Being a college basketball coach is tough. The job is demanding and the stress is high. One thing a coach can’t do is berate their players and start to get physical with them. Coaches are there to teach, they are there to nurture. They have been trusted by parents to watch the growth and development of their kids. Some coaches use tough love to help strengthen a kid for adversity. Showing passion is a necessity but throwing a basketball at a player to demonstrate that is unacceptable. Practices are intense but it should never get to a point where a coach kicks his players or puts their hands on them. There is a fine line that every coach needs to walk. It’s a line that was crossed by Mike Rice at Rutgers and he was rightly fired for it on Wednesday.
Penn State Head Coach Pat Chambers and La Salle Head Coach John Giannini joined 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia with Mike Missanelli to talk about the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers, what coaches can do in practice and what they can’t and whether coaches need a filter in their head.
On Mike Rice losing his job and the circumstances of it:
JG: “I will be a very boring interviewee for you on this. First I will say he suffered the ultimate professional consequence. He lost his job and he’s probably going to lose a lot of future opportunities. I’m not one to pile on. I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with the consequences. I’m not disagreeing with the consequences but I just see no need whatsoever to pile on. What has happened to him has occurred and I’m sure he feels horrible. I don’t disagree with it. I don’t think anyone else does. I don’t think Mike probably does either. It’s just unfortunate.”
PC: “It’s unfortunate. I know Mike. I know him very well. What you see is not who he is off the floor. Off the floor he is a great guy, father, husband, does a ton of charity, good guy. I was on the recruiting trail with him. But it is a little disturbing. Throwing the basketballs, I think that is a little over the top. Maybe some of the language, we all use a little language here and there, but I think there’s other ways to motivate. I think there’s other ways to push and drive and get what you want. I think what he was doing was trying to create a culture of toughness. They’re in the Big East and people are saying the same thing about us. That ‘we gotta be tough, we gotta fight perception that we’re a good basketball team and can compete in the Big Ten’ or in his case the Big East so I know where he’s coming from, but there’s definitely a line you can’t cross. I would say that throwing the balls and things like that, just somehow you have to show self control and know how you’re going to push and where you’re going to take them to in that practice, for that day.”
What can you do as a coach and what can’t you do as far as practice?
JG: “Certainly you don’t want anything to become physical and certainly you don’t want to create any emotional damage to a kid. You don’t want to have criticism be personal. You might say ‘you have to get the ball’ and maybe use an adjective every now and then about getting that ball but you never want to say anything toward them personally that makes them feel like they are less of a person or something along those lines. It’s an emotional thing. It’s an intense thing. But the bottom line is coaches are there to help kids, not hurt them. You can hurt them emotionally and certainly you don’t want to take any chance of doing anything physical. It’s emotional. It’s heated. But you never want to do anything hurtful. Where that line is I don’t know. Sometimes it may be set a little lower than people realize. I know I have apologized to kids for saying things that, upon reflection, might have been hurtful. I think you have to be very careful about what you have to say to kids.”
PC: “For me there is no question I’m going to get after my guys. I’m intense, I have a lot of energy and maybe intense isn’t the word. Energy, enthusiastic, want what is best for these kids and for your program, because at the end of the day you are judged on wins and losses but you’re also judged on developing men and making sure they get their degree. Within that practice you have to make sure that your team is disciplined, they’re playing as hard as they can. In 2013 it’s like everybody gets an award now. That’s not reality. What the real world is you win or lose, you get that job or your don’t, you get the promotion or you don’t so what we are teaching in practice is you have to compete. Everything is competition and if I do get after you, but I’m always going to follow up with something positive. You also have to know the individual. I spend a lot of my time with my players to get to the core of who they are and who I can really get after and who I really have to back off and maybe throw an arm around and love them up a little bit. I think that is what is really important. I think that is why I give a lot of credit to my staff as well. I think that is why you saw us play our best basketball at the end of the season, regardless that we were 0-14. We stuck to the blueprint, we stuck to the game plan, we continued to motivate, we continued to read stories of motivation and to do different things and to be creative and innovative. I think that way you can still get the most out of your players and the best out of your team.”
Do you have a filter in your head?
JG: “Your brain is like a computer and there are all kinds of variables going through it. There’s the competitive side to you and what we do is very physical and very demanding. For me I always think that ball toughness, getting the ball, is very important. When most of us go to work we don’t have 6-9, 260 pound guys trying to take our lunch bag from us or trying to take our cell phone from us. Our players go out there and they have to wrestle some big, mean, physical guys for a chance to win the game. That’s no situation where you just say, ‘hey can you put a little more effort into stopping that guy from taking the ball every time?’ With thousands of people screaming at you and a year of work invested in the outcome, the physicality and the competitiveness of it, of course it’s very emotional. That is one of the variables that is going through your mind but probably the most important variable is ‘I don’t want to hurt more than I help.’ All coaches can make emotional mistakes. We can get too caught up in the competition but you have to monitor that. You really have to keep your kids’ welfare and their feelings somewhat in mind and hopefully your liking of your kids and your caring about your kids balances out that competitive nature. There’s no question it’s a fine line for me and for all of us because you can be a soft coach, you can be a soft team and those people never win. You have to be tough but you also have to be caring. And you’re always balancing those two things.”
Can you not be physical in this time?
PC: “You can’t physically, don’t get me wrong I have seen guys grab a jersey and move guys to the correct position, and I’m like ‘okay.’ But if you’re doing it physically and with aggression, I think that is a problem. I don’t think we can do that. Not in this day and age. Back in the day, if I wasn’t in the right spot, I might get a ball in the backside. That was totally acceptable and we were fine with that. But this is a different generation. We’re in a very sensitive generation. Coddling, a generation of now, Twitter, Facebook, a very difficult time to coach the way that you saw in that video. You have to be really smart about how you approach each day and each player. During my career there was definitely tough love and tough moments but that made me the person I am today. That is what it’s all about is toughening you up for real life situations. Adversity, obstacles and challenges that you face every day. We are teaching life lessons.”