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Original Issue

Get Outta Here!

It's time, the author says, to put college basketball coaches in their place

I've finally had it with college basketball coaches. They've pushed me over the edge with their out-of-control egos and their childish tantrums. In fact I've reached the point where I feel coaches are detracting from my enjoyment of the game much more than they're enhancing it, so the time has come to simply bar them from the sidelines during games.

Now I know this might sound absurd, but that's only because the coaches, in concert with their shameless apologists. TV analysts—many of whom are former coaches—have done a thorough job of brainwashing us into believing that the college game would wither and die without their stalking the sidelines. But that's a bunch of hooey. I've seen enough pickup games to know that the majority of college players are perfectly capable of playing entertainingly and skillfully without anybody braying at them from the bench.

I've reported on college basketball for more than 30 years, and no trend has been more relentless than the growth in unsportsmanlike conduct by the very individuals who are hired, you would think, to teach kids sportsmanlike conduct. I used to cover Adolph Rupp, who won 876 games and four NCAA championships in his 41 seasons at Kentucky. He was known for his profanity and his demanding ways. Yet on the sidelines he would never do more than stand up every now and then and stomp his foot. By today's standards Rupp would be about as controversial as Floyd the Barber.

This season the college coaching, ahem, profession has sunk to a new nadir. I can't remember a season in which there were as many examples of unacceptable behavior by so many supposed character builders. Xavier's Pete Gillen and Cincinnati's Bob Huggins engaged in an ugly shouting match on the floor at the conclusion of a game, and Todd Bozeman of Cal and Lute Olson of Arizona did the same during a game. Indiana's Bob Knight was accused of kicking one player—his own son—and head-butting another. At a postgame press conference Temple's John Chancy threatened to kill John Calipari of Massachusetts. The lowlight film rolls on and on.

In an ideal world the coaches would deal forthrightly with the problem at their annual convention during the Final Four and subject themselves to tough new standards of conduct. But elephants will fly before that happens. Instead the coaches prefer to whine that they are getting shafted by the referees, their bosses and, of course, the media. They insist that they don't get enough respect for the good work they do as teachers and role models and social workers. So since they obviously aren't going to police themselves and since the majority of athletic directors, university presidents and conference commissioners turn into jellyfish whenever a big-time coach goes berserk, the time has come for someone to apply some restraints. That someone is me.

Under my plan coaches would still be teachers. However, their work would be confined to practices. During games they could either watch from a seat up in the stands or on TV. Any coach caught sending plays to the bench would be barred from practices before the next game.

A team would be run by its captain, who would call timeouts, make substitutions and remind teammates of the game plan. Without coaches screaming at them and prodding them, players would learn to think more for themselves, trust their own judgment and rely on their teammates—in other words, develop traits that college athletics is supposed to instill in young people. Basketball games would be like classroom exams, their outcome dependent on how well students have learned their lessons instead of how adroitly they had been cajoled or how witheringly they had been browbeaten from the sidelines.

And I'm absolutely certain we would see improvement in officiating. Without coaches to distract them, officials would be able to concentrate more on the action. Also reporters would have to focus more on the players than on the coaches. Games would become, say, Duke versus Indiana instead of Coach K versus the General.

You don't think my scheme will work? Well, think again. On Feb. 25, 1975, with Princeton holding a 35-29 lead over Virginia in Charlottesville and 14:55 remaining in the second half. Tiger coach Pete Carril was ejected. His assistants were all out recruiting, so Carril put his team in the hands of substitute Peter Molloy, who guided Princeton to a 55-50 win. For the record, Molloy also played two minutes and scored two points.

The way I see it, my plan would be good for everyone, including coaches. They would still make a decent living, recruiting and doing their beloved teaching and social-working, but they would be spared much of the stress of the current job. All the rest of us—players, officials, administrators and fans—would be able to enjoy the action without having to endure all the ugly displays of ego that now mar far too many games.

So everybody would be happy. Well, almost everybody. I still haven't figured out how to help those unfortunate souls in the stands who would find themselves seated near the coaches.