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George Johnson was a terrific coach. He knew how to teach and motivate players with a sophisticated blend of knowledge, expectation, emotion and discipline. He got it. He was nobody’s idea of soft and nobody’s fool. You had no chance of dogging it under his watch, no chance of BS’ing him. But you had even less chance of being abused by him. He was demanding, tough and fair. That’s what he was. Here’s what he wasn’t: an egotistical, out-of-control maniac.
He was a coach I had when I was a kid. And you probably had a coach just like him.
I hope so.
I also hope coaches like Mike Rice, in every sport there is, get fired, get out of the coaching business, get therapy. There are plenty of coach Johnsons and too many coach Rices.
It’s fascinating that such divergent characters are drawn into one of the most influential and noble professions, probably for vastly different reasons. Some want to teach powerful lessons, others want to feed powerful egos. The title of coach carries with it a natural base of respect. Some coaches earn that from their players, others demand it, undeservedly so.
When I come across stories, and, in this case, see videos of an abusive coach who is not only perverting his position, but denigrating his title, it makes me wonder how many of them there are out there — at all levels, in sports from swimming to basketball. They’ve infiltrated junior sports, high school sports, college sports and beyond. I’ve covered a few, but have heard about a whole lot more.
Some people want to make excuses for them, especially if they win. As though that should make everything OK.
Interesting, isn’t it, that too often coaches who demand so much discipline out of their players require so little of it out of themselves.
That’s what I kept thinking as I watched Rice’s outbursts during that video of Rutgers basketball practices, during which he kicked and grabbed and shoved athletes, threw basketballs at body parts from head to toe and hurled homophobic slurs at them.
What a jerk.
Another thing: What’s the deal with rampaging men who, when they want to really insult their male players, they call them vulgar slang words for female genitalia? As though that is the worst, weakest possible thing any man could ever be called.
Well. I’ve got an all-gender anatomical designation for Rice that fits him perfectly: He’s an ass.
We’ve heard his apology — coming with such contrition after he was canned by Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti. Now, Pernetti is gone, too. He watched the video back in November and came to the conclusion that it was adequate to suspend the coach for three games and fine him $50,000.
Come on. When you saw the video and heard the audio for the first time, what was your reaction? You, like 99 percent of the rest of the world, thought Rice should have been fired instantly. In that regard, Pernetti didn’t do his job. That was his stewardship, his accountability, his responsibility, to use good judgment to protect the student-athletes under his wing at his university. Instead, he protected his coach.
So, alienated student-athletes had no recourse. That’s the biggest problem with what Pernetti did. He backed institutionally a disturbed coach and further subjected athletes who had had basketballs bounced off their heads at point-blank range to the abusive rule of an authority figure who was allowed to remain in power. Even if they wanted to transfer to another school, those players needed an approved release from these guys.
Talk about feeling helpless.
The only reason the coach ended up fired was because the video was put online by ESPN. And everybody, other than Pernetti, who saw it — and millions did — had the good sense to know this bully must be sent packing.
I don’t know exactly how many out-of-control coaches there are like Mike Rice. But he’s got company, too much company, not all of which goes as far as the former Rutgers coach did. Even if he had never put his hands on those players, his words were offensive enough, and that kind of dominant demeanor and verbal onslaught is far from rare in the coaching game. Some over-the-top coaches, unlike Rice, win a lot, and that winning keeps them in power. But win or lose, all of it not only besmirches an honorable profession, it betrays and diminishes the hallowed designation of "coach."
It makes big men small and small men smaller.
Even worse, it sets a troubling tone and a horrible example for the young people who are subjected to that kind of abuse, stamped as it is by the aforementioned institutional approval.
For all the crazed, corrupt coaches still out there, remember, video cameras are everywhere. Keep that in mind the next time the discipline you demand from others far exceeds the discipline you require from yourself.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM, 1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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