If Morehead State had fired basketball coach Sean Woods after he shoved one of his players and then berated him on the bench to the point of tears, it would have been a shame.
Woods shouldn’t have gotten off that easy.
Instead, the school got it half-right. Morehead State suspended Woods for one game Friday, which may or may not give him pause to reflect for two hours — not just on his behavior but on his core beliefs as a coach.
But what would be a most fitting punishment, along with a suspension, is to sit Woods in a chair at center court before Monday’s game against Norfolk State in front of a bank of television cameras and an arena full of fans, having to listen as his athletic director and school president poke him in the chest and then tear into him about what an embarrassment he is, about how lucky he is to still be employed, and how he better win an awful lot if he expects this stepping-stone of a job to lead anywhere.
Then maybe Woods might get it.
The clip of Woods — a protégé of another fine example of character in coaching, Rick Pitino — quickly went viral. A sideline incident of an otherwise unnoticeable game Wednesday night became a national talking point: Woods going off on his senior point guard, Devon Atkinson, when it became apparent that Morehead State’s bid to upset Kentucky, where Woods once played, was going to fall short.
Woods told reporters afterward that he was just trying to calm Atkinson down. (Yeah, right.)
Woods never questioned his own behavior — and why would he? Woods did the same thing to another player, Chad Posthumus, during a loss to Maryland earlier this month.
So when Morehead State released a statement Friday, it is easy to question just how heartfelt this quote is from Woods: “My behavior during Wednesday night’s game was inappropriate and unacceptable. I am truly sorry.”
Sadly, Woods does not seem to be as much of a throwback to the Paleolithic era (think Woody Hayes or Bob Knight) as he is part of a movement. Two football coaches, Mike Leach of Washington State and Jerry Kill of Minnesota, each had their leading receivers quit this season, saying they were victims of abuse and were not going to put up with it anymore.
Woods and Leach are in their first seasons at new schools — Kill is in his second — and are understandably interested in establishing a new culture. But somewhere along the line, too many coaches forget that they are teachers, and in what classroom would this be acceptable?
If Woods wanted to make a point to Atkinson that fouling out was dumb, selfish, inexcusable — pick your own adjective — how about playing several possessions with four players on the court? You think Atkinson might have gotten the point then?
Or how’s this for an outside-the-box idea: If somebody isn’t playing up to the standards you have set for the team, don’t play them.
Credit Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson — or somebody above him — for getting this by Friday. Hutchinson, in the release, backed Woods but called his behavior unacceptable.
“It is our expectation that our coaches are first teachers, who reflect the core value of the university, which includes valuing the individual and treating people with respect,” Hutchinson said.
Of course, emotions will and should be involved — they are integral to sports. Nobody expects every coach to stand on the sideline like a professor, and different players respond to marching orders differently.
But tough love isn’t the same as humiliation. And any acts of humiliation — be it Woods’ heat-of-the-moment attack or some of the allegations leveled against Leach, Kill and their staffs — are most often just signs of inadequacies of the coaches.
If you don’t have enough intelligence, humor, creativity, passion and knowledge to reach and motivate a player — or you don’t want to acknowledge a recruiting mistake — then you do what anyone can do: Yell and scream.
And it is not surprising when the ranting and raving was loudest on Wednesday: When it became clear what was slipping away, what a win over Kentucky would have meant — not for Morehead State’s players, but for their coach’s career.