Saturday, April 14, 2007

Coaches keep climbing

On the eve of the national championship game between Florida and Ohio State, the biggest story in the media was not about a rematch of the football national championship game. Nor was it remarking on the incredible success of UF's athletic program. The biggest story was whether or not Billy Donovan would leave UF to take the coaching spot at Kentucky. The man was on the verge of joining the likes of Coach K and John Wooden in winning consecutive national titles. And yet, people were talking about him leaving?

Since the off-season began, there have already been 37 coaching moves in D-I men's basketball, and there are still 10 open spots available as of tonight. By the summer, there will be in upwards of 50 head coaching moves, untold numbers of assistant coaching moves, and perhaps the same or even more moves in the oft-uncovered women's basketball ranks.

The theme of this college basketball season was about building loyalty and commitment of young college freshmen to improve the college game and spend at least a year in a high-level academic environment. There is a renewed emphasis in college basketball on a commitment to a place and a community, and ultimately an education.

Although they are certainly paid professionals, college coaching should echo that emphasis. The coach acts as the prime liaison between the athletic team and the wider community that supports it. The coach should act as a role model for the values of commitment and endurance. And hopefully, the coach should be a teacher of the game of basketball, the values of hard work, and the trust of teamwork.

I don't believe that a constant personal goal of achieving financial fortitude, personal success, and ultimately "getting the top" instills the sort of values that we want to bring to young, impressionable soon-to-be millionaires.

Now I know that it can be very hard for someone like Gregg Marshall to turn down a $500,000 payraise, but, on the other hand, most college coaches end up moving just for the sake of moving. Administrators and AD's are just as guilty for their trigger-happy approach in their end-of-year firings. Out of 300+ D-I programs, only West Virginia, Florida and a few Ivy's ended their season with a victory. But even an NIT championship wasn't enough to keep Beilein in Morgantown. Fans and administrators need to realize that a coaching change is usually just a cosmetic change covering up a wider problem. Or maybe we need to all just lower our expectations a little bit across the board.

When asked on a local Charlotte sports network why he was still at Davidson after 18 years, Bob McKillop didn't say anything about NCAA tournaments. He didn't mention the fact that he has a built a program that went from no conference affiliation in 1989 to a back-to-back SoCon title winner with one of the best freshman shooters in the country. He talked about the short walk to work. He talked about raising his kids in one house and getting to coach their Little League baseball games in suburban Charlotte.

For McKillop, being a coach is his job. Making money just comes with the territory. Why worry about climbing that ladder, he claims, when it means that you have to sacrifice so much of what it means to be a coach, a community member, a father and husband.

Coaching and teaching young people is one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks that an individual can undertake. Every year you get to walk into an 18-year olds home and tell them about the joys of college life and basketball. Every year you get to watch another young person for whom you have been a surrogate father walk across a stage and receive a diploma for all of their hard work over the last four years. You will know that you had an impact in that young person's life.

But for so many college coaches, they are already packing their bags and moving into new offices by the time that May rolls around. That is the case for Winthrop's coach Gregg Marshall and probably UNCC's Bobby Lutz as well.

Coach Marshall, I hope that you enjoy your time in Kansas. I hope that your two kids and your wife can make this transition with you. You told the papers about how hard this decision was, but I guess that the paycheck made it a little bit easier than the decisions that you almost made in the past few years. I promise you that all of us around here in Charlotte wish you and your ego a happy flight.


C. Daniel said...

well played, sir.

Anonymous said...

Davidson, I believe, was D-I in McKillop's first year. The Wildcats weren't in a conference however. Look at the schedule. Am I incorrect in believing this? Do you know something that I don't?

WB said...

Davidson has never left D-I. Davidson just left the Southern Conference in the mid-late 1980s, and did not get back into a conference until joining the Big South for a miserable 2 years in that crap conference....then rejoining the Southern Conference in 1993 or so.

wibryan said...

Very true. I knew that something funky went on back then when I was in single digits. Per your comments and the media guide, Davidson left the SoCon in '88 (Hussey's last year). They joined the Big South in 1990 and then the SoCon in 1992.

Thanks for the corrections.