Tuesday, March 8, 2011



The whole world is festering with unhappy souls ...

The Kingston Trio wasn’t thinking about college basketball fans in singing those words on a cut in its classic 1959 album “the hungry i,” but the guys very well could have been.

Outside of Duke fans and possibly, well, possibly nobody else, no college fan seems to be all that happy with their coach these days. If anybody is, they seem to be keeping a profile lower than that guy in the Geico commercial who lives under a rock.

Consider, Texas Tech just informed Pat Knight he won’t be returning as their coach next year. He is being let go after three years.

Three years!

That’s not even enough time for his first recruiting class to earn enough credits for a earn a degree. If he hadn’t been for his time as an assistant coach with the Red Raiders under his dad (Pat is the son of Bob Knight), he probably wouldn’t even have had enough time to find all the good barbecue spots in West Texas.

But Knight is just one example.

Here in South Florida, fan message boards are full of complaints about Frank Haith at the University of Miami. Yes, a school that once gave up completely on its program now is unhappy with a coach who has won 62 games in the last three years and is two wins short of getting its third 20-win season in the last four years going into this week’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Not enough ACC wins to suit them.

At least Haith has been around long enough for a second cup of coffee. He is completing his seventh year and even a rational critic -- if there is such a thing -- could make a good case against him, though that doesn’t explain away the vitriol behind some of the comments.

But how about these examples:

-- Grumbling has begun at Indiana, where Tom Crean is struggling in just his third season at Indiana, this even though he took over a program in shambles and has one of the state’s top recruits coming in next year.

-- Charlotte fired Bobby Lutz a year ago and brought in Alan Major. Already, some fans are posting messages on the Charlotte Observer’s website calling for his ouster.

Yes. That’s right. Major has been there one year, and some fans are saying it’s time for a change.

-- Roy Williams has won two national titles at North Carolina in the last seven years but last January came under fire from fans who called in to his radio show and questioned his defensive coaching and lineups the day after the Tar Heels lost by 20 points at Georgia Tech.

Williams’ response?

“Keep your damn phone calls to yourself.”

Since then, by the way, Williams’ team has won 12 of 13 games, including a win over Duke for the ACC title.

-- A couple of years ago Gary Williams was forced to defend his program not just with fans but with his administration just six years after winning a national championship at Maryland. Talk about what have you done for me lately!

Here’s the thing.

I’ve read some pieces recently taking Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to task for his transgressions. Pearl violated an NCAA rule by having some high school junior prospects to his home, then lied about it to NCAA investigators to cover it up. He and a couple of his assistants also were involved in making some impermissible phone calls to recruits.

He later confessed after being shown photographic evidence the players were there. 

The school cut Pearl’s pay by $1.5 million over a four-year period and the Southeastern Conference suspended Pearl from coaching in games for half of the conference season (eight games), but the NCAA has yet to levy its penalties.

Some, who are a bit sanctimonious in my view, think that Pearl shouldn’t be coaching at all on the collegiate level. They would seem to me to be the kind of people who would kick a first-grader out of school for bringing a toy guy to the playground because it had violated the “no tolerance” policy.

I’d go along with a year’s suspension.

If you’re one who would argue for a lifetime ban, then you damn well better be prepared to lend your support to coaches who live up to your high standards and give them realistic expectations to live up to on the court-- and in a reasonable time period.

As it is now, coaches often are put in an untenable position. Unless they are a big name like Mike Krzyzewski at Duke or a Williams at North Carolina, or a Bill Self at Kansas, they often lose the recruiting competition to coaches who are willing to skirt the rules, many of which, by the way, simply don’t make any sense (Who cares if a junior visits a coach’s home?).

But if they turn in rule violators, they often pay another price. The irony of the Bruce Pearl situation is that Pearl’s move up the coaching ladder was set back several years when as an assistant he turned in another school for possible violations; such is the reward for whistleblowers.

I don’t know all the background about Pat Knight’s firing or Knight himself, for that matter, other than that he didn’t win enough conference games. From what I have read, though, he ran his program with the same kind of standards and integrity his dad did but without Bob’s bullying baggage.

That he was let go so soon is a sad commentary on the way college athletics is being run today.

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