Coach part psychologist, too, in today's era of sensitivity


March 16, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

When Indiana freshman Brian Evans took an ill-advised shot during a recent game against Purdue, everyone inside Bloomington's Assembly Hall and those watching on television knew what was likely to follow. An explosion from Bob Knight.

It came during the next timeout. First, the Indiana coach pulled Evans toward the bench, then forcefully guided the player into his seat. Finally, Knight gave Evans an earful of his favorite adjectives.

And Knight knew what was coming, too: a question regarding his sideline behavior. What has become almost an annual event in Indiana has taken on renewed significance, given this season's firings of Lou Campanelli at Cal and Tom Miller -- a former Knight assistant -- at Army.

"If I had been coaching at Army or California, when I grabbed Evans and sat him down, I would have been fired on the spot," Knight said later with his typical sarcasm.

Though Knight hasn't changed much in the relationship he maintains with his players, others have. The drill sergeant instructors of the 1960s have become part-time psychologists in the 1990s. While the pressure to win has increased, so has the attention paid to other aspects of a player's college life.

The pressure and the attention is no greater than during the NCAA tournament, which begins Thursday. Certainly, the relationships between coaches and players are never under more scrutiny than during this month of madness.

"There's more of an attempt to reach kids from an intellectual point of view," said former Maryland star Len Elmore, also an ex-television analyst and now a sports attorney. "The days of trying to motivate players with some sort of sensory-deprivation, Pavlovian method are over."

But what methods are acceptable? The dismissals of Campanelli and Miller -- as well as the termination of Utah State's Kohn Smith -- have raised questions about coaches crossing the line ++ between motivation and verbal abuse. The boundary appears unclear.

"Sometimes, yelling at somebody is what you need to do," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at West Point and is a recent president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "Sometimes, you have to pat them on the back. Sometimes, you need to yell at them and pat them on the back. I still yell at my kids at home. That doesn't mean I don't love them."

The situations of Campanelli, Miller and Smith were different, but the reasons given for their terminations were nearly identical. The athletic directors at all three schools cited verbally abusive behavior. In Campanelli's case, Cal athletic director Bob Bockrath happened to overhear a locker room tirade by the Bears coach after a loss to James Madison at a tournament in East Rutherford, N.J., in late December.

When as many as 10 players complained later to Bockrath about Campanelli's personal attacks, the coach's eight-year career at Cal ended. Campanelli, 56, seemed stunned by his firing.

"I did nothing immoral," Campanelli told The New York Times acouple of weeks after his firing. "When you commit a crime, you at least get a trial. What I got was a bullet to the head."

What Bockrath got was a storm of controversy. The Bears had a winning record (10-7) at the time, and Campanelli always has been held in fairly high regard. But Bockrath said later that he didn't merely back down to a bunch of mutinous players, and that Campanelli's tantrums were only part of the problem.

"I made my recommendation to dismiss Campanelli Monday morning [Feb. 8]. I didn't know about the meeting with the players until 1 in the afternoon," said Bockrath, in his second year at Cal. "I simply listened to them and reaffirmed in my own mind that what I did was right."

Predictable reaction

The reaction from coaches and administrators around the country was swift -- but predictable. Coaches backed Campanelli. Athletic directors supported Bockrath.

"There's a contradiction here," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell, a noted disciplinarian who has his Eagles in their second NCAA tournament. "At a time when society is telling us that we have to be tougher with our kids, they [college administrators] are saying just the opposite."

Said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger: "It's no longer just the coach's team. It's the university's team. It belongs to the players as much as it does to anyone."

But should it be?

"Do we want some 18- or 19-year-old kids running the athletic departments?" asked Mitchell.

Some of the most respected coaches have been known to lash out at players. Mostly, they do it in the privacy of closed locker rooms, but sometimes in full view of several thousand spectators and millions of television viewers.

Certainly the leading example of this is Knight, an enfant terrible at Army and Indiana who has raged right into middle age. Then there are those who are a bit more discreet, coaches who are rarely out of control during games, but who rail at players in practice. Seton Hall's P. J. Carlesimo admits to falling in that category.

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