Coaching isn’t simply teaching players how to play together as a well-oiled machine. At the collegiate level, coaching involves wining and dining recruits, parents, alumni and pleasing a fan base that is more fickle than the Kansas weather.
Coaching involves fundraising so the program can grow bigger and better.
A successful coach probably has earned the equivalent of degrees in psychology and communications. A coach needs to understand the minds of 18-to-22-year-olds while also knowing how to communicate effectively with sports reporters.
In reality, very few coaches have the whole package. Winning helps mask deficiencies, but no one wins them all. And if you win, the expectations become even more unrealistic. When you don’t win enough, you are ripe for criticism at best, and fired at worst.
Naturally, coaches like to see positive stories in the media about their teams. Conversely, they are very sensitive about anything that might be construed as criticism.
Of course, if you believe coaches, seldom do they read the paper or watch TV. How many times have you heard a coach say, “I never read the paper,” or “I don’t pay attention to sports-talk shows.” Yeah, right. But, somehow they have a sense of what’s said or written about them.… ESP perhaps?
Last month we saw what happens when a coach doesn’t like something in print. Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy directed a post-game rant at a columnist for questioning the character of one of his players.
The tongue-lashing was surprising for two reasons—it immediately followed an OSU victory, and it was free of any expletives. Many big-time coaches who are upset and speak passionately can’t do so without uttering some expletives.
While Gundy’s method can be debated, he raised some good questions. Many people would agree with him that the reporter crossed the line by commenting on a student-athlete’s character. Never mind that coaches often privately question the toughness or character of their student-athletes. Fans do the same, but it’s not in print.
Criticism doesn’t play well with coaches whether it’s New York City or Hillsboro. In fact, it may be harder to take in small cities like Hillsboro, where it seems that everyone knows each other.
If I’ve learned anything during the years I’ve written a sports column, it’s how sensitive people can be about anything they interpret as being less than 100 percent supportive.
At the major college level, coaches earn the big bucks because society is nuts about sports. The fanaticism of fans has resulted in 24-hour sports cable stations, 24-hour sports talk shows on radio stations and multiple sports magazines.
All of that publicity is both a blessing and a curse. The public appetite for sports is what enables coaches to earn fame and fortune, but it comes with a price—their programs and student-athletes are under more scrutiny than ever before.
Every embarrassing rant or tantrum is seen on television or YouTube. No coach can afford to become unhinged in public nowadays without some repercussions.
To be fair, it’s not surprising that coaches make some fiery comments after emotional games. The adrenaline is flowing and frustrations are boiling.
Perhaps it would help if coaches followed their own advice. They tell student-athletes, “Keep your cool in the heat of battle. Play hard, but smart. Don’t let the opposition provoke you.”
Coaches expect student-athletes to control their tempers, only to throw temper tantrums that would make a 4-year-old proud.
The bottom line is that coaches have every right to express themselves, just as columnists do. Of course, they would be wise to remember that for every action, there’s a reaction.