Tuesday, December 20, 2005 Updated: December 21, 5:38 PM ET
Coaches we love, and hate
By Bomani Jones Special to Page 2
Like it or not, coaches are the stars of college basketball. Even before players began treating college like a Kaplan course on hoops, the centerpiece of any basketball program was its coach.
Back in the day, that worked very well. There were so many unforgettable characters, noteworthy for things ranging from their senses of humor to their bizarre wardrobes. Nowadays, too many coaches are as forgettable as the last man on the bench. Rarely do I see a coach and want to root for or against him for any reason.
What happened to sly ol' dogs like Lefty Driesell -- or anyone named Lefty, really -- flamboyant shysters like Jerry Tarkanian, and gregarious leaders like Al Maguire? There aren't even cuddly, grandfatherly figures like Lou Carnesecca anymore. Few coaches are worth loving. Worse still, few are worth hating or even deserving of the precious, vitriolic breath required to boo.
And hating and booing are the most fun things to do in college sports.
With that in mind, we here at Page 2 want to remind you that there are a few guys left in each conference worth making noise about. And for the nostalgic among you, we've added those we miss loving and hating. Show them all of the passion you can muster for a stranger.
Gary Williams is one of the more animated guys working the sidelines.
Love to Love: Gary Williams The usual portrait of Williams is of him sweating like a hooker in church, his jacket soaked before his Maryland players have even started their layup lines. But that's not what makes Williams so lovable. He resurrected a scandal-plagued program with kids who reflect the unique cultures of Baltimore and the D.C. metro area. In a sport that generates its love with geographic loyalty, it's impossible not to love units that rep their homes like the Terps.
Love to Hate: Mike Krzyzewski Success aside, he leads the most joyless and least entertaining juggernaut I can remember. Not even my boss, Duke diehard Kevin Jackson, can deny that. Throw in Coach K's abusive demeanor with officials, and it becomes clear that he is his mentor, Bobby Knight, just on better behavior. But at least Knight tells good jokes. And Knight's a better coach.
Miss Loving to Love: Dave Odom How can Odom win over heavyweights like Dean Smith, Lefty Driesell and Jim Valvano? Unless your favorite team has played against Odom, currently at South Carolina, in a game that matters, you won't understand this one. Ask Santa for a win and you'll find Odom and five tall guys under the tree.
Miss Loving to Hate: Matt Doherty USA Today ran a piece on the former Tar Heels coach on Dec. 15, attempting to show that Doherty learned from the mistakes that led to his ouster from Chapel Hill. The writer, Malcolm Moran, didn't directly quote anyone outside of Florida for the piece, which was great for Doherty. Had Moran gone to Chapel Hill, he might have heard the seemingly unreal stories about Doherty's treatment of players that bounced around Chapel Hill in his last two years on the job. Many of them were contained in an e-mail that sharply divided followers of Tar Heel hoops. Much has been disputed, but a source close to the team (who asked not to be identified) said he once heard Doherty tell then-freshman Sean May he wasn't "half the man or player [his] father was," and referred to him as a "fat ass" in front of his teammates.
To paraphrase Silky Johnson, I hope all the bad things in life happen to Doherty. And only Doherty. Recruiting the foundation of a championship team doesn't begin to account for such behavior. How Florida Atlantic could justify hiring him is beyond any realm of comprehension.
Big 12 Love to Love: Eddie Sutton He was a lot more fun when he wore those gigantic glasses at Kentucky, but his willingness to take in kids like JamesOn Curry and Doug Gottlieb after they made horrible, yet youthful, mistakes makes him all right with me.
Love to Hate: Rick Barnes As a Longhorns fan, I'll always love Barnes for signing T.J. Ford and changing the direction of Texas basketball. But he just lost to the other UT -- the one in traffic- cone orange, Tennessee -- by 17 in Austin. If only the Horns showed the fighting spirit Barnes displayed in 1995, when he tried to slug Dean Smith at the ACC Tournament. A man who would deck Dean probably spends Christmas Eve on his roof with a rifle and hunts red-nosed reindeer.
