Hey coaches, watch your step

Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:24 a.m.

When Florida and Vanderbilt play today at the O'Connell Center, a lot of attention will be on the two coaches.

Any time Billy Donovan is on the sideline at a home game, he's an interesting guy to watch. Especially this year when he seems to be coaching his rear off with a young team. Kevin Stallings is equally as demonstrative as Gator fans found out last year in Nashville when the Vanderbilt coach had an exchange with UF's Joakim Noah.

But for both coaches this year, and the 300-plus others in Div. 1 college basketball, the demon has been taken out of demonstrative.

Or has it?

The NCAA this year has put a point of emphasis on coaches' decorum, a six-point decree to try to rein in the guys in the suits. One of the points is that a coach can receive a technical for “publicly demonstrating officiating signals such as traveling, holding, blocking, etc. that indicate displeasure with the officiating.”

Once again, this is an example of the NCAA taking an issue and overreacting. You're in a tie game and Joey from the other team takes four steps before laying it in and you can't circle your forearms? Come on.

We have seen coaches receive technicals for stepping out of the coaching box this season. In the case of Arkansas' coach John Pelphrey, the former Gator assistant, he was slapped with a ‘T’ for taking off his jacket.


“Unfortunately for me, I've been reminded a few times,” Pelphrey said. “It's very different for the referees.”

You may have seen earlier this season where Bruce Pearl received a technical for literally stepping a foot outside the coaching box to encourage his players against Xavier. Mike Deane at Wagner went so far as to install a seat belt on his chair although because it can unbuckle, he was ejected from a game this year because of two technicals.

The NCAA went so far as to tell officials that if they ignore the decorum policy, their chances of being selected for postseason tournaments will be diminished.

So what about last week's game when both Donovan and Billy Gillispie were often outside the coach's box trying to get the attention of their players in an incredibly loud arena?

It seems to me as the conference season has cranked up that the officials are a little more lenient. And the coaches have grasped the fact that it's OK to wander a bit if you're talking to your players but not if you're complaining about a call.

“If guys are trying to coach their team,” Pearl said, “it's one thing. If you're out of the box arguing a call, you have very little leeway. My assistants have been instructed to remind me where I am.”

Said Gillispie, “I think coaches have adjusted to the rule.”

But what about a place like the O'Connell Center where the chairs are almost on the court and a coach can hardly help being on the floor at times?

You may remember a few years ago when Donovan was run over by SEC official Doug Shows. Shows was sprinting down the court watching the action and Donovan was a step inside the court trying to coach.

“My chair is right on the coach's box,” Donovan said. “I think there has to be some communication. If a guy says, 'Hey, Billy. Help me out and take a step back.' That's fine. I think our league has been fair about that.

“But if you give a technical to a guy who is a step out of the box, that's the wrong thing. I think when the season started, you had a lot of these officials on edge and concerned about how they were going to be viewed.”

Or what they are viewing.

Because the bottom line to this new point of emphasis is that college basketball is a difficult game to officiate. It becomes even more difficult when one of the three officials has to keep an eye on the coaches instead of watching the players.

“I personally like it when all of the focus is on the court,” Pelphrey said.

Pearl wondered earlier this year why there was a need to fix something that wasn't broken. The NCAA felt coaches were getting too carried away, especially when it came to profanity directed at its officials. But there has always been an understanding between coaches and officials as to what you can and can't say to referees, even if it varied from one to the next.

To give a coach a technical for stomping his foot is rare. To give him a technical because he stomped his foot outside the coaching box is ridiculous.

Steve Spurrier once said that he coaches football like a basketball coach, with great animation. That's part of the charm of the game, the histrionics of a coach who feels like he received a bad call or can't get his defense to realize it's time to switch to a zone.

Certainly, some coaches cross the line. But if you cross the line near the scorer's table, you can be in trouble.

In the end, this is one of those rules that requires common sense. What the NCAA lacks in that department, you hope the coaches and officials in this league can make up.

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