When Mike Rice was canned as Rutgers basketball coach this week, a lot of people’s first reaction was “What was he thinking?”
Shoving and kicking his players couldn’t have been a great motivator. Gay slurs and racial epithets certainly don’t move athletes in a positive direction.
Rice’s termination — especially with full video documentation — was a no-brainer.
But my, how we’ve evolved …
It wasn’t until the 1978 Gator Bowl that high-profile coaches — and their methods — started coming under intense media scrutiny.
Remember the moment? Ohio State legend Woody Hayes clothes-lined a Clemson player after a crucial interception. Video evidence became a game-changer.
With Rice’s firing, the death this week of former football great Jack Pardee and a conversation with my longtime good friend — and Arizona State sports fanatic — Mike Elliott, I’m reminded that grid Hall of Famers Paul “Bear” Bryant and Sun Devil taskmaster Frank Kush probably wouldn’t have climbed their ladders had media (or camera-carrying parents) been more involved in their respective programs.
Pardee — who was a positive influence out of the George Allen school of encouragement — coached the Redskins to modest accomplishments from 1978 to 1980. As an NFL linebacker, he was a furious competitor but terrific sportsman.
Pardee was one of the last survivors of Bryant’s notorious Junction, Texas, training camp.
In his first season as Texas A&M coach in 1954, Bryant wanted to thin the herd. The Aggies were pitiful the year before and the soon-to-be Alabama grid god felt toughness was the No. 1 quality of a football player.
In Texas Plains heat that reached 110 degrees, Bryant welcomed about 90 team hopefuls.
Oppressive temperatures and a grueling practice regimen saw almost half the attendees drop out. In his 2002 book “Junction Boys,” author Jim Bent tells of practices that began before dawn with sessions on some days that didn’t end until 11 p.m.
Verbal goading and physical abuse were the norm.
Former NFL and Alabama coach Gene Stallings was another survivor of the boot camp. Like Pardee, he approached the game as a mentor with a different motivational tack. The short story here? It appears that Bryant, Pardee and Stallings learned how not to coach from their 1954 experience (A&M went 1-9 that season).
Bryant toned it down thereafter. Roll Tide.
And Kush? He was a favorite of mine in the 1970s. His Sun Devils were Western Athletic Conference powerhouses and shocked Nebraska, 12-7, in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl in 1975. Kush went 176-54-1 in his ASU years.
But there were grumblings.
At his Camp Tontozona training facility, Kush pushed his players to young-Bryant-like extremes.
The big hill at the camp was nicknamed Mount Kush. Elliott tells me at the beginning of his spring or fall sessions, Kush would announce to his players: “See that mound over there? I want it moved over here by the end of practice,” pointing to a spot several hundred yards away.
Kush tortured his troops with that hill, making them run up and down it in the broiling Arizona sun. He threw in drills like sending running backs — with only a center for an offensive line — up the middle against a full complement of defenders. Full pads, too.
His “bull in the ring” was a test where players would encircle a teammate and, at Kush’s commands, hammer on him one-by-one until he “proved” his mettle.
Kush was fired in 1979 in the midst of an investigation into his “mental and physical” harassment of one of his kickers (of all people).
One can only imagine Kush’s legacy if the hidden camera had been at his first practice in 1958. (It’s probably more to the point that that kind of coaching was accepted 50-some years ago.)
This week, having gotten a look at UC Davis’ first spring football workout under new mentor Ron Gould, it’s refreshing to know that Rutgers is 2,800 miles away — both in distance and philosophy.
While I Have You Here: Doing things the right way must be an Aggie kinda thing.
Word comes from Bill Herenda (he of the UCD sports radio voice) that his Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award has gone to Valeri Garcia.
Garcia, a Little League coach in Natomas, was cited for her thrust for victory “while pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.”
Garcia is program adviser at UCD’s Student Academic Success Center.
“I really love the holistic development sports can provide,” Garcia told Herenda. “Almost every job interview I’ve ever been part of, the topic of sports come up. I want to give that back to the kids … and not just the actual sport, but what sports can do.”
According to Positive Coaching Alliance folks, Garcia conducts workshops based on “Mindset” (the book by Stanford professor and PCA official Carol Dweck). The author says her work puts the spotlight on individual growth through effort, rather than reliance on talent.
“That focuses me as a coach on making sure my practices are about development and learning,” Garcia points out. “If you praise an athlete’s effort, they’re going to want to try harder.”
Ahem … Rutgers finished 5-13 in conference. Mr. Rice, please call Ms. Garcia at your earliest convenience.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.