Miss Loving to Love: Billy Tubbs While at Oklahoma -- and later at TCU -- I'm not sure Billy had any real plan, other than scoring a lot. But man, was it fun to watch. I still feel personally insulted that he duped the world into thinking Stacey King would be a good professional basketball player, but I can let that slide for games in the high 80s.
Miss Loving to Hate: Dave Bliss No explanation needed. His name is its own joke.
Big East Love to Love: Jim Boeheim A coach with 30 years in the game who can get his point across to his players without embarrassing them on national television? There surely aren't many coaches like that left. Perhaps it's that demeanor that keeps him looking 10 years younger than he is and helped him marry an attractive younger woman. Gotta love all of that.
Love to Hate: Mike Brey, I guess. There's not a detestable soul in the Big East -- a mean feat for a conference with more teams than the American League. So I'll go with a tried and true sentiment -- hating Notre Dame. That never goes out of style.
Don't you miss the big fella, and his towel?
Miss Loving to Love: John Thompson I saw Thompson in an airport once, and I was left speechless. He's nearly as tall seated as I am standing. I saw the arm that was wrapped around Fred Brown as he tried to come to grips with college hoops' biggest pre-Webber mistake. I sensed the strength that led him to challenge the racially biased Proposition 48. Had there been a towel on his shoulder, I'd have started screaming like a high school girl at an Usher concert. Well, maybe not quite
Miss Loving to Hate: John Thompson And by "we," I mean other people who make no sense to me. Somehow, his coaching teams that were throwbacks -- in every sense but one -- made Thompson Darth Vader. Perhaps it was his oft-defiant vibe, or that he did as much to integrate Georgetown as any court case could have. Or maybe people couldn't appreciate that his development of centers would become a lost art. But if Thompson were really a villain, I have no idea what makes a guy good.
Big Ten Love to Love: Bruce Weber Funny voices are, well, funny. His willingness to wear an atrociously orange sports coat on his sport's greatest stage was courageous. Add the fact that last year's Illinois team was the most entertaining outfit of this millennium, and love is headed in Weber's direction posthaste.
Love to Hate: Steve Alford Sometimes, impressions of a coach's playing career follow him to the bench. And unless he runs off a Wooden-esque streak of championships, he'll always be one of the most overrated players of the '80s. Unfair? When did fairness become a requirement for hate?
Miss Loving to Love: Gene Keady I always thought Keady's notorious comb-over was a metaphor for the sort of attitude he wanted his teams to exhibit. His attempts to make 10 hairs do the job of a thousand must have been representative of Keady's belief that a team must defend the entire floor, regardless of obstacles and circumstances. Subconscious motivational ploys like that are why coaches make the big bucks.
Miss Loving to Hate: You Know Who And if you don't, read this. Or talk to this guy. I would say more, but You Know Who got exiled to West Texas, which is its own comeuppance. After looking out the window during a cross-country drive a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn't wish much between Dallas and Phoenix upon anyone.
Pac-10 Love to Love: Lute Olson Remember that scene in "The Naked Gun 33 1/3" when Olson pretended to be Phil Donahue? How could you not love such an ingenious thespian? Or what about his track record recruiting blue-chip New York City point guards like Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury? Just kidding (Anderson and Marbury went to Georgia Tech). Olson has had outstanding success at Arizona and is one of the good guys in college hoops.
Love to Hate: Dick Bennett I can't think of anything wrong with Bennett, Washington State's coach, as a human. But if we're forced to watch another one of his teams keep scores in the 40s, in the Final Four, I move that no team be allowed in the NCAA Tournament without being voted in by the fans. Watching his teams is like watching paint dry. In a bucket.
Miss Loving to Love: Mike Montgomery There's something fun about men with bad hair, especially when it looks as though the hair came with a receipt. Someone so unconcerned with ridicule deserves respect in a warped sort of way.
Miss Loving to Hate: Henry Bibby His attempts to extort one billion dollars from the world were bad enough, but not even Beyonce could make "Goldmember" worth the eight bucks I paid to see it.
SEC Love to Love: Bruce Pearl Only Sean May left last year's Dance a bigger star than Pearl, who led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16. His easy charm with reporters and genuine happiness at his team's success endeared him to us in a special way. I figured that spirit would wane after a couple of months at Tennessee, one of the worst jobs in the SEC. But if he can recruit players from Memphis and win games like the Vols' blowout of Texas in Austin, we might see Bruce's pearly whites a lot over the next few years.
Love to Hate: ??? I can't think of a single abhorrent figure in the SEC -- not even Billy Donovan (all's fair in the shell game of recruiting). That's less fun than the conference's football offenses this season.
Miss Loving to Love: Wimp Sanderson There are plenty of reasons to dislike the Cryin' Wimp, including a sexual discrimination complaint that was filed against him in Tuscaloosa. But anyone who didn't get a kick out of seeing those plaid jackets in 1992 is lying. I love anyone who guaranteed I wouldn't be the worst-dressed man in the room.
Miss Loving to Hate: Jim Harrick I have nothing against coaches who cheat, and I don't get indignant when they get caught. I even chastised "whistle-blower" Tony Cole -- whom a colleague from Baton Rouge refers to as "Hamster Brain" off the record -- for snitching on Harrick for indiscretions he committed while at Georgia. But even the appearance that he threw his son under the bus violates every conceivable notion of decency. He's a sucker, plain and simple.
Mark Few has helped Gonzaga become a national power.
Love to Love: Mark Few Despite my usual aversion to praising scrappy underdogs, Gonzaga has been my favorite team the past two months. Why? Because they will play anyone -- wherever and however anyone wants it -- and they win a decent number of games. Unlike schools like Temple that have historically played murderous nonconference schedules, the Zags walk away with more than their share of wins. And they do this from anything but a recruiting hotbed. I couldn't pick Few out of a lineup, but leading such a movement is amazing.
Love to Hate: Tom Penders Unless Penders finds a way to cure cancer with the 2-2-1 zone press, we'll never forget when his staff at Texas leaked former Longhorn Luke Axtell's struggling grades to an Austin radio station. An assistant coach was thrown under the bus in the aftermath. And he's gotten two jobs since then! Leading Houston to a win over Arizona in a game in which Hassan Adams was benched for breaking team rules isn't nearly enough to obscure that. He would have to get the '94 versions of Drexler and Olajuwon to sign letters of intent to even deserve ambivalence.
Miss Loving to Love: Don Haskins The upcoming movie "Glory Road" will focus on Texas Western's historic victory over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA final, but the book of the same name -- Haskins' autobiography -- is a must-read if you want to appreciate one of college hoops' underappreciated figures.
The best story in the book? Haskins invited the book's co-author, Dan Wetzel, for a beer while both were in Minneapolis for the 2000 Final Four. Knowing Haskins' affection for bars that were "smoky, full of character and characters" and food "coming from the Fry-O-Later," Wetzel wore a T-shirt and jeans. Turns out Haskins invited him to the official Final Four kickoff luncheon, where he was receiving a lifetime achievement award. Clad in his best plaid shirt, Haskins used his acceptance speech to rail the NCAA for its unfair enforcement of rules and its Eastern bias come tournament selection time.
Terribly underdressed, Wetzel wished he'd known the occasion so he could have dressed properly. Haskins told him, "You always need someone to be dressed worse than you are. That way, when they are talkin' about the guy who doesn't know how to dress right, they ain't talking about you." Amen.
Miss Loving to Hate: Steve Fisher He now coaches at San Diego State, but he makes this list because there's no reason to think about him now if you live more than 50 miles from Tijuana. Had he the faintest clue of the difference between his elbows and his rump, the Fab Five would be remembered as one of the greatest teams in college hoops history. But since Fisher couldn't lead all that talent to either a conference or national championship, they've been reduced to what amounts to a fashion statement. Those players deserved better.
Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at firstname.lastname@example.org.