Coaching and stuff:  How some still do it while others forgot how

I didn’t catch the NIT Championship Game between Seton Hall and Indiana State, but I heard it was a doozy, especially the last few minutes.  The family and I were out watching Dev Patel’s “Monkey Man” (highly recommend) and missed the wild outcome. 

I left the movie theater to a string of texts explaining that Seton Hall shockingly went on a 9-0 run to close out a game they were previously losing.  In the final three minutes, Indiana State could not muster a single point.  They lost a stunner.

I immediately logged on to the internet and found a video of Seton Hall head coach Shaheen Holloway, post-game, consoling a kid on the opposing team, the one we’ve come to call Cream Abdul-Jabbar.  That perhaps racist nickname belongs to Indiana State’s most recognizable player, the goggle-wearing, 6’10” awkwardly bodied Robbie Avila, whose Sycamores came up three points (or three minutes) short of victory, depending on how you do your math.  Leaning over, exhausted, and disappointed, Avila was on the verge of tears until Holloway told him to stand up and be proud.  It was Holloway’s one shining moment.

That’s what coaches are supposed to do, instill confidence, teach, and inspire.  Far too many coaches have forgotten this lesson, or at least been painted as such in the media.

With LSU’s run to the Women’s Final Four cut short by Iowa and Caitlin Clark, I’d heard plenty of inflammatory talk about their head coach Kim Mulkey, some articles’ headlines printing the word “controversy” right after to her name.

The alleged, perhaps fabricated controversy came with regards to a Washington Post article suggesting Mulkey’s handling of her former player Becky Griner’s sexual orientation was less than apropos.  I’m not sure why we’re still talking about this, but this is a matter that is none of my business.  There’s a reason sexuality in sports remains a touchy subject and why so few college and professional athletes in any sport, regardless of gender, have spoken openly about it.

Mulkey also battled the media when it came to their portrayal of her athletes, taking umbrage with them being labeled as villains.  “I’m not going to let you talk about 18- to 21-year-old kids in that tone,” she told reporters when one writer called her team “dirty debutantes.”  Mulkey remains a lightning rod while so many other coaches get a pass for their misgivings but she sure wasn’t going to let any reporters looking to make a name for themselves bad mouth the kids she coaches.  For that, she deserves credit.

Back to the NIT and the disrespect it undeservingly gets.  I’ve heard rumblings that coming soon, Fox Sports and the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) will start a post-season tournament for teams that don’t reach the final 68.  Unable to shed its secondary status, 17 schools declined an invitation to this year’s tournament, including high profile programs like USC, UCLA, Indiana, Memphis, Syracuse, and Rick Pitino’s St. Johns.

Pitino’s rejection letter to the NIT read like a guy who tells you “I’m not a racist, but” then tells you the most racist joke you’ve ever heard.  “First and foremost, we have great respect for the National Invitation Tournament and St. John’s storied history in the event.  After thorough consideration of all that goes into postseason participation, we believe at this time it is best for our team and basketball program to prepare for next season.”  Rick Pitino: Master of the “it’s not you, it’s me” routine.  But it’s definitely him and not us.

I don’t exactly know what goes into turning down a post-season invitation.  Maybe the players held a team meeting and decided they no longer wanted to participate but isn’t it the coach’s job to inspire them to play?  I don’t mean to single out St. John’s and their head coach Rick Pitino (yes, I do) but after a disappointing season, wouldn’t kids jump at the opportunity to play more basketball, having something to prove for one last jump shot at redemption?  For one thing, if you’re a high enough seed in the NIT, your school gets to host two more games, so there’s revenue added right there, in addition to fans catching one last glimpse of the team.  Don’t you think Seton Hall fans are happy right now?  I didn’t hear them griping about any NIT bid and they finished ahead of St. John’s in the Big East standings!  Apparently, Pitino, and others, felt it was their birthright to join the tournament’s Final 64.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not how it works.

St John’s won 20 games this season but that by no means guarantees entry into the greatest post-season in professional sports.  The program went 11-9 in a relatively weak Big East Conference and at one point of the season lost eight games out of a ten-game stretch.  With a record like that, despite almost beating UConn late in the season, Rick Pitino felt his team should have been allowed in.  Yeah, him and 100 other head coaches who didn’t lose nearly as many games during that stretch.  If Pout-ino thinks his teams should be invited just because of his last name, well, that’s not coaching.  That’s entitlement.  I say inspire your kids and prove it by winning the NIT.  Having the last laugh is better than having no laughs at all.

Fortunately, there are a lot of fresh young faces in the coaching ranks that offset the dinosaurs.  Seeing USF’s Amir Abdur-Rahim personally welcome a long line of fans who stood waiting in the rain to see his team, watching an obsessive Dan Hurley speak openly about mental health while making his mark on the modern game, even witnessing Todd Golden turn a Florida program around in only his second year is a marked and pleasant contrast to coaches who feel they’re owed something.  It’s just bad form, and bad coaching.

The problem isn’t with the NIT.  The problem is that too many coaches have forgotten how to do their job. 

Fortunately, Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway is not one of them.

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One Reply to “Coaching and stuff:  How some still do it while others forgot how”

  1. 1) I don’t care what anybody says, Kim Mulkey is a GMILF…if for no other reason, sticking something in her mouth might just shut her up.

    2) Here in Indiana…and since you mentioned movies…between Purdue, Indiana State, and the eclipse, people here couldn’t decide which to touch themselves to – old VHS tapes of Hoosiers or any thing from the Star Trek series (yes, in Indiana we still have video stores).

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