- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

Most coaches are involved in college basketball to save lives.
They are not necessarily in it to win games or garner shoe contracts or land quality face time on television. They are in it to turn young men into productive members of society.
You watch a college basketball game nowadays and you hear about the incredibly gifted social worker pacing the sidelines.
You hear what a thinker he is. You hear what a motivator he is. You hear what a special person he is. And blah, blah, blah.
You hear all these breathless comments as the social worker is stalking the sidelines, berating the referees, frothing at the mouth, belittling his players.
The juxtaposition is jarring, to say the least.
The social worker is a wonderful person with extraordinary insights into the human condition. Yet this wonderful person appears to be out of his mind at least 30-35 times a year.
The announcers who peddle this nonsense and they all do are as myopic and transparent as all too many of the social workers.
To be honest, coaches are mostly dull, self-absorbed sorts who function in an insulated, but demanding, environment that revolves around practices, games, preseason and postseason workouts and recruiting. No one understands them. No one feels their pain, certainly not the media. No one can relate to them, except another coach.
If a coach slips, especially in recruiting, he's liable to wind up on the street, golden parachute in hand, and it does not matter how many games he has won in his career. You could ask Bobby Cremins.
Recruiting selling yourself and your school to a teen is the lifeblood of college basketball. If you recruit well and tweak your non-conference schedule accordingly, you are almost to 20 wins and a trip to the NCAA tournament. The rest of it is incidental.
You might win the occasional game with a sharp coaching maneuver. You might save the occasional life, although really, that should be the job of parents and elementary and high school educators, and indeed, most coaches probably would resent it if you tried to save the lives of their college-aged offspring.
Despite myths to the contrary, coaches, being the control freaks that they are, orchestrate too much on the sidelines and conspire against the comfort level of their players.
They add hockey-like substitution patterns and their overwrought forms to a 40-minute game that already is disrupted enough by eight television timeouts and three part-time referees bent on proving they have no feel for the game. No wonder games often don't develop a rhythm and flow until the second half.
Here perhaps is the great paradox of sport: The athletes desperately want to play well, the coaches desperately want their athletes to play well, and the crowd desperately wants the home team to play well.
Yet to play well, an athlete must ignore the desperation, the tension all around him, in particular, the bug-eyed, stressed-out, ever-fearful person on the bench.
An athlete must remember that being afraid to make a mistake is the first mistake.
In this crazy den, the joy, unfortunately, sometimes appears to be lost on the participants, especially on the social workers.
Sometimes, after a coach has burned one of his precious timeouts, you wish you could step into the huddle to ask, "Is this really fun to you, because if it is, you would hate to see when you are miserable?"
True story: A few years ago, while sitting behind the bench of one of the teams at the Final Four, you saw the coach work himself into a frenzy after his team fell behind early, using every unprintable word imaginable on his players. The funny thing is, the priest sitting on the bench never blinked, the players eventually rallied and advanced to the championship game, and the coach eventually took a job in the NBA.
You could say it was a masterful coaching job. Or you could point out that the other team started missing the shots it was previously making, and sometimes, that's how the game is.
You also might point out that the coach's childishness did not play well in the NBA.

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