Why Mike Rice Paid The Price

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Until yesterday, I had never heard of Mike Rice, the now former men’s basketball coach at Rutgers University. Videos of his abusive treatment of players at practice have gone viral thanks to ESPN. Eric Murdock, a former assistant at Rutgers, apparently tried to get the University to intervene earlier. His thanks was the loss of his job.

Forgive me if I am a cynic about stories like these. Yes, Rice’s firing on April 3, 2013 was justified, but to pretend he was fired over the treatment of his players is as laughable as it is insulting to anyone of moderate intelligence. His abuse was well-known. It was the public revelation of it that cost him his job. Oh, and he didn’t win a lot. That may have been his greatest coaching sin.

Consider that his 3 year record at Rutgers was 44-51 with a 16-38 mark in the Big East. Don’t think for a minute that those sad numbers didn’t play a role in his firing. If Rutgers were preparing for the Final Four right now, this would still be a story, but I assure you that there would be a legion of defenders crowing about his “old school” toughness.

What did Rice do? He cursed at his players, physically attacked them and even threw basketballs at them. The video looks like a trailer for Dodgeball II with Rice in Rip Torn’s role. This being a blog and not fit for real publication, I can tell what he said without the need for asterisks. Among other niceties, he called his players faggot (that seems to be his personal favorite), cunt, pussy, bitch and fairy. One foreign player (who has since transferred) was called “Lithuanian Faggot,” which Murdock said practically became a nickname for him. If you’ve played sports on any level, none of this is all that shocking. We all know coaches who act like that.

What of the physical abuse? Rice grabbed players, kicked them, shoved them and hit them with basketballs. We all know coaches like that, too. If they’re successful, we respect them as tough. Who can forget the video of Bob Knight choking Neil Reed? Before you point out that it helped cost Knight his job, remember that the video was simply another nail in his coffin. It also didn’t help that he’d lost at least 10 games each year for five of the past six seasons and hadn’t gotten past the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in six years. When he was having his greatest success, chair-throwing and cop-punching didn’t hurt his job security any. The psychotic chair-throwing incident is now the subject of a “humorous” commercial for Applebee’s. Perhaps one day Rice can join him with a new slogan: “Don’t be a faggot! Eat at Applebee’s!”

I’m a University of Kentucky basketball fan. We’ve had our own experience with this. After Tubby Smith resigned, UK hired an unpleasant misanthrope named Billy Gillispie. We greeted him with open arms. He was “tough.” Tubby was too soft. Billy Clyde was a stern taskmaster. Tubby was too lenient.

We soon heard stories of two-hour practices on game days, of players’ feet bleeding from running and other inane practices. We didn’t demand his firing. Why not? We wanted to see if he’d win games. He didn’t. Then, we were outraged at the thought of player being put in a bathroom stall at halftime or one being forced to eat Pop Tarts to gain weight! He was a mad man! A mad man who loses too many games and ends up in the NIT will soon be out of work.

Gillispie’s antics continued at his next stop–Texas Tech where they wearied of him after only one year. Tech is now wooing a veteran coach with a much different approach–Tubby Smith. Go figure.

Sports are littered with these guys. In past generations, Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Knight and Frank Kush were lauded for similar tactics. Is it any wonder that some in succeeding generations followed suit? Knight is praised by ESPN as a god-like figure, yet his behavior was every bit as contemptible as Rice’s. Dick Vitale loudly condemns Rice, while he fawns over Knight (“Robert Montgomery Knight,” as Dicky V calls him), like a school girl gushing over Justin Bieber. Knight had the good fortune to win. Winning, it seems, fixes everything.

They are hired, and we cheer them, because we think they’ll win. Sometimes, they do win. Then, they are heroes, hard-core old school coaches. Lose, and they’re embarrassments to university, the fan base and even their own families.

I have limited personal experience with coaches of this ilk. Only one time did one of my sons play ball for one of these types. It was baseball and, of course, it was a father who envisioned himself a real coach. This clown was an assistant on the team. My son bore up under verbal abuse throughout preseason practice. We made it through one game where my son was verbally abused in the dugout the entire game. When we complained to the head coach, he feigned ignorance, meaning that he was cut from the same cloth. That was our last game in that league. My son has gone on to play baseball throughout high school without a repeat of this kind of foolishness.

We live in a time now where people are keenly aware of bullies and peer-related abuse. We seem less sensitive to the bullying handed out by adults or authority figures, especially when the recipient isn’t a child. Perhaps it’s because college athletes are young adults and more capable of standing up for themselves. That’s a dubious rationalization to allow humans to be treated like chattels. Indeed, if a video surfaced of Mike Kryzewski kicking a player, he could probably talk his way out of a firing. I imagine that a video of him kicking a dog would likely spell the end of his career. What does that tell you?

One of the persistent myths is that sports build character. There is no consensus that this is true. I’m not aware of any studies to support the notion that mere participation builds anything positive. A study of intramural sports at the Air Force Academy concludes that it is only true if character-building is an intended part of the program. That shouldn’t be surprising. When your character is shaped by bullies, it can’t helped but be warped. I suppose there are people from such poor backgrounds that any type of order–even that imposed by a bully–is to some advantage. Of course, that may be the same type of thinking that causes people to join street gangs–some order is better than none.

Imagine trying to build a young man’s character by the example of Mike Rice. Or Bob Knight. Or Billy Gillispie. What life lessons do they learn? If people don’t act the way you’d like, attack them, physical and verbally. Always attack those who aren’t in a position to fight back. How different is that than Jerry Sandusky’s behavior? Yes, by degree, there is a vast ocean of difference. By effect, there may not be that much.

I’m not suggesting that coaches must be Sunday school teachers. My own children can tell you that I’ve yelled at them over such mundane things as making too much noise (as though my yelling would set a good example). Nor am I sensitive to foul language. In fact, I’m given to use it myself. But to excuse such behavior simply because one is a coach makes no sense.

There’s nothing special about being a coach. ESPN’s Mark Schlereth once said that the words “coach” and “genius” should never be used in the same sentence. That’s certainly true. I don’t have unrealistic expectations of coaches. I know that the vast majority of them are not musing about string theory when they aren’t working.

Winning takes care of most coaching character flaws. Embarrass your university, if you must. Just don’t lose a lot of games while doing so. Lest we forget, Rick Pitino is coaching in this year’s Final Four.

The answer to all of this is to clean out the Neanderthals of the coaching ranks. Zero tolerance would be nice. It would probably be effective, too, at least until one of these fools started winning games.

Incredibly, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti claims he didn’t show the university president any of the videos until after the ESPN story broke, months after he’d seen them himself. Once the president saw them, so the story goes, Rice was fired. If this story is true, Pernetti should join Rice on the unemployment line.

One under-reported aspect of the story is that this isn’t Pernetti’s first experience with this kind of behavior.  Rice’s predecessor, Fred Hill, Jr., was fired after a profanity-laced tirade at a Rutgers baseball game.  As a show of support for his father, long-time Rutgers baseball coach Fred Hill, Sr., Junior loudly cursed at the University of Pittsburgh’s baseball coach.  Consequently, Hill, Jr. was fired.  His replacement?  Rice, who had just ended his coaching stint at Robert Morris University with his own tirade at the end of RMU’s overtime loss to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.  Pernetti, it seems, may not be the best judge of coaching temperment.

By the way, Hill’s record in the Big East was 13-57.  Starting to see the pattern here?  Flip flop that record, and he gets a couple of months of anger management and a contract extension.

The responsibility lies with the administration of these universities–universities which make jaw-dropping revenues from these students. These revenues are not shared with the students but are used to fund the hiring–and firing–of coaches. When a university steps up and cleans out its athletic department, maybe that will change things. Of course, Rutgers is moving to the Big Ten now where it will make even more money. That, sadly, may be how Pernetti’s job performance is ultimately measured.

What of Rice? He’ll resurface. They always do. Some school at some level will think he can win. He’ll be contrite. He may even actually change, like Colorado State’s Larry Eustachy. Regardless, he better win.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com

2012-13 Kentucky Basketball: What the Hell Just Happened?

I am unabashed fan of the University Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.  I have been for over 40 years.  We just completed one of our more disappointing seasons with an ignominious loss to some school called Robert Morris University–in the first round of the freakin’ NIT, no less.

I can assure you that this is only one of many blog posts about our beloved Cats’ season of shame.  I do not write this in effort to contribute to any journalistic analysis of our season.  I do not suppose to have any original insights or solutions.  Indeed, it is far too late now.

Instead, I write this as a form of therapy, a cathartic exercise which will help me deal with my grief.  Oh, I tried to work through it with a series of obscenity-laced tweets during the Robert Morris game, but those only brought me temporary solace.  Twitter tracked my mental and emotional deterioration:

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Before tip-off, optimism abounds.

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Half way into the first-half, despair sets in.

