What if…I were on Bourbon Street and I ran into some NCAA coaches who were not playing this weekend? Would they be forthcoming about the officiating we have all witnessed? Do you think they would really say how they feel? After a couple of Pat O’Brien’s famous Hurricanes, any subject would be open. And some of them even had a few daiquiris on their way in…so…
If I saw Mizzou coach Frank Haith, I’d ask him one simple question: “What happened?” Coach Haith seems like a good guy…he turned Missouri into a cohesive team, using basically the same kids who were totally undisciplined last year, and this year they were good enough to earn a No. 2 seed. So, coach, what happened?
“I’m still trying to figure it out. I knew I’d be here in New Orleans, but I figured my team would be with me. Say, these Hurricanes are delicious…you want one?”
“Sure…mind if we talk about Norfolk State?” “Well, what you gotta know is that any school has the ability to knock off another on any day. Kind of like the NFL…any given Sunday. Our kids were not happy about getting a No. 2 seed. We felt we earned a one…then, Sunday night, we see that we actually were the eighth team listed…closer to a three seed than a one. We were not happy. Then we see we drew a MEAC team, and we’re looking ahead to the next round already. We’re thinking Florida could give us problems…but, hey, don’t tell anyone…we didn’t even look at film. I mean, c’mon. The MEAC? All I know about the MEAC is that Fang Mitchell made a name for himself and his Coppin State team when they played about 15 guarantee games a year to make a lot of cash. Seems like he always was in the tournament…with a 15-16 record. Imagine, the MEAC having better athletes than the Big 12…HEY…where’s my Hurricane? You know I used to coach the Canes…so dammit, where’s my drink…”
“Thanks, Coach…as a Mizzou grad I can tell you I’m proud of what you and the team accomplished this year…and not surprised you flamed out in the first round. 25 NCAA Tournaments and not one Final Four. Enjoy NOLA! Hey, there’s Coach K.” (NOTE: I was shocked to see Coach K on Bourbon Street…you NEVER see anyone from Duke (fans, team members, administrators) at any Final Four event…they are all sequestered in some fancy, rich hotel far from the action…trust me.)
“Coach K…a word?” “Sure…don’t I know you…you’re from UNC Asheville, right?” “Yeah…but today I’m just talking to people for my sports blog. I just have one question for you…but before that, congratulations on becoming the winningest-coach in NCAA history.” “Thanks, but you know when you’ve won as many games as I have, the losses are the games that stick with you.”
“And speaking of losses, I just talked to Coach Haith…you might want to buy him a Hurricane…poor guy still doesn’t know what hit him…but I guarantee another drink and he won’t care.”
“Ha…lightweight. When he was in the ACC he couldn’t even compete with us from the REAL part of the league…you know us, that school in Chapel Hill, Wake, NC State and, occasionally, Maryland. One year in the Big 12 the guy blows everyone out except Kansas – and he did beat them in Columbia, so yeah, he’s got that going for him. Waitress? Could you bring an extra strong Hurricane over to Coach Haith over there and bring us a couple, too…tell him it’s from the ACC. What the hell, I can expense it.”
“Uh, coach…speaking of tough losses, what happened to your team against Lehigh?”
“We got confused. We were playing away from Cameron Indoor Stadium for only the seventh time this year…Heck, we’re so important to the ACC that some of our scheduled league road games are actually played in Durham…we play the real game – the one that counts – the night before…then we just go on the road, have a nice dinner and play kind of a pick-up game at the other school. Their students love it, especially when we “lose” (yes, he did use the quote marks thing in the air when talking to me) the “scrimmage”. But ACC officials know, we get a one or two seed in the tournament every year. SO imagine this…waitress, these Hurricanes are pretty good…can I get another? Okay…we, DUKE, are travelling all the way to Greensboro – mind you, that’s a whole 40-minute drive for most of our fans, to play against Lehigh. Our guys got confused. Smart as they are, sometimes they just plain forget things. Anyway, we’re told we are playing the Lehigh Engineers, so we design a great game plan to beat the Engineers. Then, out of the blue, this team changes their nickname to the Mountain Hawks. What the hell? We cannot for the sake of things find out what a Mountain Hawk is. Now our student fans are really upset too. They had all these great chants about engineers…geeky things, too…and now none of these will work against the Mountain Hawks. Austin Rivers came to me and said he was done…he did all he could do at this level and he was going to announce he was taking his talents to the NBA. Kid, I said, think hard about this. There are so many great players in the League…I should know, I coached a lot of them. And maybe there’s someone on Lehigh who’s good also. Yeah, we had a good laugh about that one.
“Anyway, we get to the Greensboro Coliseum early…the place is packed…Hey, this Hurricane sure went down quickly…Waitress, another Hurricane, please. Wow, my wife, Mickie is gonna be pissed when she learns how delicious these things are. Maybe if she had a couple of these, she could earn some of those beads, ya know what I mean?”
“Yeah, coach…but she seems kind of refined to “earn” (and yes, I did use the quote mark thing also) beads.” “Naw, she’s kinda easy when she’s had a few…should have seen her at the after-party when we won in 2010! Anyway, turns out Lehigh has a kid who was better than Rivers…C.J. McCollum. Kid scored 30 and had 6 assists…AGAINST US. How I missed this kid is beyond me. I’m blaming my assistant coaches anyway. (NOTE: at this time Coach K was feeling no pain.) Lettem all go get head coaching jobs and see how “easy” (again with the quote marks…) it is. Waitress…you’re so cute…can I have another Hurricane? HEY…anybody here have FOUR NCAA RINGS? YEAH, THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT…”
“Time to move on, Coach. Glad to see the loss hasn’t hurt you too much…HEY, COACH FEW!”
