His high school coach is in the National Basketball Hall of Fame and his college coach will be inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in the fall.
Both had their tactics to motivate Kevin Stallings and the rest of their pupils.
Long before Stallings played at Collinsville (Ill.) High School in the late 1970s, Vergil Fletcher, settled scuffles between players in practice by putting them on a stage and giving them bulky boxing gloves to duke it out. His coach at Purdue, Gene Keady, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958. A year later, he returned home to Kansas and intended to take a high school football coaching job but all the spots were filled. So the school offered him a job coaching the basketball team instead.
Stallings knows what it is liked to be pushed in practice. Now in his 14th season as Vanderbilt’s head coach, he is prone to yelling or voicing his displeasure in order to motivate his players.
But the idea former Rutgers coach Mike Rice would throw basketballs at players’ heads, forcefully move them around the court and yell homophobic slurs disgusted Stallings so much that he only watched pieces of the video — several days after it was first reported.
“It makes me embarrassed for our profession that those methods are still in place” Stallings said. “I played for two really, really hard-nose, physical type guys. It is so wrong to ever put your hands ever near a player, to me — ever. I don’t even put my hands on a guy to move him from one spot to the next. It is bad practice. Because who knows when they’ve just done something that flips my switch in practice and I do something stupid, which I’m not inclined to do because I’m never going to put my hands on them.”
Stallings joined Butler’s Brad Stevens, Belmont’s Rick Byrd and ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes for a panel discussion about integrity in sports at Belmont on Wednesday afternoon.
Dykes and the trio of coaches engaged in friendly, insightful and entertaining conversation on a variety of topics. They discussed the current culture of college basketball, the NBA’s one-and-done rule, the unpredictably of job security, officiating, recruiting today’s generation and finding the balance of coaching with integrity while also keeping up in a results-oriented society.
“There are a lot of things people might perceive as negative,” Stevens said afterward. “Certainly there has been some negative publicity toward the coaching profession in general or college athletics in general. But there is more good than bad. That is one of the things we need to continue to do our best to promote and get out there. We need to do a better job telling the good stories about coaches.”
As Stevens said during the discussion, though, the bad stories often make the front page more often.
The Rutgers/Rice saga continued to make headlines Tuesday. During an internal investigation at one of his previous schools, Robert Morris, an ex-player claimed Rice used homophobic slurs and got into a shoving match with a player in the locker room during a game.
Dykes estimated he had watched nearly 200 practices this season and hadn’t witnessed anything remotely near what occurred in the video of Rice. Dykes said within 15 minutes of watching a practice he can evaluate the integrity of a coach and his program.
Byrd described Rice’s methods in the video as a tactic, a pre-determined coaching philosophy.
“He had a lot of different shorts and shirts so it wasn’t just one day,” Byrd said. “That is as bad as it gets. Personal attacks aren’t necessary at all.”
Mild-mannered Byrd admits he can lose his temper in games, especially early on his 30-plus-year coaching career. He said he got “way too emotional” often because of a lack of focus by his players, which affected their performance and reflected negatively on the coach.
When Byrd does cross his line during games, he said he is quick to apologize to his team in the locker room afterwards.
“So many times it was way more about me being frustrated about how my team was playing,” he said. “Even though I didn’t realize it, what I was yelling at them about was, ‘You’re making me look bad. I’m a better coach than that.’ Brad and I have talked about this, no coach I’ve ever observed has gotten louder, more abrasive, more vulgar, lose control more often as he has gotten older than when he was younger. I think we all end up learning what Brad has already learned in his 30s that you’re a much more effective coach when you teach and instruct and every now and then raise your voice.”
Stallings has his own ways of venting frustration.
When he gets upset in practice, it is not uncommon for him to turn away from his players and boot a basketball 30 feet in the air and soaring into the Memorial Gymnasium stands.
But he says he never has gotten forceful with a player. He hopes the incident at Rutgers will send caution to all coaches, athletic directors and presidents about winning at all costs.
“It saddens me to see a guy lose his job, probably lose his career,” Stallings said. “I hope it wakes the administrators up all across the country and that kind of behavior can be put to rest.”