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Depression

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Uncontrolled rage

We feel such losses deep in our souls.  Kentucky Basketball is important to us.  How important?  Far too important, I suppose.  The sun isn’t as bright.  The flowers smell of the foul stench of defeat.  Our value as human beings is lessened.  Other than that, we’re in good shape.

Our fan base’s immediate reaction is to blame our coach.  John Calipari, of course, is our coach.  Cal, we call him, much like we called Joe B. Hall “Joe B.”  Tubby Smith was Tubby.  Billy Gillispie was “Billy Clyde.”  Rick Pitino was just Pitino.  Eddie Sutton was Eddie, until he got us in NCAA trouble, then he was Sutton.  Adolph Rupp was, naturally, Coach Rupp.  We are familiar with our coaches.  We love them until they stumble.  Then, they are blithering idiots incapable of coaching in a church league.

I’m not going down that road.  We won the NCAA Championship just last year.  Cal can coach.  I know that.  You can’t give him a total pass, but he didn’t forget how to coach in just a few months.

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

To be honest, not much about this season went well.  We lost to Louisville.  We also lost to the likes of Texas A&M and Baylor–at home!  We didn’t win the Southeastern Conference Championship, and we got crushed by lowly Vanderbilt in our first game in the SEC Tournament.  Nevertheless, let’s talk positives.

Nerlens Noel is a positive.  He was exactly the type of player described coming out of high school last year–high energy and great on defense.  His offensive game, as predicted, was raw.  Overall, though, he was great.  He had the unfortunate timing of following Anthony Davis at UK, but Nerlens was outstanding.  As a bonus, he seems to like being at UK.  We love that.

Jarrod Polson is a positive.  Polson is the back up point guard.  He is from Nicholasville, Kentucky–about 15 miles from UK’s campus.  He came here as a walk-on and is the kind of player that Kentucky fans love.  Considering his athletic limitations, he played well.  He hustles and is tough.  We like that.  He’s the kind of guy who will be able to live the rest of his life as Ex-Cat, meaning he will always be a celebrity here.

We beat Florida the last game of the regular season.  We thought we had no shot, but did it.  That was sweet.

We signed another excellent recruiting class for next year, maybe the best ever.  But, that’s really a positive for next year.

That’s it.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Boy, oh, boy, where do I start? I know that a lot of folks say that it’s unfair to criticize college players.  I understand that but disagree.  First, these are grown men–young but adults.  If you can join the Army, vote and get married, you’re an adult.  Second, playing basketball at UK brings with it opportunities disproportionate to one’s contribution.  All UK fans can name numerous men who have made post-collegiate careers of being Ex-Cats.  That may not be sensible, but it’s a fact.  If you’re going to get all the praise, you have to be willing to take some of the heat.  Coach Cal has said many times that “Kentucky isn’t for everyone.”  Indeed.

Recruiting:  Since Cal has been at UK, he’s recruited the following NBA players:  John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  He’s spoiled us.  This year, he brought us Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin.  As fans, we just considered the roster reloaded.  It didn’t work that way.

Cauley-Stein was as good as advertised, meaning he’s a raw prospect.  He has a lot of work to do and played like it.  I don’t think anyone was surprised.  He didn’t really improve during the season–a rarity for one of Cal’s players.

Poythress and Goodwin were the two who frustrated us most.  Poythress looks like a player at 6′ 7″, 240 pounds.  He’s quick, athletic and strong.  Unfortunately, on the court, he reminds us of Richard (“Master Blaster”) Madison, a heralded recruit from the 1980’s.  As one of Madison’s coaches said, Richard played “just good enough to get you beat.”  Poythress has the look of a player who doesn’t like playing.  I’m not sure coaching can fix that.

Goodwin plays hard–maybe too much so.  We grew weary of his wild, head-down drives to the basket that resulted in hopeless shots or charges.  He never seemed to understand his role in the offense.  His defense was inconsistent–or nonexistent–all season.  In bygone days, a player of his type would have logged 10-12 minutes a game behind more veteran players.  We probably would have seen flashes of greatness making us carp that he deserved more playing time.

I am convinced that both Poythress and Goodwin have great potential.  If they come back to school, we’ll see different, better players.  I hope we get a chance to find out if I’m right.

Nerlens’ Knee:  Just when started to see signs of consistent play, Nerlens Noel blew out his knee, a gruesome injury that ended his season–and ours.  An under-achieving team lost its best player.  Cal said it best:  “After we lost Nerlens, it’s been torture.”  And so it was.

