The biggest change I have made over the last 10 years is to go from ardent sports fan to somewhat more casual observer. For the most part, I think this has been a move in the right direction. The one potential downside is that I simply don’t care as much as I used to, but that is more than balanced by the loss of sports hate. Once upon a time, I sports hated with the best of them. Usually, the subject of my derision was the Green Bay Packers and I took special joy in hating Brett Favre. When the Hall of Fame quarterback retired, much of my ardor for sports hate left. This does not mean that I can judge sports critically and simply find the joy in everything. In fact, there are a number of college basketball coaches that I find anywhere despicable: from annoying to downright unpleasant.
In order for a coach to reach my radar as being dislikable, he has to have a certain amount of success. There are people like Mike Rice who abused his poor Rutgers players, but he is a thing of the past. I would never say I go as far to admire a college coach, who generally uphold a system in which they are paid millions of dollars while their players go unpaid. I have a feeling that coaches like John Calipari and Bill Self somehow spread the wealth. I do like the way Self adapts his system to his players and Calipari brings together interesting teams. Bob Knight remains the most reprehensible coach in college basketball history. None of these coaches are deserving of Knight-like spite, but I’ll provide the details of my most least liked coaches.
- Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech
Pastner had the unpleasant task of replacing Calipari at Memphis. He had to pick up the pieces after John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins followed Coach Cal to Kentucky, but Pastner was able to pull in decent recruits during his seven-year stint with the Tigers. His players included Will Barton, Adonis Thomas, Austin Nichols, and Dedric Lawson, and the Tigers were able to dominate Conference USA for four seasons (52-12 in conference), but the team fell off with the move to the more competitive American Athletic. My mild dislike of Pastner stems from his apparent ability to recruit, but not to do much with his players. Pastner is also famous for not swearing: big f’ing deal. He is the Tim Thomas of college coaches: plenty of potential and very limited results.
- Ben Howland, Mississippi State
Like Pastner, Howland has always been able to attract talent. He made three straight runs to the Final Four with UCLA with players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holiday. While the Bruin history and uniforms had a great deal to do with Howland’s success, he always seemed to suck the fun out of the game. I enjoy teams like Wisconsin and Virginia that emphasize defense, but Howland’s system seemed to rein in players with offensive potential. Howland forced Westbrook and Holiday to play out of position while keeping Darren Collison as the team’s point guard. Howland has continued to recruit well in his first two years with the Bulldogs, but I can’t imagine that playing for him is fun. Last year, the team finished 11th in the SEC.
- Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
We jump a level in dislike with the next three coaches. There is no disputing Boeheim’s bona fides: he won the 2003 national championship behind Carmelo Anthony, the original one-and-done, and has made the Final Four five times. The zone that the Orange play is one of the most unsolvable problems for opposing coaches and he has had little reason to deviate from a system that works. My principle complaint about Boeheim is that he seems unwilling to take his team on the road. I know that opposing teams like to share the ticket gate from the massive Carrier Dome, but I like coaches that challenge their teams in the non-conference slate. Also, when Boeheim was suspended last season, he was very whiny about it. A leader should take responsibility for things and Boeheim really didn’t.
- Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
By any objective measure, Krzyzewski is the most successful coach of his era. He has amassed a 970-262 record and won the NCAA tournament five times. I can’t quibble with the results or the fact that Coach K has joined the one-and-done fray and may even be pulling ahead of Calipari in the arms race for top freshmen. That said, I find Krzyzewski unbearably sanctimonious. The Duke system seems to be about “building young men as leaders,” which I think is mostly bunk. The tete a tete with Dillon Brooks after Oregon ousted Duke last year made the coach seem like a sore loser, and confirmed what I had thought about the man who seems to be buying his own hype.
- Rick Pitino, Louisville
I wrote about Pitino last year. What I had to say was that Pitino was willing to accept all accolades for his success as a college coach. When things went sideways with the players involved with escorts, Pitino ran for the hills. “I know nothing!” He knew he was not going to get punished, so he set out to find whoever had perpetrated the misdeeds on Louisville basketball. That is not leadership. Pitino also does not adapt to his roster. His pressing style has generally worked, but does not always maximize the talent on his roster. I don’t have many rooting interests in college basketball, but I will never root for Pitino.