- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

In all the hoopla we’re hearing this week about the Final Four teams and their coaches — Georgetown’s John Thompson III, UCLA’s Ben Howland, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Florida’s Billy Donovan — let’s remember one thing:

Too many coaches at any level, except perhaps the smallest, aren’t real people. They’re tunnel-vision types whose world is reduced to one tiny aspect: win the next game, sometimes at any cost.

Yes, I respect the hard work and dedication these people put in. I just wonder whether all that effort couldn’t be better served to some other end.

It is, after all, just a game — whatever the game.

These thoughts were prompted by a piece titled “Rants and Rivalry” in Sunday’s Washington Post by Daniel McMahon, a teacher and principal at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville. I don’t know McMahon, but I wish I did. He sounds like an honest-to-goodness educator, unlike many coaches who claim that title for themselves.

In his article, McMahon decries the behavior of coaches who scream profanities at their players during games or practice, asking the logical question: “Why will they not be fired for cursing in their ‘classrooms?’ ”

That’s an easy one to answer in cases where the coach in question wins and, at the Division I college level, helps bring in boatloads of money. But in any case, such behavior shouldn’t be permitted. It demeans the coaches and, more importantly, their players.

“Coaches have a power over players who accept this abuse in the hope that it will advance their careers — and parents too often accept the mistreatment of their children under the misguided notion that their son or daughter will benefit,” McMahon writes. “If I yelled and cursed at my staff, they would not work harder or do better work. If I yelled and cursed at my students in class under the guise of motivating them, I would be fired.”

Well said, sir.

Interestingly, McMahon works at a school that is noted nationally for its superb boys’ basketball teams and has been ever since Basketball Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten started producing powerhouses in the early 1960s.

If Wootten ever yelled and cursed at his players, the sky probably would have fallen in Hyattsville. No coach I’ve known wanted more fervently to win, and did, but Morgan had the right priorities and made sure his players did, too: (1) God, (2) family, (3) school, (4) basketball.

I’m sure many others have similar agendas. But too many others don’t.

McMahon mentions an earlier article that cited wild and woolly sideline behavior by Maryland’s Gary Williams, Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg and Virginia’s Dave Leitao. That might have not been fair, because hundreds of other coaches routinely go bonkers during games. But do you ever recall John Wooden, Dean Smith or Mike Krzyzewski losing it during combat? That’s not how you win. When you lose control of yourself, you lose control of your players and, usually, the game.

Oh, sure, some guys win through intimidation; call it the Bobby Knight syndrome. I always wonder how they can look themselves in the mirror the next morning.

Different methods work for different people, but all coaches should respect their athletes. This doesn’t mean they can’t work players’ royal rumps off to make them better — that’s part of coaching and rightly so.

But there should be no place in sports for those who treat their players like garbage. Such tactics might have worked 40 years ago for Vince Lombardi — a prototype tough coach — but today we’re supposed to be living in a more enlightened age.

Or putting it another way, how can a coach teach young men and women to respect their opponent and their sport if the coach doesn’t respect them?

Think about that while you watch the four best college basketball teams in the land go at it this weekend. Profanity and abuse toward anyone shouldn’t be tolerated, and if a coach were to be tossed out of a game in the Final Four, it might send a message to all those wannabes out there.

Like I said, it’s only a game. Supposedly, anyway.

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