Point Guard:  In Cal’s three previous seasons, our point guards have been John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.   All three played one year, and all three were NBA 1st round draft picks.  This year’s point guard was Ryan Harrow, a transfer from North Carolina State.  Harrow is the most difficult kind of player to critique.  He doesn’t have the skills to play the position at the level Cal needs.  I feel for the young man.  I really do.  It has to be a difficult, pressure-packed situation.  Facts are facts.

The coaching staff doesn’t get a pass on this one.  Cal recruited Harrow in high school.  He saw a year of him at NC State and a year of him in practice.  He had ample evaluation time.  Again, I feel for Harrow.  I’m convinced he has played the best he can.  He was put in a position where success wasn’t possible.  That one goes on the coach.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I don’t know that I learned anything new.  It’s more like I re-learned some things (if that’s even possible).  Maybe I was just reminded of some stuff.

Championships are hard to win:  I’ve been a UK fan since 1970.  UK has won 4 titles.  It’s not easy to do.  Winning one year doesn’t mean you’ll win the next year or even make the tournament or even win one game in the NIT.  (see 1978-79 season).

Losing your whole team is tough:  Imagine this:  Your alma mater wins the national championship.  Then, all its starters and its sixth man leave.  They are replaced by freshmen.  Your school is the only Division I team in the entire country that doesn’t return even one player who started even one game.  What would you expect?  At Kentucky, we expected a strong run at another title.  Perhaps we’re unreasonable.

Cal is an excellent coach, but not a magician:  This team never meshed. Maybe it was the lack of dependable veterans.  Maybe it was the wrong mix of talent.  Whatever the reason, the light bulb never came on.  Cal couldn’t get them to buy in.  He’s done it so well before that I don’t think I can hang that one on him.  Like I said, these are men.  They didn’t act like it.

You need a bench:  UK had no bench this year, at least no players upon whom we could count for steady play.  Not only was this an in-game weakness, but there was no risk of any under-achieving starter losing his job.  Cal says this won’t ever be the case here again.  I believe him.

So, there here we are, a disastrous season at an end.  How bad was it?  We were 21-12 and finished second in our conference.  That’s a train wreck at my alma mater.  I’m over it now.  Besides, next year, we are going to be LOADED!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Strange, Sad Case of Billy Gillispie

This was perhaps the last smile we saw on Billy Clyde’s face.

If you’ve read my posts, first, I apologize for rarely making a salient point.  Second, you know that I am a dyed-in-Blue University of Kentucky sports fan.  I have been since I was 8 years old.  That’s 42 years for those scoring at home.

In my time as a resident of Big Blue Nation, as we somewhat arrogantly refer to ourselves, I’ve seen some odd things.  We once lost a football game on consecutive pass interference penalties with time running out.  The Cats also once gave up a 75 yard Hail Mary pass with no time left to lose a football game.  These stories, as they relate to football, are many and varied.  Basketball, on the other hand, has brought mostly joy.  Oh, we remember the 1984 National Semi-Final game when the Cats shot 3 for 33 in the second half.  Then, there was Christian Laettner’s dagger to the heart in 1992.  Those, however, are mostly blips on the Big Blue radar.

Probably, our biggest disappointments have come off the court with our occasional run-ins with the NCAA’s Draconian rule book.  Questionable ACT scores, money in envelopes, etc., have blighted our landscape.  Of course, like any True Blue fan, I can offer you vigorous and persuasive defenses for all our transgressions.  Perhaps I will do so in a future post.  Now, though, I turn to the strangest period in UK sports–the Billy Gillispie Era.

I suppose it’s hyperbole to refer to a two-year span as an “era,” but that’s what we call it.  Billy G as we lovingly called him, succeeded Orlando “Tubby” Smith as Kentucky’s basketball coach in the Spring of 2007.  Smith had finished an 10 year run as coach which included a national championship.  He won that title in his first year as coach and was never able to repeat.  In fact, despite some near misses, Tubby never got the Cats back to the Final Four, an unforgivable sin.  Some called him “Ten Loss Tubby” in reference to his losing at least ten games in a season several times, despite averaging 26 wins a season in Lexington.  By the 2006-2007 season, many fans felt like Tubby’s time was up.

Smith did the smart thing and jumped at the chance to leave UK and coach the University of Minnesota where he still coaches.  UK fans rejoiced!  Message boards lit up!  Now, we would get us a coach to push us back over the top!

