Back in my youth, I can’t honestly say I was a big fan of coaches.
My middle school PE/health teacher was one of the football and basketball coaches and he wasn’t cool. He didn’t seem to put an emphasis on helping us learn, and if a kid made fun of me in class or outside, he’d laugh like he was friends with the bullies.
He was a big, muscular guy so if he told them to cut that out, my life in that class would’ve been pretty stress-free. He never said a word to them.
In high school, my best friend and I approached the head baseball coach about trying out for the team. Instead of being accommodating to see if we could play, he kept spinning some yarn about how difficult it would be for us to make the team if we hadn’t played youth baseball. We looked at each other, shook our heads and walked out of his office, never to return. It was obvious he didn’t want to waste his time with us. I probably wouldn’t have been a great hitter, but I could run, hustle and catch with the best of them. Could’ve at least been a defensive substitute.
Fast forward to today: one of several interesting facets of being a sports journalist is forming relationships with the various coaches on the high school, college and professional level.
My respect level for many of these coaches has grown leaps and bounds since my youth. Over the years, I’ve seen these men and women teach these high school athletes about becoming better people time and time again. Also seen coaches go out of their way to get many athletes into college programs, even if it meant getting them scholarships to junior colleges more than 1,000 miles away from home.
Sure, they fuss and yell at them during games, but that’s to be expected when all are trying to win. Once everyone is calm after the game is over, coaches mostly give positive pep talks to the players — unless the players really acted foul. I’ve seen coaches sit out players who don’t perform well in the classroom and watched them talk with other teachers about what the players need to do to make better grades.
Which brings me to Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. If the purpose of a coach (besides winning games and possibly teaching classes) is to prepare players for the next level, how is Coach K prepping perennial headcase Grayson Allen? Allen is one of the top guards in the country, but he has some serious issues. He has intentionally tripped two guys on the basketball court in the previous two years and hasn’t gotten in trouble for it. For a basketball player to intentionally do that (which could really break someone’s bones) is unbelievable — to do that more than once and go unpunished is unfathomable. Allen tripped a third player in a Dec. 21 game against Elon University and when the uproar from the college basketball community was deafening, Coach K finally decided to do something about it. The next day, he suspended Allen indefinitely and stripped him of of his team captaincy.
Duke proceeded to lose its first game without Allen, an 89-75 loss to Virginia Tech on Dec. 31, before he was reinstated on Jan. 4, helping the Blue Devils get a huge home win over Georgia Tech. So “indefinite suspension” only meant one game, or 13 total days.
After Allen’s Dec. 21 tripping incident, he was given a technical foul and the game cameras caught him on the bench having a “hissy fit,” which might be an insult to hissies everywhere. He was yelling, punching his chair and acting like a 5-year-old who just had his toys taken from him.
Coach K has been at Duke since 1980 and I’m sure he has seen — and coached — his fair share of emotional and somewhat-combustible players. It’s clear to see Allen has anger-management issues and one would think a longer suspension would give Coach K the time to truly mentor Allen and help him become a man ready to possibly play in the NBA instead of a petulant, Johnny Manziel-like spoiled brat.
Nope, not the case. Krzyzewski just had back surgery so he’s out for a month, Allen is back on the team and everything is just fine in Blue Devil Land. In fact, Coach K said after the Georgia Tech win that they have been doing things with Allen “behind the scenes,” so of course that’s good enough for him to be back in the good graces of the Duke coaching staff and athletic administration. That and 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game is really hard to leave on the bench.
Hope Allen stops trippin’ if he becomes a pro basketball player, when the guys he may leg-whip aren’t college kids but grown men with families they have to provide for each and every day. It could lead to serious consequences and repercussions for him.
Hopefully, none of the many high school coaches I know will ever let any of their players get away with such acts. They will just do their best to keep preparing their male and female student-athletes to become the best people possible.
(Jeff Armstrong is a sports writer for The Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .)