Mike Montgomery was completely wrong.
There is never an excuse to push, slap, hit, grab or touch a player. You just can’t do it. Under any circumstance.
For those who missed it, the Cal coach was incensed with the effort of his star player, Allen Crabbe, on Sunday night against USC. During a timeout, Montgomery went over the edge, giving the Pac-12’s best shooting guard a two-hand shove, asking him, demonstratively, whether or not he really wanted to play.
As of now, negative public opinion has been the only real consequence for Montgomery. He apologized in a statement. He was reprimanded by Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour and the Pac-12. It appears, though, that Montgomery will escape any real sanction. No fines, no suspensions appear to be on the horizon.
Here’s the thing: Tiffs between coaches and players happen all the time. The coaches know it, the players know it. Outside of the physical — which is where Montgomery crossed the line — his argument with Crabbe should not have sparked mass alarms.
Crabbe, when motivated, may be the very best perimeter player in the league. The problem on this night was his motivation. It wasn’t all there. He scored nine points in the first half against the Trojans, and his defense was lax, which fired Montgomery up in the first place.
The Bears appear to be squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, as of today.
Cal is 16-9 overall and started slowly in conference play. The Bears are one of the handful of teams around the country that can’t afford any slip-ups. Losing to USC would’ve been a disaster, a proverbial "bad loss" that could have quashed their tournament chances.
Montgomery knew all of this. He was boiling inside and the boil spilled over in an ugly fashion when Crabbe walked over to the huddle during that timeout.
Yet, it worked.
Crabbe scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the final 15 minutes of the game. The 6-foot-6 NBA prospect went from chill mode to beast mode after being escorted into the tunnel by teammates. The Bears — struggling with USC for most of the game — rebounded for a huge win, as is any win for Cal at this stage of the season.
But now, Montgomery is walking a fine line. Another incident like this will surely cost him games. He wasn’t exactly contrite in the postgame press conference, which raised red flags as well. His reputation — sterling for so long through his coaching career — has taken a hit.
Years ago Latrell Sprewell put his hands on the neck of his coach, P.J. Carlesimo. He lost the rest of his season and millions of dollars. Does Montgomery’s action merit that much attention? No. But touching a player or a coach is certainly a line that should never be crossed.
Even if crossing that line produced the desired affect.
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