When Chris Webber was traded to Philadelphia last week, we heard a lot of what Chris had to say and a lot of what Allen Iverson had to say. We heard how Iverson had been insisting that Philly’s management get him some new talent or he’d leave. We heard how Iverson wanted “a big man.”
We heard how Webber felt he could adjust to his new role, sharing the ball with a bona fide superstar. We heard how Chris was “looking forward” to meshing with his new guard. What we didn’t hear – anywhere except from the most die-hard Philly sports publications – is what the coach thought about it.
Quick question: who is the Philly coach?
Don’t worry. Doesn’t really matter. Once upon a time in pro basketball, a trade of this magnitude would have demanded the coach’s blessing and his justification. Now, it’s general managers getting talent, and players being quoted. The coach is almost an afterthought.
By the way, Philly’s coach is Jim O’Brien – and it is clear that his job is to keep his two superstars happy, not vice versa.
This is nothing new. Even the NBA champion Pistons, when confronted recently with the potential departure of coach Larry Brown, took a player-weighted attitude. “Larry should make up his mind, stay or don’t stay,” was the general consensus. “As long as we (the players) hold together, we’ll be fine.”
That’s how it works in the NBA.
But not how it works in college.
Does Chaney coach basketball, or boxing?
In college, the coach is the molder and shaper, not the players; he makes the chemistry work, not the players; he sets the tone and the rules, not the players.
What is more, he sets the example.
Which is why what Temple coach John Chaney did last week – ordering one of his roughest players to “send a message” to the other team – was reprehensible. And why, in my opinion, he should be fired.
The coach’s job in college – unlike the NBA – isn’t to manage talent. It isn’t to keep players happy. If it were, then perhaps you could erase Chaney’s sin with a lengthy suspension, if only for the good of the game.
But college isn’t first about the good of the game; it’s first about the good of the students who are on the team, young men ostensibly under the tutelage of their coach. Minus the managerial demands of his NBA counterpart, the college coach’s teaching responsibilities are magnified. And what Chaney was teaching was this: When you can’t get what you want, beat somebody up.
There is only one sport where that is an acceptable strategy: Boxing.
Basketball ain’t boxing.
Temple should fire its coach
Chaney, as we know, suspended himself for one game after admitting he sent in, in his words, “a goon”- the seldom-used Nehemiah Ingram – to rough up St. Joseph’s players. Ingram ended a senior player’s career by leveling him to the floor and breaking his arm.
Chaney, sensing the coming storm, decide to discipline himself. That’s the first mistake. A coach doesn’t dole out his own punishment. I was amazed that some saw Chaney’s pre-emptive lashing as admirable. What kind of message does that send? You do something wrong, you get to invent your penance? Is that a life lesson for the 18- and 19-year-olds on Chaney’s team?
They’d have been better taught if their school had come right out and suspended Chaney immediately for the rest of the year, or canned him on the spot. Instead, college basketball being what it is, Temple dragged its feet until it found out the extent of the player’s injury, then increased the suspension to – wow! – three whole games, or the rest of the regular season.
Since then, under pressure, Chaney ousted himself for any conference tournament play (once again, he administers his own flogging), and Temple now says it will determine the coach’s long-range fate in the off-season.
Whatever happens, shed no years for the 73-year-old Chaney. Though it is true he is a gifted coach, and he has empathy for poor kids, and he wakes his players early, and he harangues them into studying, he also is one of the most foul-mouthed coaches I’ve ever heard. And his pattern of turning hoopsters into hockey players goes far back. In 1993, I witnessed a March Madness game between Temple and Michigan in which Chaney constantly screamed at his lumbering center, who was covering Webber, to “put him on his ass!”
When Steve Fisher, the Michigan coach, objected to one such flagrant mugging, Chaney responded by loudly calling him a profanity for a part of the female anatomy – loud enough for all the players to hear.
Some teacher, huh?
But this isn’t about old events. This is about current ones. Chaney not only demeaned St. Joe’s players, he humiliated one of his own, reducing him to thug status. A pro coach tries that, his players will get their revenge. In college, it is up to the university. And if a university would fire a teacher for turning a student into a street punk fighter, then it should fire Chaney. End of story.
After all, this isn’t the NBA. College coaches are actually supposed to be responsible for something.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).