3/23/07 – A time of confusion…

Rudyard Kipling wrote that if you could keep your head when all about you were losing theirs, you’ll become a man. Well, in the confusion of things happening about now, I’m really going to have to try to keep my head; some of this stuff just doesn’t make any sense.

The “money folks” at Kentucky have managed to get rid of Tubby Smith as the basketball coach there. The home page for “firetubbysmith.com” shows him in a multi-colored fright wig and a red clown nose; that is what Kentucky fans think of a coach who has won a national championship there and has never failed to get the team into the NCAA tournament in his tenure at the school. Tubby Smith is the guy who is a clown in that saga? Give me a break; most of the goofs who have called for his head and the “money folks” who have forced him out wouldn’t know how to organize a basketball practice any more than they would know how to ask a question at a seminar on super-string theory.

Tubby Smith may or may not be a wonderful man in a social situation; I don’t know because I’ve never met him. He may or may not be a great person to have as a next door neighbor; you’d have to ask his neighbors about that. But he can coach a basketball team and any set of fans who think he’s a clown deserve what they get. Were I a college basketball coach of renown, I’d think long and hard about taking a job there. The only guy with a record that would seem to be satisfactory to those goofs is John Wooden; he’s in his mid 90s and isn’t likely to be making any comebacks.

Some folks think Smith’s jump to Minnesota is a shock. I’m surprised that Minnesota landed a coach who has averaged 26 wins a year for the past decade because Minnesota – along with Northwestern and Penn State – is the boondocks of Big Ten basketball. In my lifetime, Minnesota has had two successful runs; the first was in the 70s with Bill Musselman and it ended with three Gophers stomping on the head of the Ohio State center in the middle of a game. Dave Winfield was on that team. The other period of success was the Clem Haskins era and that ended badly when we learned that there was rampant academic fraud ongoing there and that the coaching staff was “not unaware” of what was going on. That program has landed Tubby Smith. He’s resurrected moribund programs before – at Georgia and Tulsa. That ought to be an interesting situation to watch in the next few seasons.

I’m going to try to “keep my head” for a moment here and try to explain why counting championships as the measure for competency in a coach is wrong. Can we all agree – even the Duke alums who read these rants – that Dean Smith was a competent basketball coach? Fine now let’s look at the record… In all his years, Dean Smith won only two national championships; his teams played for the championship five times so his record in final games is a losing record. He lost in the final game to John Wooden in ‘68, to Al McGuire in ‘77 and to Bob Knight in ‘81. If you really want to paint Dean Smith as an incompetent boob, you could say that his two victories came only when opposing players made horrid mistakes at the end of the championship games – Fred Brown for Georgetown in ‘82 and Chris Webber in ‘93. Do you see how that line of reasoning can get you to a point where you could begin to think there ought to have been a “FireDeanSmith” website back in those days – if there had been such a thing as a website? Do you also see how stupid that would have been?

In another completely unsuspected turn of events, Tony La Russa was arrested for “suspicion of DUI”. How that differs from being arrested for DUI is a nuance lost on me, but every report I’ve read makes that distinction. Tony La Russa has been in “celebrity status” among baseball managers for about 20 years now. George Will’s book, Men at Work, lionized La Russa as a baseball genius. Yet, there has never been any association of any kind of wrongdoing with him or his image. He has a law degree – although he never practiced law – and has said that he preferred to ride busses in the minor leagues that to be a lawyer. I’m not sure that is a sign of “genius”, but it shows that he is smart enough to get through law school and smart enough to know what he wanted to do with his life. And now this man was found asleep at the wheel of his car at an intersection. Strange…

Ron Artest will face charges – four of them – related to his domestic violence incident from several weeks ago. One of the charges is “dissuading a witness from reporting a crime”; that’s a new one for me; I guess it is sort of like “jury tampering” before the fact of a trial. Artest had been suspended by the Kings after the arrest but he tearfully apologized for his behavior and said that he had seen the light and that he had changed and that all he wanted to do was to get back with his teammates and make the best of the rest of his life. He was reinstated about a week later. But we’ve heard from Artest before that he’s seen the light and that he’ll change and that all he wants is a fresh start. But every time he gets the opportunity for a “fresh start” he blows it with some new and different form of antisocial behavior. I won’t go through the litany of his record here except to remind those of you who may have forgotten that Artest once applied for a job at Circuit City – while he was with the Bulls as I recall – not for the purpose of working there but in order to get an employee discount on “stuff”. Obviously, he has pled not guilty to the charges in the latest incident; he’s not likely to do jail time even if he were to be convicted – which he won’t be – and we’ll hear from him again about his desire for a “fresh start”. Why will everyone believe him? Can you explain that to me?

And in the Sesame Street tradition of putting some things in juxtaposition that just don’t go together, Don King had a papal audience. That makes as much sense as Dick Vitale studying to be a mime or the State Department naming their new award for demonstrated tact and diplomacy after Howard Cosell. Say what?

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times has shown that he is a man by Rudyard Kipling’s standard because he has kept his head about him in all this turmoil and put the Don King/Pope Benedict XVI business into context:

“Boxing promoter Don King got a front-row seat at Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience Wednesday, calling the two hours in St. Peter’s Square ‘a deep spiritual experience.’

“So moving, in fact, he plans to charge $75 to see it on papal-view.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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