Wagner's Deane stages an unconventional protest
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The request was simple.
A few days before his team's first scrimmage in November, Mike Deane, Wagner College's white-haired, red-faced coach, placed a work order to the school's facilities crew. As straightforward as it was strange, he wanted a worker to leave campus and buy two car seat belts. They were not to be installed in his car, though. Rather one would be rigged to a white, padded chair on his bench, and the other would serve as a backup. In response to the NCAA's announcement in October that it would make bench decorum a point of emphasis, Deane planned to take a stand while sitting down.
"I got the belt so that I would not cost my team," says Deane, who won his 400th game last month at home against Maryland-Eastern Shore. "The NCAA put a bounty out on coaches by saying [the bench rule] is a point of emphasis. They are going to reward referees with preferential postseason placement who enforce it the most."
Sticking to his guns, the maverick coach, who is the only one strapping himself to a chair in Division I, has religiously worn the belt each game thus far. At home in the Spiro Sports Center, he sits four chairs in from the scorer's table, between his assistant coaches. While the ball is in play, he leans back and bends forward to see the action, maneuvering his neck around officials and still verbally working them. During timeouts, he unbuckles, draws up plays and leads the huddle. When he returns to his seat, he re-inserts the buckle and resumes the position.
Even in the restrained condition, though, he has full use of his arms and vocal cords, exhausting both accordingly. "I'm not out to embarrass anybody," says Deane, who brings the chair on the team bus for road games, but left it behind for the team's cross-country flight to play Loyola Marymount in late December. "I have received one technical this year, and I earned it against Columbia."
While some suggest sedatives and strait jackets as the panacea for Deane, his display of self-discipline has not become a trend in the profession. By all accounts, coaches insist there has been more reminding by officials than remanding. "The refs are the ones put in a difficult position with this rule," says Deane, who has coached in Conference USA, the MAAC and the Southland Conference prior to his current tenure in the Northeast Conference. "One of the great things about the college game is the emotion it is played with. Like it or not, coaches and players are both attractions in the game's culture."
The rule's attempt to rein in flagrant offenders has also ruffled feathers of the old guard. The big question leading into the season, which was bandied about among assistants along the recruiting trail, was: who would be the first big name to be ejected for demonstrative behavior? That was answered Dec. 6 when UConn coach Jim Calhoun, 65, was ejected after gaining a second technical for stepping outside the box against Northeastern. "The second one was for being out of the coaching box during a dead period," Calhoun told reporters afterward. "He thought I was yelling at him. Unfortunately, I was yelling at our kids. [Wally Rutecki] is not very good. The other two officials actually weren't bad. I'm sure I'll hear about this."
In the case of coaches going outside the box, warnings have been issued, and for those like Villanova's Jay Wright, who has been hit with technical fouls early in the season, the lesson has been learned quickly. "First game I got a warning for stepping on the line in the coaching box, then the technical for yelling at a player, not addressing the refs," says Wright. "The issue is more coaches being under control. I'm fine with the rule."
Prior to this year's enhanced enforcement, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, an effervescent firebrand known for his shirtless exhortations outside the box, says he had seen the rule at the high school level. "I have been in high school gyms where the rule is that coaches have to sit down," says Pearl, who instructs his assistant closest to the scorer's table to trip him if he goes too far as a self-imposed booby trap. "I can't talk, though. My mother said I would never stay in my playpen as a kid, either, let alone this box."
From the cradle to the coaching box, there are those who believe coaches to be natural-born whiners, stomping feet, flailing arms and calling attention to themselves. To others, the rule will not change their approach. "I know Mike from his days at Siena and there were certainly times when his chair would have been on his back if he buckled back then," says Hofstra coach Tom Pecora, who has received two technical fouls this season, neither of which were for box violations. "Each league has a coach who people joke the rule should be named in honor of."
Adds Louisville's Rick Pitino: "I'm perfectly capable of containing myself. I don't think most coaches need a belt. We've all refereed games in camps coming up, and we know you cannot work a game with someone in your ear."
Seated in a conference room after a recent 64-59 win against St. Francis (N.Y.), there was Deane, unstrapped and unplugged, simply making a request that he believes would better the game. "You want a point of emphasis? Take a look at the plays where a poor foul shooter is being mugged before the inbounds," said Deane, who unbuckled himself and stood on the sideline in the final minute as tensions rose. "That call should have been made, but they shied away. No one wants to call that. There's your point of emphasis."
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