I’m kind of a sports junkie. I know what you’re thinking. Right, only thing she could possibly excel in, sports wise, would be grand prize winner in a couch potato contest (or eating potatoes). OK you got me. I may not look like a sports aficionado but I do enjoy WATCHING sports. Or at least I used to. I may be past my prime.
When the Hubs and I got hitched, part of ensuring this marriage was gonna last more than a month was embracing the Minnesota Vikings as an avid fan. Bordering on fanatical. The other part of this equation was becoming a credible pinochle player. There was no option on either. Yup, he had both items listed in our vows. Sigh. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I enjoyed the game of football. I could rattle off players/positions/coaches from teams all over the league. Fouts, Stabler, Mean Joe Green, Swann, Tarkington, Alzado, Payton, Montana, Rice, Winslow. And on and on. Tickets didn’t cost much in the 70’s or we’d never been able to go. No such thing as indoor football at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis. Freezing drizzle, snow, blizzard conditions frequently during the game, continuing on our trip back home.
We started following the Iowa Hawkeyes (football & basketball) at the same time. Went to games when we lived in Davenport. Bobby Hansen, Steve Carfino, Greg Stokes, Michael Payne, BJ Armstrong shooting hoops. Chuck Long as quarterback against U of M’s Jim Harbaugh in one of the best games I’ve ever watched in person. Kinnick Stadium, maybe 1985, Hawks won 12-10 in the final seconds.
Took a bus trip from Davenport to Chicago in 1982 to watch the Cubs play the Cardinals. I attended baseball games as a kid in Los Angeles (Dodgers) in 1960 and Minneapolis (Twins) in 1963 with my parents. How Mom became an ardent New York Mets fan (which was bad enough) but my Dad rooting for the Yankees, (even worse) is still a mystery. My friend Mary Ellen (several years older than me) had been going to Cubs games since the mid’40’s because her grandparents lived in Wrigleyville and she spent part of the summer with them. I fell for the Cubs and Wrigley Field on that beautiful summer day in ’82. Fervently watched every Cub game for about 30 years. (Hubs finally figured out if he wanted supper approximately on time (before the Cubs game was over), it might be prudent to add a TV in my kitchen). Adam knew baseball, like double plays, before he was 3. Although I wasn’t an active participant, I knew a lot about sports in general.
When you watch sports, you learn about different coaching styles. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the things they do when they’re coaching. Let’s start with Bobby Knight. Throngs of people think he’s one of the greatest college coaches ever. He did know how to win games. But to me he was a bully. I hated watching him coach during a Hoosier game. Sideline pacer, loud screamer, stepping on the court. Pushing players around during a timeout, trying to intimidate the refs, throwing chairs across the court in a fit of uncontrolled rage. Had I been a mom of a superior high school player, I would have done everything in my power to discourage my son from choosing to play for Knight.
We moved to Michigan from Iowa in 1987, happy we were still in Big 10 country. I wrote a blog in January of 2015 about our first encounters as Iowa fans in enemy territory, at U of M’s football stadium and MSU’s old Breslin Center for basketball. It’s called “Plaid Pants” if you want to check it out. Actually sort of cute, considering I’m talking about Jim Harbaugh through most of it. We had a horrible experience watching the Hawkeyes play in Ann Arbor and an uplifting one when we saw the Hawks play in East Lansing, and not because of wins or losses. Two of our kids (plus our daughter-in-law) attended Michigan State, so I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for green & white. Unless they’re Hawkeye opponents. Duh.
Got to tell you, I struggle watching coaches lose their shit on the court. It’s highly unprofessional and unbecoming and makes me uncomfortable. (That’s a lot of uns, sorry) It’s hard to fathom a coach’s reaction to a player in the heat of a moment. Not long ago I watched Pat Chambers (Penn State) literally shove a freshman during a timeout in a game. Dude, that looks so bad. On TV, no less. Please try harder not to be such an ass. Chambers was suspended for one game. Meh. Big deal.
When Tom Izzo was named head coach for MSU’s basketball program, he was taking over from legendary coach Jud Heathcote. Tom was Jud’s assistant. It was the mid-90’s and Tom was about 40. Although I’m not a dedicated Spartan fan, I’ve watched him for almost 25 years, catching his coaching techniques a few games during every season.
I don’t remember many temper tantrums from Tom until the last few years. Maybe he’s just run out of patience. In case you’re not a fan or missed it during the first 80,000 times it’s been viewed, Tom’s meltdown reared it’s ugly head during the first round game of the 2019’s NCAA tournament against Bradley. A timeout was called about the same time a freshman from Michigan State was slow getting back on defense. Izzo started running to center court, hands clenched in tight fists, veins in his head and neck popped out. This was a teaching moment. Snarling, bottom jaw jutted out, lunging for a freshman, who had a lapse of judgement about getting back on defense in a timely fashion. Surely this huge mistake cost them the game right? Nah.
Tom poked his finger at the offensive (slow to the defensive position) player and had to be restrained by other players and coaches from this Henry kid-multiple times. On national TV. Over a game. It’s still a game right? Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s really about millions of dollars. Whatever. When I see a coach go ballistic, do you know what pops in my head? If he’s like this on national TV with millions of people watching, what’s he like in practice when no one’s watching? Do the players have to pull back their coach every single time during practice? Is this the best/most successful/constructive way of teaching a young man how to become a better player? Does a coach have to scream/point a finger/belittle/get in their face/sometimes push to make a point in a real teaching moment? Would you want your son/daughter playing for this type of coaching style? For me, I’d have to say no.
My grandson, 18 year old Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) has played organized basketball, winter and summer leagues (superbly, I might add) since he was 8, so he’s had his share of coaches. The yellers and subdued guys. Although I’ve missed some of his games, I’ve seen most. I have (more than once) yelled at various coaches from the stands when their screaming has crossed the line during a game and is totally counterproductive. But I’ve never witnessed Landon with a finger in his face or getting shoved by a coach.
Not surprised after I googled ‘coaches who lose their shit’ during a game, I’m in a very small minority. Almost every sports writer sees absolutely nothing wrong with Izzo’s, or other coaches angry behavior. If you’re highly successful, but prone to erratic outbursts, it’s expected/accepted. Oddly enough, when I see a coach on TV lose it (true enough, I constantly miss plays, post-ups or screens, which would cause any coach to become unglued-sarcasm warranted here), I desperately want to walk up, screaming the whole time, and slap the snot right out of him. Which of course, makes me guilty of the behavior I abhor in him. The irony is duly noted…