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In Sports Commentary

Kansas coach Bill Self is under intense pressure to win the big one.

In Sports Commentary

Was it that pressure that prompted Kelvin Sampson to break the rules?

March Madness puts coaches in pressure cooker


They are the rock stars of college basketball: Pitino, Kryzyzewski, Williams, Calipari ...

They get paid millions. They are synonymous with their programs. They hold ultimate power over players and playing time, even players and their scholarships.

When they win, the locals worship them. They pay for no meals in town; they park wherever they want. In the college basketball universe, they are nothing short of Gods.

I think they are underpaid.

You heard me. Under ...

To fully appreciate the nerve-wracking, high wire act required to be a modern college hoops coach during the ESPN / YouTube / text message era, all you have to do is look at Kelvin Sampson's collapse at Indiana.

Clearly, Sampson knew how to coach. He could draw up plays that worked in the crunch, and he could maximize the abilities of the 18- to 21 -year-old men who came to play for him.

He did not need to cheat, but he did.

Is he stupid? No. Is he desperate? Of course!

All college coaches are desperate, because even the rock stars at the top know winning can fade away with just a few bad recruiting classes.

Why do teenagers need to feel "love" in the form of endless text messages from coaches? It strains the understanding of adult men, who wonder "what more can you want than a face-to-face recruiting visit?"

This is how this generation of kids keeps score. It is why coaches have desperately lobbied the NCAA to allow text messaging during periods when phone calls are banned.

Even once coaches at elite schools land a recruit, getting the player to follow orders is no easy matter. They are highly charged adolescents, full of energy, ego, youthful libido and masters of the campuses on which they roam.

As a coach, once you have landed your players and molded them into a cohesive team, you must take them through a grueling semi-pro schedule of games all over the continental United States as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

All the while, you must make these dozen or so kids seem remotely interested in the classes they are required to take and pass, while visions of the NBA dominate their every brain cycle.

While you may be running a clean program, you can pretty much bet that somebody in your conference is not. They are either hiring a tutor to write papers for their team (Minnesota) or paying a recruit $80,000 and giving him a Cadillac to switch his letter of intent.

The latter famously happened to Bruce Pearl back when he was an assistant in the Big 10. He called the recruit and the rival program (Illinois) on it. He almost never worked again.

What thanks ...

Now that we are in March, the stakes for these coaches are at their highest. Bill Self is on the hot seat at Kansas. Why? Not for failing to produce very good teams since arriving. He has done that.

Self's shortcoming is that he has fallen short in the world's most chaotic post-season format, a 64-team royal rumble played over three weeks in single-elimination format, at a string of unfamiliar courts and the occasional football stadium.

One bad shooting night for his team in a cavernous dome, or a slight case of food poisoning with his point guard in one of the team hotels along the way, could mean an inglorious exit to a team that every message board will be screaming: "We lost to THEM?"

Yeah, these guys make millions. Nobody forced them into coaching. On balance, though, the job requires a lifetime of suffering and angst for just a few moments of true glory.


Talkbacks

bdavids28 | March 20, 2008 at 1:07 p.m. (report)

Great article Czabe. I suppose that's why we have the saying "Coaches are hired to be fired," and nowhere is this more true than in the NCAA tournament. And to the guy who made the comment above mine. I usually let these things go, and just enjoy Steve's articles. But Kurt my friend, you clearly have no understanding of economics, or supply and demand. Unfortunately a free market is not based on how important an adult is on shaping a child's life. Anyone can be a teacher. There are hundreds or thousands of them. Meanwhile, there are about 200(?)-some Division I coaches in the world. I am just tired of people whining with this teacher argument to make us all feel guilty about talking about the salaries of any other specialized profession. It's the same reason we also can't pine for how hundreds of thousands of police are underpaid, while the 400 or so players in the NBA are vastly overpaid. Who generates more revenue for their respective employer? That is all that matters.

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