Who would it be?  Now, we UK fans believe everyone wants the Kentucky job, except maybe Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe.  Would it be former UK All-American and NBA coaching royalty Pat Riley?  What about former coach and current villain Rick Pitino?  John Wooden was 96 years old at the time, but maybe he would come back.  While the fan base was engaged in its own demented fantasy world, the university was pursuing candidates who might actually want the job.

At first, it sounded like it might be Rick Barnes, the surly and moderately successful coach at the University of Texas.  That didn’t pan out.  What about John Calipari at Memphis?  Nah, we don’t want that guy.  We settled on Billy Donovan, hot-shot coach at the University of Florida.

I rarely spend time on message boards but couldn’t resist during those days.  People were using software programs to track flights between Lexington and Gainesville, Florida.  Donovan was spotted at various locations in and around Lexington.  I even heard that a clandestine meeting had been held on the tarmac of undisclosed airport to hammer out the final details.

Bottom line:  No deal with Donovan.  He wanted the Orlando Magic job, which he took and then quit 5 days later.  Oh, well.  Then, the name Billy Clyde Gillispie rose to the top.  We in BBN knew Billy Clyde.  Why?  Because his Texas A&M team had just upset the accursed Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament–at Rupp Arena.  Thus, this otherwise obscure coach was already something of a hero in BBN.  What did it matter that none of us knew anything about him?  A lot, as it turns out.

Gillispie was announced as the new head basketball coach at UK on April 6, 2007.  As is our practice, a large and unnecessary pep rally  was held.  Billy G was introduced to the fans.  They cheered wildly.  He said all the right things.  Let the good times roll!

Gillispie seemed uncomfortable in front of those fans.  He said the right things but looked like a guy who wanted to catch the next bus out of town.  I chalked it up to being in the spotlight for the first time.  Wouldn’t any of us be nervous?

Then, there were rumors that Gillispie told his A&M players he was leaving via text message.  If true, that was odd.  Hmmm.

It took no time for people to start beating the drum for Billy G–or Billy Clyde as many called him.  He was a relentless recruiter.  He was tough, not soft like Tubby.  He pushed his team.  People called him The Warrior.  He was a great X’s and O’s coach.  We were confident that we’d hit a home run when  we were still in the on-deck circle.  No honeymoon ever ended as abruptly as this one.

My first problem was with Billy G was his disturbing resemblance to Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  I couldn’t get past it.

Separated at birth? I would rather have given Squiggy a shot at the job.

Of course, I’m joking–sort of.  He does look like Squiggy.

The first problem most other folks had with him was called Gardner-Webb.  That’s a college.  I knew that because that’s where Artis Gilmore had gone to school before he attended Jacksonville State.  UK fans now know G-W because they laid an 84-68 ass-whipping on UK in Gillispie’s second game.  There were other ignominious losses, but the Cats wound up going 12-4 in the SEC, and Billy Clyde was even named SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite our ending the season on a bit of an uptick, there were signs that things weren’t right:

  • Our recruiting was going nowhere fast.  He was getting commitments from players no one knew, even an 8th grader in one instance.
  • His media performances were tepid, to say the least.  Even his Coachspeak was limited to repeatedly saying that the Cats must “compete.”
  • Rumors abounded about his off-the-court lifestyle.  It sounded as if Austin Powers had taken the reins of our beloved program.
  • We heard stories of grueling game day practices with feet bleeding from non-stop running.
  • Worst of all, Cats finished 18-13 and lost to Marquette in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy G’s second season was not an improvement.   VMI was our Gardner-Webb beating the Cats 111-103.  Billy G famously insulted an ESPN reporter during a game.  The Cats sputtered to a 22-14 record losing in the freakin’ NIT!  Billy G sealed his fate by stating that being the face of the basketball program wasn’t part of his job.  If he had any supporters, they didn’t make much noise.  Three stories, in particular, rankled Kentucky fans:

  • Perry Stephenson, a forward from Louisiana, was the epitome of the player who needed fill out his frame.  He never did.  The story was that Billy G, incensed over Stephenson’s lanky frame, forced him to eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Did Billy G really force Perry to eat a box of Pop Tarts? We thought so.

  • Billy G became so irate with Josh Harrellson that he forced him to stand in a bathroom stall during halftime of a game.  Later, he forced Harrellson to ride back to Lexington in the equipment van.
  • He even kicked one of the walk-ons off the team for laughing on the bench during a loss.

Right or wrong, UK basketball players are beloved.  Beloved.  Abusing them–either through grueling practices or outright embarrassment– was unacceptable, especially when the NIT was the result.

