Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NBA, How We Missed Thee

In honor of the NBA's return to our lives, I thought I would post an e-mail conversation about the upcoming season I have been having with my buddy Phil Schneider over the past several days while he's been out in California. Phil, who may be the funniest comedian (intentionally funny division) I know who is not so employed, grew up in Berkeley as a big Warriors fan, so he knows the pro game pretty well. Without further ado...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Being back at the pool

I may have been a swimmer for more years than I was anything else except a basketball player, but I never really learned to love it. Sure, I was competitive and worked hard at it, but to me swimming was always something that kept me in great aerobic shape for other sports that I preferred. And so of course my first coaching job should come in swimming, as the interim head coach for the Valdez Torpedoes Swim Club. That was fairly easy, with only about 6 kids*, no meets to coordinate, etc. Once that summer was over, I figured that I was done with coaching it for good, because swim season at the school level (in most places) is concurrent with basketball season, and as has been stated in this space before, coaching basketball was the overarching goal.

Monday, December 5, 2011

When it all comes together

I didn't plan on becoming (primarily) a volleyball coach. I didn't play indoor volleyball at all after 9th grade, and my personal experience was mostly limited to a couple of beach volleyball camps in southern California and Woodberry Forest's annual beach tournament. I had the good fortune to spend some time studying under Dr. Marv Dunphy at Pepperdine, who I feel is not just one of the best volleyball coaches out there, but one of the best coaches (not to mention a fantastic person) in all of American sports. But even when I was learning from him, coaching basketball was the plan all along. But the first opportunity to really establish myself as a head coach came in volleyball.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Susan Keeler Smith (1957-2011)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. - James 1: 2-3

How does one share the story of someone who became something of a medical miracle through continually exceeding expectations? How does one pay tribute to a person who had such a positive effect on so many people? How does one capture the indelible influence that a family member left on their life, mostly from three thousand miles away? Despite that distance (despite, even, never living in the same time zone), my aunt Susan served as one of the principal guiding influences on me throughout my young life, and affected me in a number of ways. Referencing the verse above, no one I know has gone through the trials that Susy did, or remained as steadfast and strong in resisting what for many would have been an easy excuse to give up. Although I do not possess my father's talent with the written word, I will try to describe how Susy influenced me throughout my life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NCAA volleyball tournament

One of my favorite sporting events of the year kicks off this weekend; the NCAA women's volleyball tournament. I have three reasons to be excited about this year's 64-team tournament:

1) As usual, American University, whose coach runs the club (Metro American) that I coach for, won the Patriot League and received, in effect, a #7 seed (only the top 16 teams, who host the first two rounds, are officially seeded), and a potential second-round match-up with...

2) #8 overall Penn State, the four-time defending champions, who may be more vulnerable this year than they have been since 2006, more because of their seven losses than because of what else has been going on in State College. I will obviously be rooting for the upset here, but also for someone to beat Penn State before they win a fifth consecutive NCAA title; as UConn women's basketball has shown over the past few years, it's not a great thing for the overall health of a sport if one team has absolute dominance for so long.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Isn't this chaos awesome?

Every year, it seems, we are subjected to the various talking heads complaining about how unjust the BCS system is, and how college football needs playoffs like every other sport. But what exactly would a playoff accomplish? Instead of pitting the two best teams against each other for one shot at the national title, a playoff format would give a second life to teams that proved they weren't good enough in the regular season, while drastically increasing the odds that the two best teams play for the crystal football. I'm going to echo the sentiments of my good friend Clay and say, F@#$ a playoff system!

Is the BCS system perfect? Absolutely not. Does it do a good job of ensuring that the best teams get a crack at the national title? Almost always. Except for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, when there were three teams with identical or nearly identical claims to play in the title game (LSU/Oklahoma/USC in 2003 and USC/Oklahoma/Auburn in 2004), you can't argue that the best team over the course of the season has not gotten to play in the championship game. In virtually all of those years, also, it's hard to argue that the second-best team hasn't played in the title game also. The exception there (in addition to the three-way tie years of 2003 and 2004, when the BCS was going to take a PR hit either way) would be 2001, when Nebraska, fresh off getting thrashed by Colorado, was the sacrificial lamb served up to a ludicrously good Miami team instead of Oregon. Otherwise, the BCS tends to get it right.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The difficulty of tryouts

Tryouts might be the most difficult part of coaching. They're hard enough in the high school programs I've coached, where I've had a week and a half to evaluate players for anywhere from two to five hours a day before making final decisions. Only once (last year with NCS volleyball) have I had to cut people from a sport completely (it's happened a couple other times when I've been an assistant and not responsible for breaking the news), and that isn't easy. There were just too many people (35, I believe it was) for the maximum available spots (32).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Coaching vs. Teaching

WARNING: I'm about to address perhaps my biggest pet peeve about my entire profession, so if you happen to be an academic sort, please don't take any personal offense to anything written here. As mentioned in my first post here, I'm currently in my eleventh year of coaching, meaning that I've been working at this my entire adult life. I did go to business school in an effort to possibly open other doors in sports in the future, but I loved coaching too much to give it up while I was in a full-time MBA program. Once I finished the program, however, I knew that I would have to add another job in order to start paying off the approximately $50K in student loans I had accrued over two short years at one of the nation's most expensive universities.*

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nine. Zero. Three.

Whatever you may think of Duke, whatever opinion you may have of Coach K, you can't help but be impressed with his accomplishment last night, overtaking his friend and mentor for the NCAA's all-time wins record in Division 1. Lots of people out there (including many that I know) hate Duke and Coach K for their perceived snobbery, because they "get all the calls," because their fans are annoying, because they're the "University of New Jersey at Durham," or just because they win. And that's fine. Hate all you want. But you should try to at least acknowledge and respect the difficulty of winning those 903 games (including four national championships over a span of two decades) across multiple eras and with teams that often barely resembled one another.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How did I get here?

To answer the title question, I suppose the answer is that I spend an inordinate amount of time coaching, playing, watching, talking about, and thinking about half a dozen (or more) different sports, so why not add writing to the list? I like writing. I've occasionally been told that I am an entertaining writer (even if at least one of my college history professors wishes that I had been more serious about my "scholarship").