Shoving player reflects poorly on Cal coach
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
Mike Montgomery, University of California men’s basketball coach, shoved Allan Crabbe, his star player, during a timeout Sunday night in a game against University of Southern California.
You can see the shove, a two-handed, hard push to Crabbe’s chest, online. It is the kind of shove that can start a fight. The Montgomery shove is all over the Internet.
You see Montgomery, his face showing anger at his star’s casual play, push Crabbe. You see Crabbe’s face, a mixture of amazement and anger, yell at Montgomery. Two players push Crabbe away. Crabbe goes under the stands to cool off. He is really ticked off — he has every right to be. Play resumes.
Let it be noted that Cal was losing to the Trojans at the time. After the shove, Crabbe played better and Cal came back and won.
What Montgomery did was unacceptable, as in bad. There is no other way to look at it.
After the game, Montgomery made light of his grievous action, of his bullying act in his postgame news conference. Here are some quotes from the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Worked, didn’t it?” Montgomery said. “I asked if he wanted to play. He had no expression. ‘Woe is me.’ ... We were standing around. Nobody was ready to play.”
Which means even after the game, Montgomery did not understand the implications of his shove, did not understand he had screwed up.
The shove worked?
Crabbe said, “He was trying to motivate me. Everything’s fine. It’s under the bridge. He’s my coach.”
You would expect a player to say that, especially a college player who is subject to the absolute power of his coach. What else was Crabbe going to say?
Let’s be clear about what happened. It is unacceptable for a coach to touch a player in anger. This applies to college coaches, professional coaches, any coaches. It is unacceptable even if the player later takes over the game and the team wins. The end never justifies the means.
Why is a shove bad in college?
Because a college coach is a teacher — he certainly is at Cal — and he needs to teach restraint and admirable behavior. He does not teach shoving. He does not teach assault as a catalyst for learning.
As a teacher, Montgomery could have expressed his displeasure to Crabbe during the timeout. He could have raised his voice. He could have sat Crabbe on the bench. Coaches do things like that all the time. If shoving was the best Montgomery could do, he should reexamine his vocation as a college coach.
No hitting allowed.
Let’s reverse the situation. What if Crabbe, in a moment of anger, had shoved Montgomery, a sharp two-handed shove to the coach’s chest?
The sports world would have gone crazy. People would have called Crabbe a rogue player and said he took advantage of Montgomery. Cal probably would have suspended Crabbe to make an example of his bad behavior. And everyone would have applauded.
A coach has no more right to shove a player than the other way around.
After the game, after Montgomery had compounded the shove with his unfortunate postgame comments, Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour issued a statement which said, in part, “It is unacceptable for our coaches to have physical contact with student-athletes regardless of the circumstances. The incident was certainly out of character for Mike Montgomery, and I am confident that something like this will not happen again.”
Between the lines you can read the implied warning to Montgomery.
Montgomery issued his own statement. Either he had come to his senses or Barbour gave him a what-for.
“I have great passion for this game,” Montgomery wrote, “and tonight I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment. While my intent was to motivate our student-athletes, my behavior was inappropriate and I apologize for my actions.”
The apology was nice but the heat-of-the-moment excuse is weak. Good coaches keep cool in the heat of the moment. Excuse me, but you associate this losing-your-cool nonsense with villain types like Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight. After a while, even they couldn’t get away with that stuff.
On Monday, the Pac-12 officially reprimanded Montgomery. It was the proper thing to do.
The statement read: “While emotions can run high in competitive environments, Pac-12 coaches are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that will reflect credit on the institution and the Conference. Each Pac-12 coach must be aware that they are an example to student-athletes and other students, and consistent with this influence and visibility, must meet a particularly high standard.”
I must add a personal note. I do not believe Montgomery is Hayes or Knight. I have known Montgomery forever and what he did is out of character. He is a good man and a great coach. I have seen him coach many tough games — tough losses — and he never shoved anyone. This incident is confusing and makes me sad.
What’s going on, Mike?
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn @pressdemocrat.com.
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