News - Coaches are blue, Knight sees red

For college coaches, time to update resumes

It’s not their program, it’s my program, Lefty Driesell says pointedly, explaining why his Georgia State Panthers don’t sport mustaches and earrings. End of story.

And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between college ball and the NBA. Pro basketball is about the players. They’re the ones with the $14 million guaranteed yearly salaries. There are fewer than 350 men on NBA rosters, and fewer still who are skilled enough to sustain a career of more than three years at the professional level. So when push comes to shove, it isn’t the players who are going to be dumped; they’re scarce enough to find and hang onto as it is.

In contrast, the teenagers optimistically (or is that euphemistically?) referred to as student-athletes by the NCAA public relations gang are spending less and less time on campus. The four-year player is as rare as the Hope diamond. But even if that weren’t the case, even if every recruit stayed long enough to understand the game mentally while growing into his lanky body, he would still be a transient, gone after four years. In the amateur ranks, it’s the coach who has the long-term contract. It’s his name in lights.

But as last week’s mass of head coach firings proves, the college game isn’t what it used to be. Athletic directors whose teams haven’t been to the Sweet 16 lately will soon be conducting bake sales to finance all those contract buyouts owed to canned coaches.

(Note to those of you calling for Pat Summitt to take over Tennessee’s men’s program: What makes you think she’d consider that a promotion?)

At the other end of the spectrum are A.D.s scrambling to lock up coaches with star potential, like Georgia Tech’s supernova Paul Hewitt, who has agreed in principle (don’t you love the irony of that expression in this field?) to an extension on his five-year contract. (Sorry, there’s no prize for having had Louisville in the Rick Pitino pool.)

Meanwhile, in Lubbock, Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers hires his old buddy Bob Knight, which is the only way the 60-year-old problem-child coach was going to become employed again. The Red Raiders men’s basketball program has long been overshadowed by the women’s team, and what self-respecting male A.D. could be expected to put up with that?

Knight’s aberrant behavior (unbelievably termed “antics” by some) has been dissected ad nauseum since Indiana fired him last fall. Everyone is fixated on the old choking incident caught on film. Ha! They should have been at the famed Pocono Mountain Basketball Camp in the late 1960s, when Knight’s message to the campers was, If there’s no blood on the floor, you aren’t really trying. The boys were anywhere from 8 to 16 years old.

(Here’s an interesting tidbit: Texas Tech’s version of the University of Texas’s “hook-‘em-‘Horns” hand salute is “guns up.” I don’t even want to think about Bobby Knight with a gun.)

Clearly, Knight is a man with a problem, but you wouldn’t know it from the support he enjoys among the college coaching fraternity. Perhaps queasy about their own job security — all except Georgetown’s Craig Esherick, who has a law degree to fall back on — they cite the excellent graduation rate of Knight’s players and his reputation for running a clean program. No question, these are two laudable and important achievements. Whether they are worth the mental and physical abuse Knight heaps on his players is an issue other coaches and his new Texas Tech employers do not address.

“He’ll be successful because he knows how to motivate,” says Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, without blinking.

That might have been true a generation ago, but even in Texas, Knight’s dog won’t hunt this time around. Now that Knight has been called out, no player — or player’s family — is going to be afraid to raise a stink when Knight starts kicking and grabbing. Especially if the Red Raiders aren’t winning. It may have escaped notice, but Indiana hadn’t been doing a lot of that by the time Knight was fired. Coincidence? Hardly.

“I’m not right all the time,” Knight said at his Texas Tech introduction last Friday. “When it comes to this game, I’m right most of the time.”

Watch out for that blood on the floor.

Hot shots: What’s hot in Atlanta sports
Is that a promise? — Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, announces, “I’ll never talk again,” claiming that every time he opens his mouth, “all that’s printed is lies.”

2B or not 2B-- Chuck Knoblauch fires his last wild throw for the foreseeable future; the Yankees have moved him to left field.

650 — Number of people hospitalized each year after slipping on doggy-do on the sidewalks of Paris. Just one more reason why Chinese Olympic organizers think the International Olympic Committee should choose Beijing as the site of the 2008 summer Games instead.

20th — Where Mario Lemieux ranks on the NHL’s goal-scoring list so far this season. Everyone ahead of him has played in more than twice the number of games.

For the last time — There is no new strike zone. Major league umpires are simply being asked to call the strike zone that’s been in the rule book all along.

Fantasy league — Which Jason Williams would you rather have on your team: the Sacramento Kings’ guard or the Duke Blue Devils’ guard???

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