Saturday, May 22, 2010

Three Easy Pieces

Reflections on Coaches, by Sports Writers...
Most of that which I read these days is located on the internet. The writing ranges from straight reporting, to gossip (speculation and rumor), to analysis -- which seems to be rarely quantitative and too often laced with commentary. I have not found many good profile pieces, so when I ran across these, I felt a need to share. The approach allows the reader to get a bit closer to the subject, no mean feat considering each subject, celebrated for much of their respective careers, suffered (to varying degrees) a rather public fall from grace, and with that fall, a measure of controversy. Each homage was precipated by a specific event; something served as a catalyst to both motivate each writer to spark his own recollections and weave them into the narrative.

John Feinstein on Jim Valvano
Posted near the end of April on his blog, Feinstein on the Brink, John Feinstein's "Seventeen years later, Jim Valvano’s memory lives on" drew a number of internet comments & post-back links on other sites. I remember Valvano as a young and energetic coach who (literally) exploded onto the D1 stage when his Wolfpack, possibly the first Cinderella story of the NCAA Tournament (that CBS had the opportunity to sell a few ads on). Valvano became a a "good interview" and received a ton of publicity in the ensuing years. Villanova's 1985 win over Georgetown may have eclipsed Valvano's limelight, but as Feinstein suggests, Jimmy V was eager to be regarded as "more than a coach" by that time. Whenever I read about Valvano I cannot help but remember that both he and Mike Krzyzewski took up their ACC coaching jobs in the same year, 1980-81. Coach Valvano returned the Wolfpack to the NCAAs the next season, and won the National Championship the season after. Coach K did not return Duke to the NCAAs until 1984 (lost in the second round), and did not win his first National Championship until the 1990-91 season. Jimmy V built a personna and became a celebrity; Mike Krzyzewski built a program that became a dynasty.

Joe Posnanski on Bob Huggins
A Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, Posnanski authors the Curiously Long Post blog, and posted "Huggs" near the end of March, about the time the Mountaineers won their regionals and moved on to the Final Four. Posnanski counts himself among those who are not Huggins fans, but penned a very readable and oddly endearing piece about the once controversial coach. West Virginia's run ended (rather badly at that) at the hands of Duke in the National Semi-Finals. Unlike a number of earlier character studies, Posnanski shows little interest in apologizing for Huggins, and strangely that approach makes Huggins a bit more sympathetic to the reader.

Dan Wetzel on Nolan Richardson
Wetzel wrote a loose, memory-laden review of Rus Bradburd's Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, an overdue look at the career of Arkansas' winningest basketball coach. Francis Schmidt (1923-29, 0.839) and Eddie Sutton (1976-1985, 0.776 -- yes, that Eddie Sutton) may have higher winning percentages, but neither stayed as long (17 years) nor won as many games. Wetzel has authored several books, and his skill is on display again in this book review. Unlike Feinstein and Posnanski, Wetzel moves his personal narrative to the background, allowing Bradburd to take the lead. Richardson, like Huggins (and Valvano?) has been at times a hard person to like. But always one to respect for his achievements. I was happy to hear he was back to coaching, this time in the pros -- the Tulsa Shock of the WBA.

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