SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Imagine having a television camera aimed at you every minute of your job. On any given day would a camera catch you laughing, frowning, arguing, gesturing and rolling your eyes?

Funny, but those sound exactly like the range of reactions you see on nationally televised games from major college basketball coaches.

I assume that at least one television camera is devoted to each head coach, waiting for the moment that coach shows some emotion. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the televised game is more about the coach than the players.

The reaction to an unpopular call is about as predictable as Kansans whining about the weather. After almost any close call, the camera shows a close-up of how the coach reacts, ranging from a red face with veins popping out to looks of disbelief and disgust.

Let’s just say the poker face doesn’t apply to a basketball coach.

If television executives are intent on showing us how coaches react, they shouldn’t just show us the coach who thinks he’s getting taken to the cleaners. Let us also see the reaction of the coach who benefited from the close call.

Based on how some coaches react, I suspect that some enjoy playing to the TV camera and the crowd. Some performances are worthy of an Academy Award. You don’t have to be an expert at reading lips to know that some reactions are not suitable for all audiences.

Please understand that I don’t envy coaches in nationally televised games. Who among us wants every move chronicled? Few of us act like angels all of the time.

One unfortunate aspect of all this TV exposure is how it affects our high school and small college coaches. When I’m in the role of a spectator and not a basketball official, I find myself taking a quick look at coaches to see how they respond to close calls.

What would happen if the TV cameras ignored the coaches except during timeouts? If they knew the cameras weren’t trained on them, would coaches be as demonstrative?

On the other hand, maybe the TV camera is a deterrent for some coaches. Who wants to wind up on Sports Center acting like a 5-year-old throwing a temper tantrum?

In a small-college playoff game I officiated some years ago, one coach called timeout, in part to talk to my partner. At that point in the second half, we had called seven fouls on his team and only one or two on the other team.

Naturally, the fans assumed that he was protesting the foul disparity. However, the coach told my partner, “First of all, I don’t have a problem with the difference in team fouls. We’re fouling more than they are. But if I don’t at least stand and look like I’m concerned, my fans will think that I don’t care.”

I had the privilege of hearing former major college basketball official Jim Bain tell a story about an incident in a game at KU many years ago.

After one particular play in the second half, then Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcoat came off the bench waving his coat over his head. Bain saw him and naturally thought, “Uh oh.”

But Heathcoat yelled, “Boomer (Bain’s nickname). Throw me out of here. My team is playing terrible. I can’t take it anymore.”

Bain looked at him and said, “Do you mean that?”

Heathcoat responded, “Yes, throw me out of here.”

Bain obliged and gave him the heave-ho. Most of the crowd assumed Heathcoat was irate at the officiating when he was mostly frustrated at his players.

Coaches can’t win. If they sit passively and exhibit good sportsmanship, they’re criticized as not having enough passion. If they get emotional and yell, they are accused of bad sportsmanship.

All of which brings to mind the story about the psychology professor who had just finished a lecture on mental health and was giving an oral test.

Speaking specifically about manic depression, she asked, “How would you diagnose a patient who walks back and forth screaming at the top of his lungs one minute, then sits in a chair weeping uncontrollably the next?”

A young man raised his hand and answered, “He’s a basketball coach.”

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