I should be paying royalties to Lute Olson for all the times I've used his sayings-- and. I've never met him. Having coffee with him would be a highlight of my life (even though I am a UCLA guy!) This is a wise man. Here is an Olson quote that each of my former players has heard: "The most meaningless statistic in basketball is the half-time score." That line has peppered many locker room speeches because we were behind a lot. Here is another: "The last great innovation in basketball was the jump shot." The wonderful Hank Luisetti (of Stanford fame) brought the jump shot to basketball in the 1930s-- if, indeed, that is the last great innovation-- what an indictment! But Innovation requires 'thought leadership and basketball, sadly, is often bereft of this. That is why Mark Cuban is a gift to the game-- what he has brought to basketball is a willingness to challenge, if you will, basketball's establishment and use his influence and largesse to force a dialogue about the game. in honor of him, I am going to write a series of essays entitled, "What Would Mark Do."
The introductory essay targets this: As March Madness is now history, I must ask: Where are the black coaches in NCAA Division 1? An insightful report revealed that roughly 57% of the players at NCAA D1 levels are black; but just 25% of the coaches. (On the women's side, the numbers are even more striking (9.3 % of the coaches. 44% of the players.)
Is there a simple answer, or is something more insidious and complex at work?
I coached at the high school varsity level for ten seasons. One college coach (who shall remain nameless)-- a brilliant guy -- said this to me: "Black coaches just aren't 'x's and o's guys; they don't know the game. I need them to recruit. That is what they are good at."
He was stating his opinion matter-of-factly. I found his comment intensely revealing, but just as prejudiced as using the word 'articulate' to describe a person of color when that same adjective is rarely used to describe non persons of color.
I don't believe this Coach is racist or in any way a bad apple-- he is simply presenting an opinion from his life's experiences. An opinion that is most probably held by a lot of influencers who have the power of hiring and firing.
Which leads me to...what is coaching? I see four broad skill sets:
1. Game Management-- Tactical bench coaching
2. Practice Management-- The teaching, learning and player development component
3. Interpersonal Abilities-- Interacting with and motivating others toward achievement and excellence
4. Politically Savvy-- Dealing judiciously with the Administration, parents, media, boosters, alumni, et al...
The above is in order of external appearance, not importance.
What, on that list, cannot be learned? Based on character traits, experiences and preference, each coach has a natural tendency or inclination toward one or two of the skills sets-- but no one person is 'naturally' proficient at all four.
I've known many coaches who are diligent students of the game (x's and o's guys, so to speak), but haven't the patience required to ensure players learn to play the game correctly. I've seen other coaches who are master tacticians, but possess limited appetite for the day-to-day repetition of practicing. And, then, there are others who are master basketball politicians--glib, erudite and funny-- who are just marginally interested in games and practices, but the school administration and alumni worships them. And you know what? There is nothing wrong skill #4 (though I sorely lacked it.) As a high school or college head coach, one ignores basketball politics to their own career peril.
This is why teams need several assistant coaches-- to borrow from Senator Clinton, " It takes a village.'
The situation with black coaches is analogous to black pilots during WWII. Conventional wisdom stated, "Those Negroes just aren't smart enough to fly airplanes in combat." (As if piloting an aircraft was as esoteric, high-brow skill that elevated skin color above intellect--- one can learn to fly in a shorter period of time than it takes to become a quality basketball coach.)
The black aviators needed this: an advocate and an opportunity. Eleanor Roosevelt became the advocate; the Tuskeegee Airmen provided the opportunity. And presto, before you know it, there were black fighter squadrons escorting B-25 bomber groups and wreaking general havoc on the Lufttwaffe in the skies over the Mediterranean. Key words: opportunity and advocacy.
The reason there are so few black coaches in the NCAA is because there is little opportunity and no forceful advocate for change. The larger circle of reasoning, as I see if, is there is no financial imperative to make a change. The imperative is moral, not financial. And from what I see of the NCAA-- an operation with revenues and a balance sheet rivaling that of many small countries-- their business is business.
A lot of people draw their sustenance from this gravy train. Read: No one wants to upset the delicate balance by being perceived as taking an overt risk. And, if hiring a black head coach is considered a 'risk,' who is going to do it? Certainly not the short-sighted AD-as-Bureaucrat.
So what would Mark do if he ran the NCAA 'working group on diversity?' I think he'd challenge the conferences to replicate his model that created an environment for Avery Johnson be successful: 1. Find an exceptionally bright person. 2. Have them serve an apprenticeship with gradually expanded accountability and responsibility. 3. Compensate them generously. 4. Encourage and support them --publicly and privately. 5. Require they serve as a mentor to others to complete the circle.
Cuban accomplished this in the NBA-- where the imperative is, shall we say, a bit less altruistic --therefore, with the lofty platitudes offered by the NCAA (whose obtuse commercials leave me shaking my head) this should be a more than reasonable consideration.
But this is based on an assumption which says, "We're all interested in diversity of thought." Are we, really?"
Basketball, as a game, is inclusive and diverse. Basketball, as a business, is not. The NCAA PR engine would have us believe in the beauty and elegance of amateur athletics (maybe NCAA D-3 and NAIA; but a $6B TV deal invalidates this at the D1 level.) Those at the top levels of decision making... well, I'll offer insight via a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The rich, they are very different from you and me..."
Black coaches deserve far more opportunity than they've been given..because it is good for the game. Quotas are a fool's answer (and serve to inflame and obscure, not encourage the dialogue. Let us dialogue on this truth: diversity of thinking makes the game better-- and acting from this knowledge base is the flash-point to ignite both change and innovation.
I realize this is a qualitative argument, not a financial one. That's the problem with my idea.
The question is who will become an advocate-- you know who my choice is.