Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Return of Coach Mass

Rollie Massimino could be back in the college basketball coaching ranks.

Click here if you don't believe it.

He was an assistant to Chuck Daly for some great Penn teams in the early 70's, went to Villanova, where his #8 seeded Wildcats won the NCAA tournament in 1985 (they sweated making that tournament, too), and then succeeded Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV during a rocky tenure and finally ended up at Cleveland State, where he also failed to find success. While Coach Mass proved that there are no second or third acts in college coaching, he did a masterful job at Villanova, especially during that magical 1985 season.

So now he's considering an NAIA job in Florida, where he lives.

This is great stuff. After all, how many of us want to totally retire? Not many. Coach Mass now could get the opportunity to build this program from scratch (as it doesn't exist yet). So he'd be consulting as much as doing, which is befitting of a coach of an NCAA champion. Yes, there are many Rollie bashers out there, but at this point they should let bygones be bygones. I wasn't Coach Mass's biggest fan at times (especially after his '85 championship), but it's interesting to see him in this gig.

And it would be a hoot to see lots of retired coaches get back into the game in this fashion, although there aren't any rumors that we'll see Denny Crum or Jerry Tarkanian coaching in this league at any time soon.

Many "retired" professionals end up retiring at times in their lives when they still have much to offer, much to pass on to young players and coaches. They say that coaching is a young man's game, that it's a young man's game because you need a young man's energy not only to keep up with the moods and attitudes of young players, but also to recruit and go on the road and sell your school to fickle youngsters. Older, more reflective men might start to think the exercise to be silly, spending so much of your professional life chasing young kids who think only about basketball and girls, and not necessarily in that order. The younger men, yes, they're the ones who project well to boosters, sponsors, fans and the talent you need to fill the arenas and get into the NCAA Tournament.

But the older men offer so much wisdom. I gave this book to a colleague who's bright and well-read, figuring that it would offer him insight into managing people. He popped into my office two mornings ago and raved about it, marveling at the insight that this famous basketball coach had to offer. He likes college basketball, but I don't think that even he realized how much insight he could draw from the life experiences of John Wooden.

I have found the same to be true of Dean Smith and enjoyed his book very much. Ditto for a book about Pete Newell. Which means, of course, that to be in their presence on a daily basis is to have a chance to learn from masters.

Rollie Massimino reached college basketball's summit in 1985 and has a lot to offer. True, he couldn't come close to the rarified air after that, but you can't take away the magic that was Villanova's run. That he wants to share his knowledge is, in the end, a good thing.

And hopefully, a happy ending for a coaching legend.

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