Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

January 3, 2012

Coaches are underrated, coaching may not be

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:36 pm

If you’ve ever coached anything, including and especially kids’ sports, you’ve had the same sudden and overwhelming epiphany that I’ve had: Wow, this is hard. Those players aren’t doing what I told them to do! Who knew! You enter your coaching gig certain you’ll be comparable to John Wooden, only to quickly reclassify “win” as “my players are all standing upright and facing the correct direction.”

Because I’ve had that epiphany, I am unabashedly impressed by what, say, Bo Ryan has been able to do at Wisconsin. I also harbor epiphany-fueled admiration for what Frank Haith has done this season at Missouri, even as I recognize that he was dealt a fantastic set of cards. And that’s just a couple guys who’ve never been to the Final Four. Don’t get me started about the usual suspects, particularly characters like Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Calhoun, who built programs more (Calhoun) or less (Coach K) ex nihilo in what were previously hoops hinterlands.

The admiration due individual coaches, however, is a separate and discrete question relative to an equally interesting matter: what are college basketball coaches for? The answer to that question has changed over the decades. Inveterate in-game micro-managers like Tom Izzo or Bruce Weber — both of whom, like many in the coaching fraternity, shout and gesticulate unceasingly — would be horrified to learn there was a time when in-game communication between the bench and the players on the floor was precluded by custom and even on occasion by rule. A lazy Gasaway (redundant) hypothesis holds that shouting and gesticulating from the sidelines have increased over the years in lockstep with salaries, as coaches seek to justify their increasingly lavish compensation in a purely visual manner: I am managing every aspect of this basketball game. I work hard for the money.

Apart from the accolades due individual coaching stars, I think college basketball head coaches draw much of their occupational mystique from sheer narrative convenience. The coaches are always there, year after year, even as the players change. We get quotes from these guys, and we label programs with their names and faces. But the fact that college basketball head coaches can serve as unusually handy semiotic devices shouldn’t be confused with a mythical ability to exercise total control over basketball events.

My proposal for an early-season Masters for college hoops is on the table. As long as I’m reshaping the non-conference portion of the hoops season, I’d also love to see an annual game where the players from both teams coach themselves. My guess is that game wouldn’t look so very different from every other one, even without a guy on the sidelines shouting and gesticulating.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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