January 25, 2007

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LONGSHOTS: Winning and what else matters in college coaching?
by Dave Long

Now that the Patriots are out, letís get to something I havenít been able to get to: the recent milestones reached in college basketball, where Keith Dickson won his 400th game, UConnís Geno Auriemma won number 600 and Bobby Knight passed Dean Smith for the most wins in NCAA history. Those accomplishments got me thinking about what a coach is supposed to be and how the job each holds differs from the other.

First, pretty much everyone sees winning as important, though there are different ways to make that happen. For instance, when Houston was a factor in college basketball I had a running argument with a coaching friend. Guy Lewis ran an, ahem, loose program and wasnít exactly an Xís and Oís maven and since he didnít practice that science my friend looked on him with contempt. I asked, who else went to the Final Four three straight years as he did in the Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler years and came close with Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney earlier?

My point was, whatís his job? Running a practice that impresses peers or getting to the finals three years in a row even if he didnít know an X from an O? Iíll tell you what the boosters and CFOís want ó trips to the Final Four and the money that comes with them. So ďcoachĒ has a double meaning. At the highest level, it first means running the program in a way that puts fannies in seats and gets you into the tournament any way you can do it legally. Then comes practice, where my friendís definition kicks in.

As the numbers show, all those mentioned previously are accomplished at winning, although theyíve done it in ways that mean more than having just the highest score at the end of the game. For instance, even though heís won three national titles, Auriemmaís ultimate impact relates more to societyís big picture. If you donít believe me, go see them play. That is, if you can a ticket. Itís a fabulous experience with the most engaged crowd Iíve ever seen. So, along with some social forces already underway and a few others like Tennessee, Auriemmaís UConn has been a catalyst for the explosive growth of womenís basketball all over the country. Itís led to more opportunities for young girls to participate and earn college scholarships. Iím not sure thatís what he had in mind when he started, but thatís what happened.

Dean Smith integrated basketball in North Carolina and invented concepts like the Four Corners in building the nationís premier program. Despite being contrasting figures he and Knight were the giants when I aspired to be a coach. Knight of course has a rap sheet of controversies that stretches from here to the Bedford Toll booth. And thanks to boorish and bullying tactics most seem truly earned. And while you can make a case for not wanting your children to play for him (which I wouldnít) I believe he got more out of what he had than any coach Iíve seen. Certainly more than Smith, who went to 10 Final Fours with an astonishing parade of future NBA stars, like Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, Bob McAdoo, Billy Cunningham and many others. Knight won more titles and dominated the Big Ten for much of his tenure when Isiah Thomas was his only player with the talent to be a NBA star. Itís not that that I donít think Smith was great. He was, as he got all that talent to play as a team and thatís a lot harder than you might think. But Knight won as often with less and that is the sign of great coaching. At least in the smaller version of the word. As far as running a program, teaching and being a role model thatís another story.

The word education leaks into most coaching conversations, but many times itís lip service or a slogan in a PSA at tournament time. It meant something for Smith and appears to be the case for gold standard of todayís coaches in Dukeís Coach K and his mentor Knight. But in some jobs like many on Dicksonís level, ďeducatorĒ is higher up in the job description than for those in D-I with graduation rates lower than the presidentĎs approval rating.

Make no mistake, winning is important at St. Aís. Just ask Tom Gotsill, who was out after a few miserable seasons in the í80s. But Dicksonís job is to help his kids get the most out of the experience, while winning games along the way. And in winning 400 plus, heís done a spectacular job, where each new team is remarkably similar. It has an excellent defensive point guard to disrupt offenses from starting, wing players who kill you with threes and bangers down low who know the job is not to be some sissy big man who wants to go outside and shoot threes. Plus theyíre always better as the season goes on.

As you can see the word ďcoachĒ has many definitions. So how do you judge success in the end? Probably in those you touch. After his firing at Indiana for repeated behavioral breaches, Knight sadly got his record in a wayward Texas outpost giving ticket discounts to fill the place that day, while the team Smith once coached plays in a building named for him. You tell me which is a better ending. As for the only coach I really know in the group, if my son wanted to play for Keith Dickson Iíd be happy, because I know heíd make him work hard, be a better player in the end and care about what he did off the court.

To me, thatís a far greater legacy than the wins, no matter how many one racks up.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy

1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
08/10/2006 Monarchs call press conference to crown new leader
08/03/2006 Deadly Fenway duo leave mark on history
07/27/2006 Word of the wise gets lost in sports translation
07/20/2006 Looking beyond the Big Three
07/13/2006 Cream rises to the top of baseball talk at the Dot
07/06/2006 Greetings and salutations toThe Nation at mid-year
06/29/2006 Being dealt is a consequence of the trade
06/22/2006 A year later, Boudreau's cup runneth over
06/15/2006 See dogs and cats battle for a different fan experience
06/08/2006 Not Bad Anymore league makes a comeback
06/01/2006 Luck goes Sox way with Lowell in Massachusetts
05/25/2006 Pitching in to help the Sox trade a few places
05/18/2006 Going to school by cutting Red Sox payroll
05/11/2006 Columnist blows his mind; here are the results
05/04/2006 Yanks stormed Manchester 37 years ago this week
04/27/2006 Regular crowd nowhere to be found come playoff time
04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
01/26/2006 A certain uniformity to the inquiries in the mailbag
01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Heroís death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The†Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat