Discipline hasn't lost bite with Fang

KEN ROSENTHAL

December 01, 1992|By KEN ROSENTHAL

All Fang asks is that they call. Can't make practice, call. Can't make class, call.

"If you don't call, we run you and everyone else," he says.

The offender, at 6 a.m.

Everyone else, at practice.

Punishment for a delinquent Coppin State basketball player includes sitting on a chair at center court while his teammates run "suicide" sprints around him. Coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell forces him to hold a glass of water, in case anyone gets thirsty.

They get thirsty. They get angry. And the point gets across.

The concept is called discipline, and for a change in college sports, the concept is in trouble. Football players rebelling at Morgan State. Basketball stars getting suspended at Loyola and UMBC. It's all happening in Baltimore, not exactly the center of the NCAA universe.

Mitchell reclines in his office, mulls the cluttered landscape and shakes his head in disgust. An 18-year-old dictating to him? Not in this lifetime.

"Let's go back to the beginning," he says.

Look out, Mitchell is on a roll.

He's invoking God's will.

"It's in the Bible -- if we're going to get along in this world with peace and tranquillity, we have to respect authority," Mitchell says. "Timothy 2:2 and 2:3, that's what they say.

"So," Mitchell says, shrugging, "all I'm doing is following the Bible."

It's that simple. Mitchell, entering his sixth year at Coppin, won't cuss a blue streak, and he won't bop players upside the head. But when the season opens tonight at Kansas State, the first thing he will suspend is democracy.

After that, who knows?

Mitchell, of course, is a throwback, one of those old-fashioned authority figures who turns boys into men. It's constructive to debate the tactics employed by such coaches, but it's getting to the point where sensitivity training will be a prerequisite to a Division I job.

That's not the answer, either. Not when coaches like Mitchell are the best hope for kids who never had a father figure. Kids who ignored the rules because they were stars on the court. Kids who can barely handle college, much less the real world.

Most college athletes fall into at least one of those categories; all Mitchell does is challenge them for the first time in their lives. He screams at them in his sandpaper rasp, screams often, screams loud.

"I'm your best friend, or I become your enemy," Mitchell says. "You choose."

Last season, he suspended point guard Larry Yarbray, Coppin's all-time assist leader, and forward James Mazyck, a second-team all-conference selection. Over the summer, he fired assistant coaches Charles Baker and Curtis Chance.

Mitchell despised last year's 15-13 team. "I never want to see that group again," he says. This year's team is inexperienced, in part because he revoked the scholarships of Mazyck and guard Michael Johnson (Mazyck transferred to Florida International; Johnson remained at Coppin).

"The people I have problems with -- they have to go," Mitchell says. "They have to go regardless of how much of an impact they have on my program. They have to go because they'll have a negative impact in the end.

"I'm responsible to their parents to do the best job I can to prepare these young people to become better individuals. I don't really care who the person is. It can be a star, or it can be the last person on the team. They understand the way I am.

"If you want to challenge the way I am, then that's a confrontation. And in the real world, when these guys go work for someone, they won't have a say. Go tell your boss he's not running his business right, and see how long you keep your job."

Makes sense, but it can only work at a place such as Coppin. Mitchell has the support of school president Calvin Burnett, and the loss of a star player is not deemed harmful to the institution, as it would be at a big-time program.

In the wake of the Morgan fiasco, it's also worth noting that his chief assistant, Derek Brown, is a former high school teammate -- not some up-and-comer trying to undermine his authority.

Mitchell admits to being a "Type A personality," but he's not an unyielding tyrant. The other day, sophomore Lennox Brown asked to be excused from a preseason game because he had a 9 a.m. exam the next day. "That's legit," Mitchell said, and the kid got the night off.

On the other hand, if a kid misses class for no reason, Mitchell will snap, "Give me a number," as in, which excuse are you going to use today? At Coppin, the inmates don't run the asylum. There, if nowhere else, it's a good thing.

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