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Saturday, January 08, 2005

College Coaches and the Basketball Hall of Fame

Doug Gottlieb has wondered aloud at about which coaches who are not in the Hall of Fame are deserving of being there. You may remember Gottlieb as a PG for Notre Dame who then transferred to Oklahoma State, and he's also an on-air personality for ESPN Radio.

The most amusing part of the post to me is where he takes a few swipes at former Princeton head coach Pete Carril. Not direct ones, mind you, but the comparative type of swipes where he basically implies either that Tex Winter is deserving because even Carril made it or that Carril isn't worthy if a guy like Winter isn't in the Hall of Fame. To make matters worse, he misspells Carril's last name. Carril probably could care less about what Gottlieb (or what anyone else, for that matter) says about him on a topic like this, but some of the rest of us do. Doug, whatever you do, at least remember to spell the guy's name right.

On top of that, he's one helluva coach.

One of Gottlieb's basic premises is that Eddie Sutton and Jerry Tarkanian should be in the Hall, and he speculates that they might not be in the Hall because of violations of NCAA rules. And then he wonders aloud why they are not in if other coaches (including, of course, coaching Rushmore's Larry Brown) are in. To top it all off, he then casts aspersions on John Wooden, of all people, saying that basically Wooden was a .500 coach at UCLA until an allegedly shady booster, Sam Gilbert, got involved in the program (in this latter regard, he forgets to mention that Wooden's ascendancy within the Pac 8, as it then was called, let alone the national spectrum, also coincided with Pete Newell's retirement from Cal, as the Golden Bears had something like an 8-0 record against the Bruins of Wooden from 1960-1964).

ESPN does disclose at the end of the article that Gottlieb did play for Oklahoma State, but Gottlieb doesn't disclose that he played for Eddie Sutton. He also takes a few oblique shots at Temple greats John Chaney and Harry Litwack because "they didn't win anything," and Louie Carnessecca gets painted with that broad brush too.

Gottlieb makes some valid points (and it's hard to argue that some of the coaches he names, such as Roy Williams, Gary Williams and Jim Boeheim, do not belong in the Hall), although he basically steamrolls many legacies in so doing. Also, let's review the cases of Sutton and Tarkanian separately to see if what Gottlieb says has merit.

As to Sutton, what went on when he was at Kentucky was one of the most notorious series of NCAA violations since the betting scandals of the early 1950's (and the scandal at BC in the late 1970's). Permanently embedded in the minds of many college hoops fans is a story about a recruit in Southern California, an assistant coach and a Federal Express package that leaked out at least one thousand dollars. I don't recall if Sutton was implicated personally or not, but Kentucky went on probation and that whole episode stained that program and the nation's vision of it for quite some time. In my view, Sutton was lucky to revive his coaching career. He has an excellent body of work in terms of wins and losses, no one can deny that. But it may well be that this particular recruiting episode (and the other violations that led to Kentucky's receiving NCAA sanctions) is what is keeping him out of the Hall.

As for Tarkanian, well, he's in a league of his own. He had some great teams, and he was a great coach. UNLV was a high-caliber basketball program for many years, and Tark also had outstanding programs (again, in terms of results) at Long Beach State before UNLV and at Fresno State after it. But the results aren't the only things that the Hall voters examine, and Tark was always in the NCAA's penalty box or at its doorstep and seemingly scandals always surrounded his program. Yes, he did win games, and yes, he did take chances on kids no one else would have, but he also took kids that no one else would have touched either. And, in certain cases, subsequent events bore out why that was the case.

I am sure that for some voters, to enshrine Jerry Tarkanian would be to say that at the end of the day, it isn't how you complied with rules and policies, it isn't how many kids you graduated, and it isn't how many kids had run-ins with the law or were in hot tubs with boosters, but what your record was. And for voters who always have endeavored to do things the right way, that's probably a concession that they will never make.

True, Jerry Tarkanian's basketball teams were better than Pete Carril's, and, true, when they played head-to-head the outcomes never were in doubt, but as far of Hall of Famers go, there is no comparison between Pete Carril and Jerry Tarkanian.

One won under very trying circumstances, trying to recruit kids with the outstanding academics and financial resources necessary to go to a school that didn't offer basketball scholarships. In many cases, he took kids with promise and turned them into outstanding ballplayers, as the Ivies were seldom the place where a HS all-American would go at the expense, say, of an ACC school such as Duke or Carolina. He had his chances to go to other schools, big-time schools, but he preferred that his journey be taken on a road less traveled, a harder road, to be sure, because unlike golf tournaments at country clubs, an Ivy team isn't spotted points when it plays Duke or Carolina on the road. And he won over 500 games in the process!

The other, in a sense, took the easier way out, finding the best hoopsters possible without worrying too much about the requirements of a university community or the major association to which it belonged. It's not surprising that he won a national title; given his circumstances, it's surprising that he didn't win a whole lot more.

You aren't always a champion because you win game after game and then the biggest one at that.

And perhaps, in the end, that's the messsage the Hall of Fame voters are trying to send.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could not agree with you more, Prof. A few notes to mention:
1. Gottlieb was expelled from Notre Dame for multiple counts of credit card fraud. He is trying to get himself off the hook as well.
2. The famed UK package was actually an Emory Air Freight package, not FedEx. Sutton's assistants took all the blame, and Eddie got off.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sad to say there are more things than just basketball holding Eddie back right now.

10:10 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

As for Gottlieb himself, I don't know what to make of your comments. First, to me Gottlieb's comments are the issue, not Gottlieb personally (because the issues are paramount). Do you have any substantiation? Federal law prohibits colleges from revealing information about students, and I always thought Gottlieb left because the b-ball at N.D. was bad. All that said, even if what you say is true, he'd be entitled to a second chance. And, I like his commentary on ESPN; I think he's pretty good. My only point about Gottlieb's not disclosing his having played for Sutton is that as a journalist he should make that disclosure. Why he left N.D. to me is irrelevant.

As for the comment about what else is holding Eddie Sutton back, what is? He gets a lot of publicity, his team made the Final Four last year, they may well do so again this year, so I'm not sure what you mean.

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