“I remember you. Didn’t we meet back in 2002 in the Atlanta Marriott? In a very slow elevator?” “Yep, we did…that’s how I get to know most of the coaches I interview. I remember asking you about how great it was being the Cinderella team in the tournament. You were very polite and really wanted to talk about fly-fishing. Anything changed in ten years?”
“Well, we’re no Cinderella anymore. I mean think about this…and, yes, I’ve had a couple of Hurricanes, so definitely quote me…uh…yeah…anyway the NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, makes us a 7 seed. GONZAGA…a little Jesuit school in Spokane, WA…a 7. Not bad for us. But…these people sitting in a hotel room in Indianapolis all week, barely getting any fresh air or fresh food…these people – “The Committee” (again with the quote marks? What – people I know what you mean.) has us playing the 10 seed in the EAST, West Virginia. So, the higher seed or is it lower…I never know and now that I’ve had a couple of those frozen daiquiris they sell about every fifty feet on every street in New Orleans I really have no idea if a 7 is a lower or higher seed than a 10…ANYHOO, “The Committee” has us playing those ugly Mountaineers in Pittsburgh. Isn’t WVU located about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh in Morgantown. How do they get basically a home game against the better-seeded team? Huh? Answer me that!”
“Mark, you got screwed. But you overcame it, much to the bookies delight, I might add. You were favored but everyone thought that WVU would beat you since they basically had an hour’s bus ride up to the Burgh so all the money went on the ‘Eers.”
“Yep, we did that…waitress, another couple of Hurricanes over here…the “writer” (okay, Coach, that hurt) over here is making too much sense. Anyway, we thought we’d have a good shot at Ohio State, but they were too good for us. So, now we head back on a flight – and man are we happy the NCAA provides the charter jets for us…do you know how much trouble it is flying to Spokane…gotta fly to Seattle, sit around Sea-Tac for hours and get a puddle-jumper back over the mountains to God’s Country. But at least I can fly-fish there…five minutes from my house is the best stream in the Northwest. And (Coach Few comes in very close to me now and whispers) that’s why I keep turning down all those big schools. None of them have streams near their campus’. And I make a boatload of money at GU.”
“Can’t blame you, coach…and wow, that Hurricane is deceptively sweet…just can’t be any liquor in it, it went down too fast…Let’s get another. Waitress…another round! And can you get one for Coach Shaka Smart while you’re at it. You guys know each other? Shaka keeps turning jobs down also…just turned South Carolina and Illinois down this year…and he only got a meager bump in salary. Shaka why?”
“It’s not for the fly-fishing…we don’t do that in Richmond. But you have to understand I made a commitment to these young men and to the university. I intend to stick with it. Thanks for the Hurricane, by the way…it’s delicious! (NOTE: Coach Smart really put his Hurricane away quickly and moved onto number two.) Anyway, I am happy at VCU and don’t need the kind of pressure a $1.7 or $2 million job would bring. I have a nice house, my wife and kids like the neighborhood, and if I lose, no one’s gonna fire me. Look at me…I’m Shaka Smart…doesn’t the name say it all. You fire me and you know for sure Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be rallying in Richmond faster than you can say, hey, big name school…hire me! You know I’m just kidding…I’m a civilized man and an educated one. I know coaches are hired to be fired, but I just want to see my commitment through to the end. Is that asking too much? You saw Kansas State coach Frank Martin just take that South Carolina job…and his athletic director didn’t even offer anything to keep him…and he’s a great coach. That’ll cost the AD his job…mark my words. Mark, tell me about that fly-fishing thing…”
So, off into the night I went, thinking these last two coaches have it right. Coaching at small schools where the pay is not as huge as it could be, but doing it for the right reasons…the kids. Which brings me to one final comment. UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach whose team came thisclose to beating No. 1 East seed Syracuse this year (and last year had No. 1 East seed Pitt on the ropes early in their game). According to documents recently released, Coach B was the second-lowest paid coach of the 68 in the tournament. He has been at UNC Asheville for 17 years…and deserves better. Coach B will not talk about the officiating that, while it did not cost UNC Asheville the game, it certainly cost them an opportunity to possibly tie or win the game. And there have been so many games this tournament that have shown us how officials are all too human…blown calls…travelling…lane violations…When these calls are not made up until the last minutes of a game – why suddenly do the rules change? Shame on these officials for taking away the player’s chances to do something special.
I have not commented on the UNC Asheville-Syracuse game because I am very close to the Bulldogs team…however, seeing the out-pouring of love that the Dogs were shown made me so proud of these guys. To the seniors, Honorable Mention All-American Matt Dickey, J.P. Primm, Chris Stephenson, Quinard Jackson and Jeremy Harn, best of luck in your futures. And remember, one game does not define your career. You went out in style and set a standard that will be tough to match. But, speaking to the younger players on the team, they saw how hard you have to work to just get to the NCAA Tournament, and they take on that burden with pride.
As for who will win the 2012 NCAA Tournament, if I say Kentucky, I’m on the bandwagon. I think the Wildcats will beat Louisville and Ohio State will beat Kansas on Saturday…and Monday night, the newest residents of Lexington, KY, the Lynch family, will be glad they moved there as they can celebrate with the rest of Big Blue Nation another national title for Kentucky.