- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Never mind term limits for elected officials. How about term limits for college basketball coaches?
In the aftermath of the Nolan Richardson meltdown, it seems like an idea whose time might have come. Whenever a coach says he's the "best thing" about a university, as Richardson did last week, he probably has stayed too long. Nolan was at Arkansas for 17 years long enough for him to lose his grip on reality, to get so over-inflated with self-importance that he considered himself above criticism, even in the midst of a losing season.
We're seeing more and more of these messy endings in college hoops. Three years ago, it was John Thompson, in Year 27 at Georgetown, hitting the wall in early January and simply walking away. Two years ago, it was Bob Knight, in Year 29 at Indiana, flying off the handle one too many times and losing his job. Last year it was Denny Crum, in Year 30 at Louisville, going through two months of very public unpleasantness before finally agreeing to a buyout. And just a couple of weeks before Richardson's infamous news conference, we had Gale Catlett, in Year 24 at West Virginia, pulling a Thompson, as it were, and calling it quits.
In what other sport have we seen this kind of behavior? Can anyone think of a football coach in recent years who has behaved as defiantly as Richardson and Knight, who has all but begged to be fired? Can anyone think of a baseball manager who packed it in when there were still games to be played?
It must be something about college basketball and what it does to coaches who stay in one place longer than perhaps they should. They start thinking they're bigger than the program, bigger than the university, bigger than the game itself. Either that or they get burned out and can't or won't let go. Either way, it has led to some regrettable exits by some coaches who probably deserved better.
So why not term limits? Why not cycle these basketball coaches out after a decade or so to keep them from becoming too entrenched, too all-powerful, too much like Louis XIV? Most coaches do their best work in their first 10 or 15 years at a school, anyway, so how risky could it be? Thompson's last Final Four was in '85 his 13th season. Knight's last title was in '87 his 16th. Crum's last title (and Final Four) was in '86 his 15th. Richardson's last Final Four was in '95 his 10th. See what I mean?
I look at the miracles Knight is working at Texas Tech this year, and I find myself wishing his bosses at Indiana had run out of patience with him about 10 years sooner. Bobby's doing his best coaching job in ages with the Red Raiders, turning a down-and-out program into an NCAA tournament team in just one season. But if he'd stayed at Indiana, continued on as the Resident Demigod, he likely never would have experienced such a rebirth.
So there's another argument for term limits. Not only would they keep egos in check, they would rejuvenate coaches. What if Lefty Driesell had been forced to look for other work after completing his 15th season at Maryland in '84 instead of getting pulled under by the Len Bias undertow two years later? (Let's face it, the Terps had kind of plateaued under Lefty by then; they hadn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since '75.) Maybe he would have built the UCLA of the East someplace else. Hey, don't laugh. He won 29 games last season at Georgia State.
George Halas, the old coach of the Bears, might have been the first to see the logic in this. Halas was convinced you should never coach more than a decade at a time. At that point, he figured, the players had heard everything you had to say, all your motivational gimmicks. So he coached in 10-year blocks (1920-29, '33-42, '46-55 and '58-66) 40 years in all and still had enough left in 1963, at the age of 68, to win one last NFL championship.
Eddie Sutton's career has followed a similar path in college basketball, and it has served him well. He put in 11 years at Arkansas, left to go to Kentucky, and has now coached for 12 at Oklahoma State. Perhaps that's why he's still turning out terrific teams and hasn't yet taken leave of his senses.
My nominee for the Next Coach To Go Over The Edge, by the way, is Cincinnati's Bob Huggins. Earlier this season, Huggins went off on the Bearcats' fans because a game against Charlotte wasn't sold out. (Horrors.)
"What the [heck]," the Cincinnati Post quoted Huggins as saying. "There's never been a coach here who's been more visible in the community, who's done more things in the community. If they don't want to come, bleep 'em. Really. Bleep 'em."
Huggins disputed the quote, but we all know how that goes. Anyway, keep an eye on him. He might be ready to blow. He's been at Cincy for 13 years now, which is about as long as John Chaney was at Temple when he shook his fist at UMass' John Calipari and said, "I'll kill you." Hugs could probably use a change of scenery for sanity's sake. Where are term limits when you need 'em?

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide