2018-03-23 20:09:03
College Coaches Cannot Be Contained

20:09, March 23 137 0

ATLANTA — Drew Speraw, a Kansas State assistant coach, found himself in an unenviable position near the end of the Wildcats’ tight win over the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, last Sunday: He had to physically grab his boss.

Bruce Weber, Kansas State’s head coach, is a defense-first guy. In the second half, while his team was on defense against U.M.B.C., the action was on the other end of the court from the Kansas State bench. As Weber yelled instructions and imprecations to his players over the noise of the crowd, he inched closer and closer to midcourt like a salmon traveling upstream in spurts and, like plenty of other coaches, even wandered onto the court itself sometimes.

Those are no-nos in college basketball, grounds for a technical foul, which is a terrible thing during a close game. Just ask Kentucky Coach John Calipari, who got whistled for drifting beyond the coach’s box in his team’s loss to Kansas State Thursday night.

In Kansas State’s game last weekend, Weber had already been warned. Fortunately, Speraw is used to it, and he knows the responsibility that goes with his position by Weber on the bench.

“I’m the closest one,” Speraw said after Sunday’s game in Charlotte, N.C.

On Wednesday, Weber said that while he is a frequent migrant down the sideline, one boundary is clear.

“My thing is, if you yell at the refs, you should get a technical,” he said.

But , he defended his intention — leading his team to victory — and actions — shouting, pacing, pushing the limits of the coach’s box.

“If we’re coaching our guys,” he said, “that’s what we’re paid to do.”

The N.C.A.A. doesn’t necessarily disagree. This is the first season of an expanded coach’s box, which is the area the head coach may patrol during play. Vigorous sideline generals received an extra 10 feet this season; they may now roam from the baseline all the way to a mark 38 feet away. That’s a midrange jump shot from midcourt, which is 47 feet from the baseline.

“I have had officials tell me that it was expanded for me,” Weber said.

College basketball coaches are easy subjects for ridicule. N.B.A. fans scoff at their hyperactivity and point to professional coaches’ comparatively calm mien, even though N.B.A. coaches may stray as much as 43 feet from the baseline. Casual observers wonder why these blustering, nattily dressed bombasts can’t stay cool.

The college coaches say they deserve sympathy. Their charges are younger than most players in the N.B.A. Their teams can feel especially far away while on defense, seeking crucial late-game stops out of vocal range for even the loudest coach. Most coaches are former players with decades of experience who now watch mostly helplessly as post-adolescents try to implement months of training in a few essential seconds. Their antics also make for great TV.

Yet they have to stay inside an invisible box during games or risk a penalty that could tangibly hurt their team. The correct call for a coach’s box violation after a warning is a Class B technical foul, giving the other team one free throw and the ball, inbounded where it was when the foul was called.

“I have a young team, and sometimes they don’t talk,” Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said last week between first- and second-round games. “You can hear it in my voice. I’ve got to talk for them. I got warned yesterday, and, probably, going to get warned tomorrow.”

Despite plenty of yelling and straying, Johnson and Alabama lost to Duke Sunday night.

In a world where referees “T-up” coaches for far more subjectively determined violations, there is an argument that the coach’s box is extraneous, even condescending. Anecdotally, there appear to be few T’s actually called (the N.C.A.A. said it did not keep the statistic). Kansas Coach Bill Self complained that he had been whistled once this year “for sticking my toe two inches outside the box.”

“We represent universities,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said in a phone interview. “We’re grown men. We’re employed. We get treated like we’re immature. We’ve got to be in this small little confined area. We’re not going to go to the other bench and instigate something.”

This understanding was partly why the box was expanded, according to Art Hyland, secretary-rules editor of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball rules committee. It is also why referees are instructed to first give the bench a warning.

“People felt empathy that the coaches really needed a little more room in order to do their job correctly,” Hyland said.

An extra 10 feet turns out to be a lot, Self said Thursday in Omaha before the Jayhawks’ round of 16 game. He thought it was a “pretty insignificant change” when it was announced last June, but now that it has been in place for a season, he said, “It’s been a great rule.”

“You feel like you can actually have a little bit more communication on the other end of the floor,” he said.

On Wednesday, before Thursday night’s violation, Calipari blamed the tight strictures of the old box for one of the most infamous coach’s box technical fouls in the college game.

In 1992, Calipari’s Massachusetts team was playing Kentucky in the round of 16 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The Minutemen had made up most of a double-digit deficit late in the second half when a referee called a technical foul on Calipari for a coach’s box violation. The referee “was 50 feet away from the UMass bench when he called it,” The Baltimore Sun reported. The call swung the momentum back the Wildcats’ way, and they won. (They lost the next game to Duke on Christian Laettner’s famous buzzer-beater.)

“At the Spectrum where they had all those lines,” Calipari said. “I’m standing there and the guy calls a T from 90 feet away. ‘You’re out of the box.’ And I really wasn’t out of the box, but it looked like it.”

Calipari had no such defense or excuse Thursday night.

In practice, there is frequently a live-and-let-live dynamic between referees and hyperactive coaches. Warnings are issued; actual fouls, less so.

Ed Hightower, a retired referee, said officials often find that assistant coaches are better interlocutors for conveying the warnings. Speraw, Weber’s assistant, said that the referees had spoken to the staff at halftime of the U.M.B.C. game.

When warning coaches that they were in danger of violating this rule, Hightower said he would often say, “You don’t want to make me do something I don’t want to do.”

“Ninety percent of the time, I would say, the coaches are just so caught up in the moment, coaching their kids,” Hightower said. “It’s an emotional sport.”