By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Middle-aged men in dark, designer suits are agitated and angry. Look at them.
They are pacing, stomping, pointing, waving their arms and screaming, screaming, screaming. Always screaming. Their voices ravaged, they gravel out perfunctory answers to postgame questions while idly staring at a box score, either miserable or temporarily relieved. They carry an immense burden, after all, being as important as they are.
College basketball is all about the coaches, more so than ever and more so than any other popular sport, particularly as part of the television production of the NCAA Tournament every March.
The cutaways and close-ups of their grimaces and furrowed brows are constant, always weighing over the action. His players, his program, his history, his legacy. No matter the fungible commodities running around out there in uniforms — what does this mean for him?
We don’t see this in pro sports, where superstar players wield the power and are compensated by the market to reflect that. Coaches mostly earn the equivalent of veteran journeymen, and the camera finds the guys selling shoes that bear their names. Batters square off against pitchers, storylines for opposing NFL quarterbacks have everything but the tumbleweed between them in the center of town and the NBA’s best often end up in true individual matchups in the most dramatic moments.
College football has a similar elevation of the coach to some kind of emperor of state, but during games he is mostly obscured amid the similarly team-colored, with his hat pulled low and a headset on, often hiding his face behind a multi-colored, laminated card. There are too many players, too much space and too much sideline chaos of equipment, bodies and electrical cords to keep the coach in the kind of focus basketball provides.
Hoops is theater, after all, and such a reliable stage befits these ostentatious actors as they so outwardly live and die with every possession. First the jacket comes off, then later the tie is loosened after another harangue directed at the official who made the split-second judgment on a block/charge call. The courtside bands lay down a brassy soundtrack for coach to chew the scenery, as if each of them has become post-1980 Al Pacino.
Network broadcasters have helped create this culture, exaggerating wins and losses into the social and educational triumphs credited to these outsized campus figures. Before they all head out to dinner together with their wives, the game lets the analysts build the myths of the magnitude of coaches’ impact. They are leaders of men, professors, shepherds of youth teaching life’s lessons, apparently while throwing dry-erase markers like a toddler in a fit of pique.
This aggressive disrespect for officiating has become a staple of college basketball, and it now seems to infect every telecast. Nowhere else can a coach treat a referee as do the old lions like Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski, with endless streams of profanity and presumptuous expectations of preferential treatment. Often carrying over into criticism both veiled and direct in halftime interviews and well after a game concludes, such behavior provides the best look at the real lessons taught to the “student-athletes” for whom they take credit.
And that’s the ultimate effect of the disproportionate attention paid to basketball coaches, the feeling of leeching away glory from players, or that Coach is entitled to the equivalent of a percentage cut – a service charge for being blessed with the chance to play for somebody so famous and powerful and special.
This guy and his precious program, his face flushed crimson as he spits F-bombs at officials, emoting and mugging for the camera that he knows can’t get enough of him.