By the end of that second season, Billy G had dribbled out the clock. Game over. UK fired him on March 27, 2009. The next day, the ex-coach held a bizarre farewell press conference. He said he was happy and that everything was great. With that, he was gone. Sort of.

First, he decided to sue over his well-deserved firing. Second, he re-appeared on our local news six months later after being arrested a mere 20 miles from Lexington after a late night of golf and drinking. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up.

He then did an obligatory stay at John Lucas’s rehab facility. He emerged a new man, contrite over his old ways. Declaring himself a non-alcoholic, he was ready for a second chance.

We were just glad that he’d already been fired when this mug shot was taken after Billy G’s DUI arrest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “there are no second acts in American life.”  Of course, this was before Big Time Sports.  Billy G would get another chance.  Texas Tech was that chance.

Texas Tech was the ideal job.  Lubbock is in his home state, far removed from the national spotlight.  He had great success turning around moribund programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.  Texas Tech is, at its heart, a football school.  Basketball success is a bonus.  He would have time to build what he wanted.

It took Billy Clyde two years to squander one of the top jobs in college basketball.  Somehow, in a year at Tech, he has himself back on the ledge.  By the time you read this, he may already be fired.  In the past couple of weeks, the following events have transpired:

We know the end of this story.  He is on his way out.  Remember this, too:  His immediate predecessors were Bob Knight and his Hellish offspring, Pat–two coaches never to be confused with Dale Carnegie.  There may not another chance after this.

I’ve never met Billy Clyde.  Those I know who did during his time in Lexington were not impressed.  I don’t know what his problems are or why he’s blown two chances that others would fight for.  But, I know his type–Me.  In my own way, I used to act like him:  Drink too much and dismiss it as no problem.  Force my way upon others, even when my way was not effective and sure to alienate those around me.  Fight with authority when that authority held all the cards.  Then, when things turned out poorly, we wonder why things went so wrong.  I was younger than Billy G when I started to grow up, to take responsibility for my actions and find a better way to live.  Growing up before one grows old is always preferable. Any time otherwise successful people pull their world down around them bad things are under the surface.

I don’t what his medical leave is about, but I hope he is addressing whatever demons have created his problems with living.  A cynic (realist?) would suggest that this is a ploy to force a buy-out of his contract.  Maybe it is.  I make no judgment about his drinking or his emotional state.  I don’t engage in pop psychology.  What I do know is that people who consistently sabotage themselves have problems with living that a new job won’t cure.

I’m not so naive that I believe Billy G would have the same conflicts if he were consistently winning games.  Look no further than Bob Knight for an example of contemptible behavior being deemed acceptable if balanced with enough winning.  Billy G, it seems, has too few wins to be Bob Knight.

Will he get another chance?  Probably.  Sports fans are forgiving, especially if contrition is shown.  A record of success doesn’t hurt either.  Billy is still a young man, 52 years old.  He’ll likely emerge as an assistant somewhere. Sadly, he may repeat this tired act again.  Even though he wasn’t success at UK, I wish him well.  For as many negatives as we’ve heard, many other people saygood things about him.  Like of all us, he’s probably a mixture of good and bad.  No one, it has been said, should be judged by his worst.  Whatever gnaws at him compromises that good.  Let’s all hope he gets a third act and is ready for his role.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Fan’s Guide to Big Blue Nation

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I attended the University of Kentucky.  I am a proud alum, with two degrees no less.  I was born and raised and have lived my entire life in Kentucky.  Of course, I am also a lifelong fan of UK basketball.  Attending UK–even graduating–has nothing to do with that.  There are 3 million people in Kentucky, most of whom did not attend UK.  But, I’m willing to bet that the majority of those folks are also fans.  We’re born into it.  It doesn’t matter is you’ve never set foot on campus or even been to Lexington, you’re still a fan.

I don’t claim that we are unique.  Alabama football, Indiana basketball and other sports teams have similar followings.  Nevertheless, we have our lifestyle and our own way of viewing the world through a Big Blue prism.

We say our favorite time of year is the NCAA Tournament, though most of us approach each game with a mixture of excitement and fear.  To win would be the greatest of all things, while losing is a dagger in the chest.  The season ends.

We call ourselves part of Big Blue Nation.  You may be a member.  If not, you may encounter our people over the next few weeks at tournament venues, on message boards or just on the street.  You’ve been warned.

