Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Uh, No, They're Not The Same Thing

TigerBlog was walking on the concourse at Goodman Stadium at Lehigh Saturday afternoon, wearing his bright orange "Princeton Athletics" dri-fit. As he stood next to the sausage sandwich stand, he was approached by a stranger who asked if he worked at Princeton.

This is the conversation that followed:

Stranger: "Let me ask you a question."
TigerBlog: "Okay."
Stranger: "What was the University's official position on the sideline behavior of your former lacrosse coach?"
TigerBlog: "I don't think there was an official position."
Stranger: "Okay, what was your position?"
TigerBlog: "Well, I think our former lacrosse coach would be the first person to tell you that he often regretted his sideline behavior. I think it's a shame that many people only know him from what they've seen of him on the sideline, because it's not what defines him as a person or a coach and it doesn't speak to all of the great things he's done for so many people."
Stranger (walking away): "That's a weak argument. It's like saying the guards at Buchenwald were nice to their families."

TigerBlog never had the chance to reply, and it's probably for the best. His response, however, is basically that, uh, no, it's not nearly the same thing.

Bill Tierney is a Hall of Fame lacrosse coach who lost his temper during the heat of games. Buchenwald's guards oversaw a forced labor camp during World War II at which 57,000 innocent people were killed.

So, no, they're not nearly the same. But it does show a great deal about what it means to be a college coach, especially a high-profile one.

College coaches basically do their jobs in public, with an audience there to judge basically every move they make. And, oh by the way, their jobs are judged on the most obvious of terms - winning and losing.

It's not an easy way to make a living, and it's why not many coaches are able to have sustained, long-term careers on the college level. It takes thick skin.

There have been dozens of times when TB has been at a game and watched it slip away for one team. At the end of the game, it's obvious that the losing coach wants to take all the chairs on the bench and hurl them all over the place while breaking everything else in sight.

Instead, he or she has to walk to the other bench, smile and congratulate the other coach. Imagine framing your own career in those terms, and then imagine having that play out game after game for years, all the time reliant on 18-22 year olds to enact your vision for your program.

Princeton has had its share of volatile coaches through the years. Tierney, of course, was one. Certainly Pete Carril was another.

TB often joked with Carril about where they first met, at the Palestra, while Carril coached and TB chanted "Sit Down Pete" with the rest of the University of West Philadelphia fans. If you'd ask TB back then what he thought of Carril, it's unlikely that the response would have been something like: "well, he's probably going to be one of the most fascinating people I ever meet once I get to meet him." No, it would have been something juvenile.

One of Carril's favorite stories is about the time he was on the train and the conductor came up to him and said something like: "I just wanted to let you know that I've watched you work and I'm a big fan." Carril's response was: "The same goes for me."

In typical Carril fashion, it was pretty funny. Humor, of course, is a big part of his personality. Just like Tierney, for that matter. They also share other qualities: modesty, strong work ethic, high standards and many others.

You just couldn't necessarily tell by watching them coach at Princeton. So when you're watching a game on TV or in person and your thought is either that the coach they're showing must be either a saint or a jerk, the reality is probably somewhere else.

Just not death-camp guard.

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