Cager Control Central

By Cohn, Bob | Insight on the News, April 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Cager Control Central


Cohn, Bob, Insight on the News


College basketball coaches aren't shy about reminding players and reporters who's in charge. If all coaches are control freaks to some extent, these are the freakiest.

University of Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson usually has no problem opening his practices to the media or anyone else who wants to drop by. But not before the Wildcats played host to Arizona State, with whom a feisty rivalry is developing after years of Arizona domination. Practice was closed.

"It's an ASU thing," Olson explains. It's a control thing, too -- a gesture not only meant to keep out spies and other insurgents but to remind people who's in charge.

Other coaches in other sports rule with iron fists. But college-basketball coaches seem to keep theirs perpetually clenched. Un-like their peers in the pros, they are molding and shaping the presumably malleable hearts and minds of college youngsters. All the while, they wrestle with the sometimes conflicting responsibilities of winning, class attendance and civil obedience while answering to parents, university presidents, athletic directors, boosters and their shoe companies.

"When you're on the court, it cannot be a democracy," says Olson. "Somebody has to be in charge. I think it goes to extremes in some cases, but people have to deal with what their personalities dictate. I don't think you're seeing the dictatorial type with some of the younger guys."

Olson has been a college head coach for 27 years, 17 at Arizona. His team won the national championship in 1997, and he has been named Pac10 coach of the year a record six times. Most importantly, he has fashioned a program that wins, that stays off the NCAA suspect list and whose athletes generally go to class and stay out of trouble, with minor exception. He gets things done -- his way.

"It gets back to this," says Olson. "It's just like being the [chief executive officer] of a company. Is he not dictatorial in a lot of ways, and some more than others? It's true in every line of work. But it's so much more visible with coaches, because of the TV time."

Watch ESPN or ABC and listen to Dick Vitale (if you can) -- commentators focus on coaches, many of whom earn close to $1 million in combined income. "Analysts should talk more about the game and what's going on on the court," says Olson. "And I think the viewers feel the same way." Yet coaches such as Olson, Duke University's Mike Krzyzewski and the retired Dean Smith -- who had a building named after him while he still was coaching at North Carolina -- have assumed such control, they are the game, at least at their respective schools.

"You're responsible for everything today," says George Washington coach Tom Penders. …

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