Hall of Fame Coaches Say Abuse Never Right
Jim Calhoun witnessed basketball practices all over the country in nearly half a century of coaching - including Bob Knight’s sessions - and said he never saw the likes of the video that emerged this week of Rutgers’ Mike Rice.
Calhoun and other Hall of Fame coaches agreed the footage showed clearly inappropriate behavior. Rice was fired Wednesday, a day after ESPN aired clips of the coach shoving, kicking and throwing balls at players and spewing gay slurs.
"I yelled at a kid wrongly, yeah - all of us use different motivational tactics," said Calhoun, who won three national championships at Connecticut before retiring in September. "Maybe (holding) practice at midnight ... But you can’t ever put your hands on a player."
That refrain was repeated over and over by current and former coaches.
"It’s just not right. Throwing the ball, that’s unbelievable," said former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca, another Hall of Famer.
The 70-year-old Calhoun and his contemporaries emphasized that the reaction to the Rice video wasn’t some new-fangled political correctness: Physical contact has always been unacceptable.
"Don’t tell me that’s the old way. That’s the wrong way," said John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Famer who led Georgetown to the 1984 national title.
Thompson, the father of current Hoyas coach John Thompson III, called the images "child abuse."
Like Calhoun, other coaches acknowledged they’ve yelled plenty at players, and sometimes regretted it afterward. But, Carnesecca said, "You can never make it personal."
"We are talking about a level of crossing the line and making a human being feel so small," Calhoun explained.
His former colleague at UConn, women’s coach Geno Auriemma, is famous for histrionics on the sideline, not unlike many other coaching greats. Auriemma, winner of seven national titles, has the Huskies in their sixth straight Final Four. Thinking about Rice’s rants was difficult for him because Rutgers assistant Jimmy Martelli is the son of his friend, Saint Joseph’s men’s coach Phil Martelli.
"Believe me, I’ve acted like an idiot at practice more times than I can ever, ever recount," Auriemma said. "But some of the stuff that I saw ... there is no line that could be drawn that would make that behavior acceptable."
The most famous case of a coach accused of abusing a player is Knight. Indiana put him on a zero-tolerance policy in 2000 after a university investigation into a former player’s allegations that Knight had choked him during a practice. When a student alleged that Knight grabbed him later that year, Knight was fired.
Knight, who now works for ESPN, declined to comment, a network spokesman said.
Cal coach Mike Montgomery was publicly reprimanded by his conference and athletic director for pushing Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe with both hands during a timeout in a February game. Montgomery, who reiterated Wednesday that he didn’t intend to push Crabbe but was trying to fire him up, has said he had a "couple of sleepless nights" and there was no excuse for the behavior, which he called out of character.
His reaction to seeing part of the Rice video: "Whoa."
"Coaching by intimidation is not the best tactic," Montgomery said Wednesday. "I was shocked. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to come to light. I found there was a time I was cussing more than I liked. Those are just words.
"That part of it, obviously, in today’s world, there’s no place for it. You really have to be careful. You have to know big brother’s watching and you have to know you’re on the (right) path."
Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who has the Cardinals in the Final Four in his 28th season as a college head coach, echoed Calhoun in saying he had never seen anything like the Rice video.
"It was very difficult to watch that, very disappointed," he said. "I hope Mike gets some issues taken care of."
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman played in the NBA before starting his coaching career. Speaking recently about his coaching style, he said his experience as a player informed his decision not to yell much.
"I didn’t like to be coached like that," he said. "I didn’t like the intimidation factor that coaches had."
He understands that some coaches find yelling effective, and he gives his assistants a lot of leeway so players will hear different voices.
Players may not appreciate hollering at first, said Hall of Fame former Princeton coach Pete Carril. But if the criticism is constructive, it works.
"Some players might not like you right away with how demanding you can be of them and you don’t praise them for every little thing they do right," Carril said. "But as the kid develops, he realizes what you are doing for him."