his alcoholism -- but there's no doubt this fireable offense wouldn't have been public knowledge before the world was filled with cell phone-carrying paparazzi.

But again, through his alcoholism Eustachy was showing just what a character he is. There's nothing wrong with that, right? Remember, Dana O'Neil wants to see the day again where Larry Eustachy's alcoholism would not be public knowledge. A day where the camera phone would not be at this party and Eustachy could show his personality in that setting. It appears this is what she wants.

"Anybody can tweet something or post something, whatever it is they do, and it takes a life of its own," Huggins said. "It doesn't have to be true and, for the most part, you don't even know who did it. It's a very cowardly way of doing business, but it doesn't matter. It can ruin your career."

If something isn't true, then it would come out as not true. I'd like to know how many coaches have had their career ruined by something that has been posted on Twitter that wasn't true. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any coaches who have had their career ruined by false accusations on Twitter. Perhaps Bob Huggins should focus more on coaching his team and upgrading his on-court wardrobe from track suits to a shirt and tie than making up some boogeyman in the form of Twitter that will cost a coach his/her career. To my knowledge, this has never happened and probably never will. These false accusations would have to be proven by a reliable witness or authority (like a respected sportswriter) before a university would take action. WVU isn't going to fire Bob Huggins because some random guy on Twitter accuses Bob Huggins of a transgression. There would have to be some sort of proof.

Mix all of that with skyrocketing salaries, enormous pressure, a react-first-ask-questions-second society and uneasy -- or even insecure -- administrators who aren't willing to ride out a storm with a coach, and you've got justifiable paranoia.

If a school is paying a large amount of money to a coach that school would probably rather the coach's view on immigration or excessive hatred for another coach not be made public. The idea Dana O'Neil is accusing administrators of react-first-ask-questions-second behavior while wistfully recalling the days of threatened murder and chairs being tossed is too rich for my blood.

"Mr. Knight, before we make a knee-jerk reaction, why did you throw that chair across the floor? We are sure you had a good reason and would never want to come to a knee-jerk conclusion based simply on the fact you tossed a chair across the floor. We're sure you had a good reason. We don't want to react to the situation, so tell us how you felt as you tossed the chair."

Chaney gave more than one Temple president pause. He stoked unpopular fires and never backed down from a fight, railing against Prop 48 and championing disadvantaged kids.

There are coaches who still do these type of things. This type of behavior from coaches has not disappeared.

His stances weren't always smart or popular -- in 2005 he admitted to using a player he called a "goon" to commit hard fouls against Saint Joseph's, leaving John Bryant with a broken arm.

I agree. We do need more coaches who will have one of his players intentionally break the arm of an opposing player. College basketball is so buttoned-up and corporate now. We need to get back to the days when basketball coaches would intentionally hurt an opposing-student athlete. Those were the good old days for sure.

But Chaney was a legend, a man who had earned the chance to make a few mistakes by building a Hall of Fame résumé. He had equity with his administration.

This is an important lesson to be learned. If you are a Hall of Fame caliber coach, you get more leeway to screw up. Perhaps, and I'm just eyeballing here, the fact Knight and Chaney got away with so many things had something to do with their success as a coach?

Tim Miles is one of the few today who's decided to roll the dice.

And here I thought the era of coaches with character ended in 2006 when John Chaney retired. I heard that somewhere, but just can't remember where I heard that.

"Coaches would say, 'Are you nuts?'" Mile said. "And I'd say, 'Well, yeah, I guess I am.' But when I started out, I said I'm going to lose a lot of games, but I'm not going to lose my sense of humor.

Good luck this year Nebraska basketball! You may lose a lot of games this year, but Tim Miles will be a hoot to watch coach!

That's what college basketball is about, right? Fun? Throwing chairs, saying whatever the hell you want and setting a bad example for your team.

Unfortunately, fun is rarely a descriptor for college athletics these days. There is still entertainment in the game thanks to ridiculously talented players, but it's not that same carefree joy.

I don't know. I sort of enjoy the same carefree joy I've always felt watching college basketball. I think there are a few coaches who make it fun to watch them coach and I don't necessarily need them to roll up in the gym in a casket or hear what they truly think about Prop 48 to be entertained.

Some, of course, might argue that basketball is a business and that there is little to smile about in a cutthroat profession that values winners, not entertainers.

There's certainly some truth to that.

Yeah, there is some truth to that. Sometimes, not too often, college administrators hire a coach in order to win games and begin building a great program. Other times these college administrators don't care about success, they just want to be entertained a little bit, not by the success of a great basketball team, but by the silly antics of the coach for that team. What's the fun in paying a guy six figures to coach your team if he is only going to win games and graduate players? John Wooden was one of the greatest coaches of all-time, but his name reflects how exciting he was as a coach.

