Coach's Corner

After a gloomy two-month death watch, a time shrouded in anger and negativity, an almost carnival-like atmosphere prevailed in the crowded Burnt Orange room last week as an unusually eclectic mob of bored secretaries, curious players, relieved, heavy-hitting boosters, a legendary ex-football coach, the odd Regent, a befuddled, blue haired lady who seemed completely lost, and, of course, a complete retinue of media swine, waited like kids in front of a piñata for the arrival of the savior of The University, the State of Texas, and the Northern Hemisphere, the new football coach, Mr. Mack Brown. Since this was a press conference, I was somewhat startled by the thunderous burst of applause as Brown strode to the podium. Any sort of expression like this by the jaded media is considered quite bad form, but, as I've mentioned, this was really more than a press conference... More like a mass baptism.

On this day, Athletic Director Deloss Dodds acted as Brown's Ed McMahon, allowing the haggard-looking new coach (he hadn't slept in 48 hours) to finally speak only after an introduction longer than the Declaration of Independence, bestowing upon the new coach enough superlatives, plus innumerable qualities of past and future greatness, to get him, at least, past his first loss to Rice.

The new coach -- wearing no burnt orange for the last time in many years -- didn't seem overly burdened with this heavy mantle. In fact, in contrast to his predecessor, who might have written an introduction like this for himself, Brown appeared humble and relieved that this was all over. As he began 20 minutes of mostly extemporaneous remarks, it became clear this wasn't the only change from the old regime. Starting with a joke (one more than we had heard in six years), he had the audience in the palm of his hand. Speaking in a folksy nasal tone of voice, sounding remarkably like Ross Perot, Brown told the audience everything they wanted to hear: Fun and passion will replace icy precision. High School coaches? Brown loves 'em. Can't wait to meet every single one. Recruiting? That's some fun stuff. Let's get to it! Defense? George Patton's tank commanders would run from Brown's linebackers. Past players (unwelcome in the Mackovic days)? Come one, come all. He loves winning. He despises losing. He even claimed -- stretching the rational boundaries of credibility -- to like the media!

Yes, he covered every base, and I must say, as I found myself not taking notes, and being drawn into his low-key, evangelical pitch, I believed him. Of course, if your bride doesn't look good to you on your wed-ding night, something's gone badly awry.

And so begins another new era at the University of Texas. A good sense of humor can buy a coach a few extra years (as Lou Holtz has proved repeatedly) when things don't go as planned. I suspect, in this hypercritical town, where Vince Lombardi would be criticized for bad dental work, and Bill Walsh would be considered a dope-smoking hippie, he's going to need it, probably sooner than he thinks.

"Sticks and Stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." With only one month to go in 1997, you could've bet the bass boat and old Shep on Scottie Pippen winning the NBA's Jerk of the Year award, only to suffer the bettor's nightmare of having the other team score two touchdowns in the last minute of the game to cover the spread by one point. That's about what happened as Latrell Sprewell knocked Scottie clean off the front page, reducing the Chicago star's six-year-old antics to the sports page agate type.

Now that Sprewell's been booted out of the league without pay for a year, the story's going to get very interesting. The Player's Association filed a grievance (what a shock!) on behalf of Sprewell, who, in case you've been visiting a remote area of Africa, tried to strangle his coach, not once but again a second time, 20 minutes later. Someplace beyond my ability to comprehend, there are powerful people mounting the Sprewell counterattack, claiming poor Latrell, making $5 million a year, was not able to tolerate any more "verbal abuse" from his bad, bad coach, in effect, putting the victim on trial. (How much verbal abuse would you tolerate for five mil a year? Me? Bring it on.)

Anyway, in an inevitable but disgusting ploy, Sprewell's agent has accused the coach, P.J. Carlesimo, of being racist. This will no doubt force some players (the league is 85% black) to line up with Sprewell or stand accused of being Uncle Toms. It has the potential to get very, very ugly.

If an athlete can attack a coach because he doesn't like being yelled at, and not be disciplined, then what's next? What authority does any manager, in any sport, have anymore, once accountability's dissolved? A relief pitcher refuses to pitch. A goalie beats up a fan. A basketball player throws a game after making a large wager on the other team. Anything's possible if this ruling isn't allowed to stand.

Civilization implies order. Order implies rules. Rules imply accountability. A player attacking a coach, without appropriate consequences, implies chaos. Chaos is not good for the world's foremost professional sports league. Not good at all.

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