When the Walls Cave-In
I’ve seen this one before.
Sure, the characters and circumstances are different, but the themes are the same.
A little over a month before Pat Knight was fired at Lamar, his team lost to rival McNeese State by 15 points. There was really no reason this loss was that different than the various others I had witnessed, but this time Knight grew defensive to a question that wasn’t even meant to ruffle his feathers.
At the 2:53 mark I asked Knight if he ever questions himself:
Here are some of the highlights:
“If this isn’t enough, fire me. Get another guy in here. I got no problem with that, I’ve been fired before. If fans don’t think I’m doing a good job, that’s part of coaching.”
“I’ve already won a banner. There’s a lot of coaches that haven’t won a banner here if we’re going to talk about that. If this was such a great job to begin with, why did it take 20 years to win 23 games? Why was there 12 years between going to the NCAA Tournament? It’s not like I’m walking into a situation where we win 20 games all the time. We’re building something and it takes time.”
“(You should expect) struggles (the first two seasons),” Knight said. “It’s tough. Look at other people who have built programs. People, do your homework. What are (we) supposed to do? Win right off the bat? This isn’t North Carolina or Duke where we have McDonald’s All-Americans coming in. If that’s not enough, fine. Fire me, get another coach and then fire him when you get upset with him after two or three years.”
Keep in mind the McNeese loss dropped Lamar to 1-15 on the season. This was not a time to be defiant and defensive. Knight didn’t hold the chips, but he was pushing back against faceless opposition with vitriol. He was acting bigger than the program and it came off that he was better than the job he had.
That press conference was the first thing I thought of as I read some of the quotes coming out of Tom Crean’s radio show Monday night.
In the course of three days, IU had won PR Disaster Bingo. In an act that can be described as standing on the edge of a volcano, looking at the fiery abyss and jumping in, Crean went on his weekly call-in radio show Monday night.
This was a good move, as opposed to something along the lines of…
I was unable to listen to the show, but kept up with tweets and later read recaps. The callers were predictably vicious.
From IU SportCom:
The second caller identified himself as a former Indiana University student athletic trainer under Tim Garl, which the caller said allows him to “bring a little different perspective than most might.”
He asked: “My question for you tonight Coach is how do you respond to fans like me who place the blame for the recent legal issues on the shoulders of the team’s leadership, mainly you, as the head coach?”
And Crean’s response from the Indiana Daily Student:
“You’re more than welcome to put that on me,” he said. “My shoulders are fine.”
And more from IU SportCom:
Phil asked: “How much of that lack of true, three-, four-year senior leadership is a result of what is going on off the court these last 12 months?”
Crean said it might play a role, but it’s not as significant as what one might think.
“There’s always issues in a program,” Crean said.
He continued: “Leadership matters the most when we’re not around, when there’s nobody of authority around and decisions have to be made that aren’t comfortable or easy, teammate-to-teammate, that’s leadership, and that’s probably what we’re lacking.”
With so much going on around the IU program, in Crean’s big chance to make a positive public appearance at a Holiday Inn in Southern Indiana, he fell victim to some of the same missteps as Knight.
Now was not the time to be defiant. It wasn’t the time to say My shoulders are fine. The question that preceded that answer was legitimate and polite. The answer was short and defensive.
And then “Phil” gives Crean a bit of an out, asking how lack of experienced leadership plays into things.
The answer: “There’s always issues in a program.”
Please. Downplaying one player in the hospital and three suspended in such a short amount of time is not the thing to do.
In every online article I found relating to or including Crean’s comments, I searched the page with “sorry” and “apologize” (or variations of the like).
When coaches are backed against a wall, the right move is not drawing a knife and frantically swinging it in the hopes the assembled mob will back off.
Instead, it’s the time to show some humility. It’s the time to admit mistakes, whether your own or those of the program.
For Knight, the pressure came from losing too much. For Crean, it is some major off-the-court problems and underlying lack of winning, which is feeding into public discontent.
When those listening were out for blood, the two coaches just added gas to the fire. Be honest and tell people what’s going on. Tell them what you’re sorry for, what went wrong and what can and will be done.
Now more than ever,the weight of a basketball program’s problems and it’s frantic followers are heavy on Crean’s shoulders, but don’t worry, they’re fine.