What Being A Coach Should Mean In The 21st Century

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Rutgers gave athletic director Tim Pernetti the boot on Friday after Mike "50 Hot Ones Comin' At Ya!" Rice was shitcanned for turning basketball practice into his own dodgeball refresher course. But because the only thing he did that was truly anathema to the big-time sports hivemind was to get caught, Rice remains employable.


Can't you see it already? Some idiot athletic director at a small school will decide that having a coach with a big conference job on his resume outweighs the risk of having a potentially abusive redass in charge of his basketball program. Mike Rice, despite his appalling behavior, will get another job. Disgraced coaches are just tomorrow's great values. They are the mis-stitched Armani shirts hanging on the discount rack at TJ Maxx. Someone's always gonna take a chance on them.

Because even while Rutgers is making a wholesale change in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal, the culture of coaching hasn't changed. Coaches are still freaks—sociopaths who direct their every action toward fulfilling their own need to win. Rick Pitino, with all his courtside histrionics and wait-station fuckpounding, just experienced firsthand how winning can validate his lifestyle. If you have a trophy to show for it, the press and the general public will always let you know it was all worth it. You're a winner. You're forgiven.


And no one believes that Mike Rice is the only coach in America who pulls this kind of shit on a regular basis. Rice was simply one of the stupid few to get outed. The rest are whupping basketballs and debasing their players behind closed doors, safe from prying eyes and video cameras. And even when they let a bit of that abusive demeanor slip (Mike Montgomery and Sean Woods come to mind), they can still feel secure knowing that a mild suspension will be the bulk of their punishment.

This should be an impossibility in the 21st century. Bear Bryant's "Junction Boys" endured heat exhaustion, emotional abuse, and near-death; you could argue that the Texas A&M coach deserved jail for his 10-day camp. Instead, it was recently glorified in a feel-good TV movie. When one of the "Boys," Jack Pardee, died earlier this month, the obituaries recounted his time in Junction as a young man's formative experience, not as something that should be as alien and remote from our modern context as the rack and the Spanish Donkey were from Bear Bryant's.


Both parenting and teaching have evolved significantly over the past 30 years, but coaching has not. Whatever innovations have been made in the field of responsible player oversight (REASONABLY REGULAR WATER BREAKS!) have usually come from outside of head coaching circles—techniques only grudgingly accepted by the Mike Rices of the world.

Thanks to ESPN handing a microphone and undue moral authority to any gin-blossomed former coach who walks in the door, there's still a significant part of the American population that reveres the coaching profession to a degree it usually doesn't deserve. And Lord knows that coaches do their best to promote this idea. You wouldn't know it from their press clippings or from listening to Dick Vitale, but many coaches—even capable ones—are thoroughly mediocre human beings who serve no pedagogical purpose other than to teach their athletes (or "kids," as they love to call them) that high-functioning sociopathy is no barrier to riches and fame. The high pay and communal knob-slobbing that comes with winning a disproportionate number of basketball or football games is cheese enough to lure plenty of frauds, hucksters, scumbags, lechers, sadists, and WEASELS. It's not simply that high-level coaching breeds and nurtures insanity, though it certainly does that; it's that high-level coaches typically are insane.


And that will continue to be the case so long as we expect coaches (college coaches in particular) to be big, shiny Father Murphy-types—communal beacons who use a sport to teach a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters all about LIFE. It's Joe Paterno's airy fairy "Grand Experiment" run amok and applied to EVERY fleabag school and moron coach—a laughably outdated notion (as Penn State itself proved) that goes hand-in-hand with the NCAA's blatant exploitation of athletes and its pathetic attempt to hide behind the fig leaf of amateurism. That reverence, and those expectations, have no place here in 2013. We need to completely overhaul the way we think about coaches. Here are some preliminary suggestions.

A coach is NOT a parent.

The tired scene of a coach sitting in a recruit's living room, promising a mom that he'll take good care of her boy? That needs to be destroyed forever. Parents of recruits need to understand that a coach is physically incapable of overseeing the welfare of 80 FUCKING FOOTBALL PLAYERS. Furthermore, the whole point of college is that NO ONE should guide you. You spend 18 years of life under your parents' roof as preparation for four years of college on your own. We can trust collegiate athletes to make stupid mistakes and to be smart enough to learn from them, unless we're a reporter for Yahoo.


