For those of you who haven’t heard about this, ESPN’s Outside the Lines recently ran a story about the abusive behavior of Mike Rice, the head basketball coach at Rutgers. Here’s a link to the video:
I couldn’t think of one word to describe what I just watched, so heres a few. Pathetic. Deplorable. Cowardly. Inexcusable. Narcissistic. Horrendous. I would keep going, but I’m just too angry to think clearly.
For me, this story hits especially hard because I’ve played for coaches like this. For the sake of decency, I won’t name names or talk about specifics, but I’ve gone through nearly the exact same things these Rutgers players are enduring. I’ve played for coaches who belittle players with profanity, who hurl personal insults relentlessly, who threaten physical abuse (and sometimes cross that line), and who make you feel like something less than a human being.
The hard-headed, “old-school” argument would be that this makes players tougher. If they can get through the war of a practice, then games should be easy. They might hate the coach while they receive his abuse, but later they’ll love him for it, especially when they win games. But guess what? Rutgers was 15-16 this year. They won five games in the Big East. Last year they were 14-18. Did Mike Rice’s abusive method work? Sure doesn’t look like it.
Here’s what happens when you treat players this way:
- As much as they might try to hide it, players will play scared in practice – They’ll be afraid to shoot for fear of missing, afraid to try a tough pass for fear or turning it over, and afraid to ask questions for fear of being belittled.
- Players won’t give maximum effort during practice – Why would a player sell out on a drill when he knows that he’s going to be forced to run as punishment later on? No matter what, the players are going to try to conserve their energy for the inevitable running that is coming, and as a result, the quality of practice will suffer.
- Players won’t trust your coaching – When you yell, scream, and hiss at every single little thing that happens, a player will begin to tune you out, and what’s more, they won’t respect your basketball knowledge. If a coach is consistently negative, and destroys everything his players do, then they’ll never see the positive results of schemes, game planning, sets, etc. So when it comes time to trust these concepts in a game, players will have no faith in what they’re doing.
- Players won’t learn – Instead of paying attention to what they did wrong, players will only be focused on your reactions. If you’re shoving your players in the chest, how the hell are they supposed to hear what you have to say?
- Players won’t like each other – If everyone on the team knows they’re going to be punished for mistakes, they’ll have no support for each other when those mistakes happen. Instead, the player who screwed up will be resented for getting the rest of the team in trouble. Is this how a team is supposed to operate? Look at how the Louisville players reacted to Kevin Ware’s injury. Do you think they became so close because Rick Pitino abused them?
- Players won’t stick up for you – When you get caught being abusive, and eventually you will, your players won’t defend you. You won’t be missed. You won’t even get a handshake when you leave your office for the last time. Players won’t look back on their careers with fondness, but rather resentment, because you’ll be responsible for having stolen years away from their basketball careers. Is that what you want your legacy to be?
When it comes down to it, coaches who behave this way are only in coaching for themselves. They have absolutely no desire to make their players better, to help young men grow, to mentor them, or to show them an example of how grown people are supposed to act. Instead, it’s all about exercising power, and the coach proving to himself that he’s the more dangerous man. When you peg a player with a basketball from point-blank range, you’re not doing that to prove a point – you’re doing that because you can, and no one in that room will try to stop you. Coaches like these are selfish, insecure, and cowardly.
Not only should Mike Rice have been fired, but he should be banned from coaching for life. There is no place for this man at any level of athletics. I don’t know if Rice has kids, but if so, is this how you want them to see you? As an egomaniacal monster with no respect for other human beings? How do you justify your behavior when your son asks, “Daddy, why are you so mean to your players?”
Furthermore, all college practices should be filmed. There must be accountability for a coach’s behavior when those gym doors are closed. To expect anything else is antiquated and irrational. Any other person at any other job would never be able to get away with behavior like this, so why should a coach? If this behavior is deemed unacceptable (which it obviously is), shouldn’t we have a way of making sure it doesn’t happen? Hell, we have cameras on traffic lights, don’t we?
As someone who has played basketball for over 15 years for dozens of coaches, as someone who coaches high school kids and middle schoolers now, seeing the way Mike Rice has treated his players makes me angry, but also sad. I pity you Mike Rice. I pity the fact that you never learned what it means to motivate, what it means to teach. You never learned how important your job is in the development of the lives of these young men. You’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do great things, and you’ve transformed your opportunity into a toxic, venomous, hate-filled situation. I don’t know if you’re happy, I don’t know if you enjoy coaching, but from what I’ve seen, you don’t deserve the gift you’ve been given.