Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2003

Women not welcome on bench

NBA teams haven’t opened arms to coaches like Tennessee’s Summitt

June 8, 2003

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— Recently, Pat Summitt, the Tennessee women's basketball coach, invited Villanova women's coach Harry Perretta to a Redskins minicamp, where she was going to see an old friend, Steve Spurrier. Spurrier, she told Harry, was someone she had discussed coaching philosophy with, a friend she respected and who respected her.

Harry went. He heard Spurrier ask Summitt to speak to his professional football team. She obliged.

"And not one guy made a smirk or a sound," Perretta said. "I was impressed by that. As athletes, she had their respect."

Which begs this question: Why, on the endless lists concocted for all the NBA coaching vacancies this spring, are no women coaches, or even coaches of women, mentioned? If Tubby Smith and egads! -- John Calipari -- can be contacted and coddled, why can't Summitt, or Seattle Storm coach Anne Donovan, or Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, or even Michael Cooper, of the two-time WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks, be on any list?

Isn't the women's game where the purity of basketball lies? Isn't that the axiom handed down by none other than John Wooden? If women play the game the way it was meant to be played, doesn't that mean they are being coached correctly, too?

Do the X's have gender? Do the O's? And haven't we had a few female NBA referees already?

No woman has coached in the NBA. It never has happened in the pros, and happened only once, this season, at the Division I college basketball level. And that was only after Nolan Richardson III resigned as Tennessee State's head coach after carrying a gun into the gym and his successor, Hosea Lewis, was suspended for his part in a 19-player brawl during an ensuing game. So Teresa Phillips, the school's AD, coached one game as an emergency measure.

I'll beat some of you to the dismissive argument against. It's not a matter of intellect, you say. Not a matter of strategy, either. It's a matter of respect, of communication, of teaching. Maybe Summitt is in a different category, but the overwhelming majority of male professional or Division I college players would not listen to a woman coach, no matter who she is or how much she knew or how well she communicated it. But if you say men can't be coached by women because respect would be an issue, what are you saying? Women are routinely coached by men. Women are routinely coached by women. In NCAA women's basketball, the ratio of male head coaches to female head coaches is about 50-50.

"I think society teaches you, well, she's a woman, she's not going to get respect," Perretta said. "But that's not a proper philosophy. Of the people I respect the most in life, more are women."

Women such as Shelly Pennefather, his former player, who became a cloistered nun, who allows Harry a visit once a year -- a privilege he used on Wednesday and said he cherished. He hopes someday somebody like Pennefather is coaching in the pros.

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