"What's our game lost? It's the same as what our society has lost," Huggins said. "Think about it. It used to be that the leaders of the country said what was on their mind regardless of whether it was popular.

Naturally, social media is to blame for this as well. If Mitt Romney calls Hispanics "a bunch of dirty Mexicans" that is just his opinion and really we should respect his opinion, right? What would a statement like that have in determining Romney's ability to be President of the United States? Why can't Barack Obama tell all the Republicans "to go fuck themselves?" He's just speaking his mind like any leader should be able to do.

I love how, as usual, the media's culpability in this situation is completely glossed over. It is the fault of our country's leaders that they can't speak their mind anymore. These leaders without any prodding from the media have become boring and unable to truly speak their mind because they are afraid of what will be said on Twitter about them. The leaders aren't scared of negative media coverage, no way, it is the normal citizens on social media they are concerned about blowing a story out of proportion. Let's ignore the fact if our leaders did speak their mind and something was considered "controversial" the media would eat it up for a minimum of 24 hours and beat the leader who spoke his mind into submission until he was forced to resign.

Now we're all so guarded in everything we say. Nobody takes a stand.

This is absolutely not true. People still take a stand.

We've become a very vanilla society. Why would sports be any different?"

I know. All of the fun has been sucked out of sports because there aren't any college coaches anywhere in the United States who speak their mind or stand for anything. I'm not even sure why sports are so popular at this point when there aren't any characters roaming the sidelines. Haven't people heard the actual sporting events aren't the exciting part of sports, but it is the coaches who are the real entertainment?

In the next two weeks, I want a college coach to say that Title IX is stupid and women are intellectually and physically inferior to men. $100 says an ESPN columnist writes a column about how this college coach should be fired or reprimanded in some fashion for these statements. If Dana O'Neil really wants to know what has a bigger effect on athletes and coaches not speaking their mind, she should blame the state of sports journalism as much as she blames social media.

I'm a bit disappointed in this article, I think Dana O'Neil is one of the better college basketball columnists. I think she can do much better than this. She's placing too much blame on the wrong people.


rich said...

men who could be a lot off color without worry of a social media firestorm.

The 24/7 news cycle is responsible for sucking the life out of athletes and coaches to where there is absolutely no incentive to come close to speaking their mind on an issue. This news cycle takes place on Twitter and Facebook, but also on sports television shows on ESPN

When Antrel Rolle said the Giants would win the super bowl, ESPN ran a front page article on it, then they discussed it on SportsNation, then on Around the Horn, then Pardon the Interruption.

It was amazing.

Then you have things like Gronk going out and partying after the SB loss and it becomes a story for an entire week.

Tebow changes his dog's name, front page news.

Fans love when players talk candidly, but in a world where being outraged about something seems to be the "it" thing to do, most athletes just give canned responses to things.

I'd love to hear Rondo come out and complain about the shitty officiating or Parise to come out and tell the media to suck his dick for crowning the Kings too early. But it'll never happen because everything athletes do now is huge news.

Even when they think they're talking privately, in an age of cell phone cameras, any critical thing they say will be recorded and ultimately hurt their image and ability to make money in advertisments.

Remember Shaq at the bar? That got filmed. Kobe walking down the street talking about Shaq? That got filmed.

I wonder if Dana O'Neil thinks Bob Huggins is being a "character" by being arrested for DUI?

Two years ago, Huggins walked onto the court of an NCAA tournament game and hugged one of his injured players as he laid on the court.

You don't even have to go that far back: Pat Knight went off on his team this year and got flogged by the media over it.

The media is just terrifyingly hypocritical. They want more character coaches because they add a sense of flair to the game, but then they'll throw them under the bus and wonder why coaches aren't doing that kind of stuff anymore.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I don't blame coaches/athletes for giving canned responses for the reasons you named. There's no incentive to say anything somewhat controversial. The same thing goes for a coach. If a coach says something in any way controversial, it will end up discussed for 24 hours on ESPN and everyone passes judgment. Easier just to keep your mouth shut.

That was a great moment when he hugged Da'Sean Butler. Butler was such a great player and with him being a senior and having the knee injury...great moment. I guess that was showing character.

I forgot a/b the Pat Knight comments. He was trying negative reinforcement and it ended up working really well...enough to get his team in the tourney. Of course, people questioned whether he could keep his job after those comments, but that's just typical.

What the media wants is more coaches to say stupid shit to it makes it easier to write and do their jobs. They want character coaches so they can pass judgment on these coaches, whether positive or negative. If the coaches don't say anything to them in an interview it doesn't make for a very interesting quote. That's mostly what they care about.