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MISERABLE

Any UK fan worth his or her salt knows that “the Fellowship of the Miserable” was coined not in relation to basketball, but by Bill Curry, our wildly unsuccessful football coach in the 1990’s.  This was his description of fans who complained to about our perpetually under-achieving football program.  The Fellowship was actually founded by our basketball fans, of course.

The Fellowship is at work, home, church, everywhere you go.  They speak of zones, defending the three, substitution patterns, timeouts, free throws, inbounds plays, recruiting.  And they never forget.  Here are sure-fire topics to stir the Fellowship at tournament time:

  • 2013 NIT:  We were the defending NCAA Champs and went to the NIT.  And lost.  In the first round.  To Robert Morris.
  • 1996 NCAA Champs: Why, oh why, did the Cats lose the SEC Tournament Championship game that year?  Was Pitino flat out-coached or did he tank the game in an act of genius? Oh, and our uniforms were ugly.
  • 1978 NCAA Champs:  When Joe Hall benched the starters in the second half against Florida State, was he a master motivator or was it the act of a madman? By the way, he almost blew the lead in the finals.
  • 1992 Duke game:  For the love of God, why didn’t Pitino put a man on the freaking ball ?  Regardless, Christian Laettner stomped on Aminu Timberlake!!  He shouldn’t haven’t been in the game at the end anyway.
  • 1975 NCAA Finals:  John Wooden announced his retirement before the 1975 Championship game just to screw UK. Wooden, by the way, was just as big a cheater as any of our coaches.
  • 1998 NCAA Champs:  Tubby Smith won with Pitino’s players.
  • 1966 NCAA Runners-up:  UK may have had an all-white team in 1966, but so did DUKE, by God!  Where is your outrage over THAT???
  • Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham:  Just ask any member of the Fellowship what is significant about those schools.  You’ll get an earful.
  • 1997 NCAA Runners-up:  If Derek Anderson was well enough to shoot a couple of free throws, he should have played.
  • 1984 Final Four:  Say “Seattle” or “Georgetown” or “2nd half” and watch the life drain from the faces of the Fellowship.
  • 1986 NCAA Tournament:  By God, you can’t beat any team FOUR TIMES in one season!

This is but a sampling of hot buttons for the BBN.  You can throw names out there, too:  Denny Crum, Dale Brown, Coach K, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, John Wooden, Billy Gillispie.  The list is endless.  One mention will dredge up memories best left suppressed, like tearing open an old incision.

WE CAN ALL COACH

I am a typical member of BBN.  I never played basketball at any seriously competitive level.  But, I’ve watched a lot of basketball.  A lot.  This makes me an expert, of sorts.  If I were the coach…..  You know the drill.  Every fan is different, but here are a number of coaching pointers about which there is a general consensus in BBN:

  • Full court press:  Full court, all the time.  We like this because it was effective under Rick Pitino, even though Pitino himself no longer employs it.  Because we rarely watch any team other than UK, we don’t know this.  We think Louisville presses all the time.  We want to do that, too.
  • Dribble Drive Motion:  This is the offense of choice of our current coach, John Calipari.  Few of us understand how it works.  We scream at the TV for pick and rolls and screens when they aren’t even part of our offense.  Here’s a link about the DDM which will confuse you to no end, making it only slightly less complex than string theory.
  • One and Done:  We hate the “One and Done” rule.  It doesn’t work.  We can’t win with freshmen.  Until we do….
  • Shoot the 3:  Pitino’s first team at UK made us 3 crazy.  We’ve never recovered.  Many of us still hold to the idea that firing the ball from 20 feet makes more sense than a lay up.
  • The Ball Line Defense:  This was Tubby Smith’s defense.  We think he invented it.  It’s also known as “man-you-ball” defense.  The basic principle is to position yourself between your man and the ball.  It based on the oldest defensive principle: The hardest man to guard is the one with the ball, so keep the ball away from your man.  It’s actually a good defense and was played well by Smith’s teams.  We don’t care, because those teams didn’t win enough.  We think it was a terrible defense.
  • Play Richie:  We know who should be playing and when.  We know that many games would have been won if only the 10th or 11th player had logged some minutes.
  • We Need More Kentucky Boys:  Not everything about BBN is admirable.  You will hear some fans say “we need more Kentucky boys.”  This is usually offered as a pretense to contend that Kentucky boys will play harder.  Sadly, this is often a thinly-veiled code for “white boys.”  Don’t be fooled.  When you hear this, that’s often what it means.

THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

Kentucky belongs to the SEC or, as we prefer to put it, the SEC belongs to Kentucky.  The SEC hates Kentucky, but not as much as the BBN hates the SEC.  The other SEC schools waste their efforts on football or–in Vanderbilt’s case–academics.  We’re all basketball all the time.  A quick overview of our take on the rest of the conference:

  • Alabama:  A football school pretending to play basketball and doing a poor job of it.
  • Auburn:  See Alabama.  Plus, we made Charles Barkley cry.  Tigers, War Eagles of Plainsmen?  No self-respecting school can be that confused on its mascot choice.
  • Arkansas:  Okay, they won a title. Big deal.  Their coach also said he would crawl to Kentucky for the UK job.  He didn’t, but he did kind of crawl out of town when he got fired.
  • Florida:  They won back to back titles.  Pure luck.  Any school that had both Dwayne Schintzius and Joakim Noah is worthy of nothing but contempt.
  • Georgia:  Their coach also abandoned them to come to Kentucky. Otherwise, we don’t know much about them, other than we regularly beat them.
  • LSU:  Cats came back from 31 down AT LSU on Fat Tuesday.  HAHAHAHA!
  • Mississippi:   We get them confused with Mississippi State.
  • Mississippi State:  See Mississippi.  They used to be called the “Maroons.”  WTH?  Somehow, they get credit for “crossing the color line” by participating in the integrated NCAA Tournament in 1963, twenty freakin’ years after UK started going to the tournament!
  • Missouri:  They have to be known for something, but what I have no idea what.
  • South Carolina:  They’re called the Gamecocks.  Nuff said.
  • Tennessee:  One time Ernie Grunfeld shot free throws when Bernard King got fouled.  They are cheaters.  Plus, their women’s team could beat them most years.
  • Texas A&M:  Another football school but without any particular football success.  Like UK, Bear Bryant quit them, too.  Their school concentrates on agricultural and mechanical stuff which seems kind of limited to me.
  • Vanderbilt:  Eggheads with a disproportionate number of white players.  They play in a dump with the benches at the end of the court.

LOUISVILLE

We hate Louisville, the University, that is.  The city actually has more UK fans in it than anywhere else in the state. HAHAHAHA!!

CONSPIRACIES

Oswald acted alone.  Marilyn Monroe overdosed.  Obama was born in Hawaii.  Those statements sum up my view of conspiracies.  I don’t believe it is possible for two people to keep a secret, much less dozens; however, as a member of BBN, I do recognize the following undeniable conspiracies:

  • The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is designed primarily to give UK an impossible draw every year.  That’s why they don’t have cameras in the room.
  • The NCAA Infractions Committee has conspired against UK many times to impose unjust sanctions.  They have gone so far as to enlist the media, FedEx and the American College Testing system.
  • The print media conspires against UK by failing to acknowledge our superiority.  They also engage in yellow journalism by unjustly criticizing the Cats.
  • Broadcasters conspire against UK to offer undue criticism of the Cats and unwarranted praise of our opponents.  Only Dick Vitale does not belong to the conspiracy and that’s only because he’s so annoying they won’t invite him to their secret meetings.
  • Referees since the days of Paul Galvan have conspired against UK every season.  We know that they meet before each season to discuss how to hold back UK.  They demand that games be kept close for TV ratings and to boost up the rest of the sorry SEC.  This is the only thing that keeps the Cats from regularly winning by 75 points.

PERSPECTIVE

Like any good fan base, BBN lacks perspective.  I myself have smashed an ashtray (1992); broken a baseball bat (1993); ripped a pair of blue jeans in half (1995); and kicked a hole in the wall (1994).  These were just reactions to NCAA tournament losses.  There have been countless of other instances of temporary insanity, property damage and self-inflicted physical injury caused by a bitter defeat.

bbn3

Your author reflects in the glory of the accomplishments of others.

We are the same fan base from which a caller told Coach Smith that he hadn’t “given up” on the Cats, even though they were 22-3 at the time.  People who camp out for weeks to attend a practice.  We hate Christian Laettner for doing what anyone would expect him to do–make a shot to win the game for his team.  We don’t care.  He beat the Cats, and we hate him.  Coach Calipari won the title in 2012, and two years later we were ready to brand him a complete failure, then he took his team to another Final Four.  He was a genius again.

Two kinds of seasons end with a win:  Wildly successful (NCAA Champs!) or soul-crushing failure (no tournament, NIT champs, probation).  This means that we are despondent at the end of almost every season.  We won’t read the newspaper or watch the news, lest there be a report on our humiliating loss.  We are lesser people, and we know it.  We have no hope…until NEXT YEAR!!

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