The point of college is not to hand the micromanagement of a child over to a fucking stranger. A coach is a teacher of a sport. Do you expect the kid's math professor to call the dorm at 10 p.m. to make sure your little Johnny is in bed? No. Why should a coach be entrusted with that kind of extended responsibility? Isn't reviewing game tape and scripting practice enough of a workload? Like a teacher who serves as a mentor, a coach can be one of MANY contributors to the growth and development of a young person. Or he can be nothing. A coach doesn't HAVE to be a mentor. And he's certainly not a daddy. For him or for you to think otherwise is idiotic.

Coaches should have the same behavioral expectations as teachers.

If you raise your hand and get the answer wrong in your Rocks for Jocks class, the geology professor doesn't huck a piece of quartz at you, or call you FAGGOT, or scream at you for five minutes in front of the class in order to shame you into being better at memorizing igneous rocks. That would be absurd. Colleges are pretty adamant that teachers not lay a hand on their kids, right? I don't see why coaches deserve any kind of magical exception. Read any parenting book these days. There is an army of child psychologists and doctors who have proof that corporal punishment and negative reinforcement are not any more effective than more diplomatic forms of discipline. In fact, they are often detrimental. You can be firm without being a complete fucking asshole to your players. No hitting. No screaming. No ordering a CODE RED on that one anxious freshman who needs a bag of soap to the face to toughen up. I know this is not an easy set of rules to follow, given that teenagers are OH SO VERY PUNCHABLE. But a coach should always be the most levelheaded person in the room.


There is no such thing as winning "the right way."

Coaches aren't stupid. They know that all that talk about graduation rates and "character" is for show on behalf of the NCAA, and they know that they will be tossed out the window the moment they place fourth or lower in the conference standings. Even at the finest schools, a coach is still a mercenary tradesmen brought in for one specific purpose: to win. The idea that he's gonna win games AND churn out a dozen Rhodes scholars every year is ridiculous. Promoting the idea of winning "the right way" gives coaches a missionary aura that no one in a profession that includes Bob Huggins should ever deserve.


And yet the NCAA's brand essence is wholly reliant on this con. The NCAA thrives upon the fabricated image of its athletes commingling with the rest of the student population. How many awful, low-budget college ads have you seen showing a football player handing off a Bunsen burner to a 5-foot-3 Latvian exchange student and shit like that? In reality, your local state school's football players are about as accessible to their classmates as its president is. They have their own dorms. They have their own gym. They have their own tutors. They have their own hookers. They're not integrated at all. If a football team has an unusually high graduation rate, it's almost always due to the qualities of the school itself and not the man running the team. A coach deserves no extra credit for anything that happens beyond the field of play—let alone paycheck bonuses.

A coach should get you to LIKE the sport you play.

Coaches adore players who have a passion for whatever sport they happen to be coaching. THAT LITTLE WELKER KID JUST LOVES FOOTBALL, I TELL YA. And yet so often, coaches are the prime reason many athletes end up HATING their chosen sport. What fun is playing baseball if you've got a 46-year-old manchild painting you with spittle every time you fail to get your glove dirty? All the good teachers you've had in life have had one thing in common: They've gotten you to love whatever it is they teach—books, science, solving problems, etc. Coaches seem to exist in the exact opposite universe. Who's gonna like basketball after being around Mike Rice for five minutes? No one. Oh, except for David Plotz, who wrote fondly about his cruel high school coach:

I appreciated Coach’s harshness. I was a mediocre athlete who had never trained hard or played hard. He was the first coach who pushed me, the first who demanded I really work, and the first who punished me when I didn’t. I wasn’t a very good basketball player, but I got a lot better playing for him.


The coaching industry depends on guys like Plotz to vouch for their methods. The defense from a former player is always the same: "Boy, I'm a much better player and person today because Coach was such a fucking asshole!" Every devotee of Bob Knight and the like will offer up that sentiment, as a way of implying that the ONLY way to push someone is through debasement and cruelty. And that's not true. If it were, I'd happily go around pelting my kids with a shoe whenever they complained about dinner.

There are other ways to teach collegiate athletes and make them better collegiate athletes, and none of them involves abuse. You and I know this. You can motivate someone in a million different ways. You can be pushed without literally being pushed. We have totally convinced ourselves that there's no alternative to physical intimidation, that a shove from Mike Rice or a thrown ball is merely a technique of the trade. What it really reveals is the absence of any technique whatsoever—brute stupidity that we've inexplicably sanctified out of a total lack of moral imagination. Enough with this shit.


Drew Magary writes for Deadspin and Gawker. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at drew@deadspin.com. You can also order Drew's new book, "Someone Could Get Hurt," through his homepage.