Archive for Friday, November 27, 2009

Coach-player ties a delicate balance

November 27, 2009


Of the many reasons to offer thanks for living in this country, the opportunity for free speech ranks somewhere near the top.

But how we use, or abuse, that privilege while communicating with others requires a high degree of responsibility. And self-control. Especially for those in authority positions who deal with young people.

That includes college football coaches. And their bosses.

All of which brings us to the situation at Kansas, where coach Mark Mangino is under investigation by school officials for alleged verbal abuse and inappropriate physical contact with players and former players.

If every statement and every action attributed to Mangino is factual — and the list includes some shocking examples — Kansas officials should move quickly to end Mangino’s time at the school.

But what if Mangino is being wrongly accused? Don’t forget that most of the flak he is taking has come from former players with axes to grind, leaving school officials to sort out a lot of potentially conflicting evidence.

This boils down to an issue of a coach struggling to communicate with players, especially when disciplinary measures are being handed out. Big 12 peers consider that one of the biggest challenges in today’s game.

Texas’ Mack Brown, who has the most tenure in his current position of any league coach, did not specifically address Mangino’s situation. But he did acknowledge communication channels are crossed more easily, and more frequently, today than when he began working in 1973 as a student coach at Florida State.

“Some kids don’t hear what you say. They hear pieces of it,” Brown said. “Usually, if I said four (teaching points) that were complimentary, and one that wasn’t very good, he’ll only remember the one that wasn’t complimentary. And, usually, he won’t remember like I said it or like I meant it. So I’ll say, ‘No, here’s what you heard and here’s what I said.’ And we’ll go back over it again. So communication is really, really difficult.”

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops agreed. Stoops is in his 11th season with the Sooners, ranking second to Brown — by one year — in terms of tenure at his current post. Stoops said today’s players “definitely” ask more questions and want more reasons to support a coach’s decision than when he arrived at Oklahoma in 1999.

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who worked with Mangino on Stoops’ initial staff at Oklahoma in 1999, defended his former colleague earlier this week. Leach suggested today’s players would be well-served to accept “tough love” disciplinary measures when they are meted out, rather than bristling at the first sign of something other than perpetual, positive feedback.

“Heaven forbid somebody should ask (a player) to pay attention and focus in for the sake of all his teammates and coaches,” Leach said. “There’s different ways to ask a guy to do that. And sometimes, after you’ve asked him a number of times, you raise the bar.”

Leach did that last spring with receiver Edward Britton, forcing him to sit in a chair at midfield to complete homework after receiving reports that Britton had been lax in that department. Britton took his medicine and remains academically eligible and productive on the football field.

What happens next to Mangino is anyone’s guess.


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