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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

New wizards of the hardwood: More than a rolled-up program in their repertoires

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim acknowledges the fans

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim acknowledges the fans after his team defeated Rutgers 78-53 for his 903rd career victory. (Jan. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: AP


He is constantly in motion, involved in every bounce of the basketball from the first play to the final buzzer. He is trained, intense and tireless. Any time you look at the court, you can't miss him.

He isn't the dominant center or the dazzling point guard. He is the coach, just about any coach in college basketball these days.

Coaching has become performance art. Coaches shout at players and officials, they clap and gallop down the sideline and sometimes they dance. During NCAA Tournament telecasts, coaches seem to get as much airtime as the players.

You would have to say their business sure is different than it was in the era of the late John Wooden of UCLA. He won 10 national titles before his retirement in 1975, all the while demurely sitting on the bench, holding a rolled-up program.

"I think coach Wooden's success was in the fact that he really knew the game, and he wanted to do his coaching during the week, before the game," his greatest player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. said earlier this season. "He didn't want to have any surprises. He wanted us to know what we could do and what we couldn't do; for us to focus on that and when it came time to play, go out there and do it.

"He always expected us to play in the same way we practiced, and that was really a great lesson for us, dealing with the issue of preparation," said Abdul-Jabbar, who Saturday tweeted that he wishes new UCLA coach Steve Alford "all the best."

There is no doubt among basketball people that Wooden would be a success if he were in his prime today. The question is, would he get hired now if he were just starting out?

Showmanship and salesmanship seem part of the job description, a job that is packed with win-or-else pressure and pays a seven-figure salary. Demands are more complex, the culture more coarse and fast moving, than they were in the 1960s and '70s, when Wooden described himself as a teacher who happened to coach.

"It's probably a combination of a lot of different things," said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA's executive vice president in charge of men's basketball and whose father, Dave, coached Providence and organized the Big East Conference. "Television plays a significant role because the exposure programs get on television is great, and definitely has an effect on recruiting. And then I think there's just an evolution of the student-athlete."

By that, Gavitt meant that the coach-player relationship in all sports is more interactive. "I just think the game has gotten more competitive across the country," he said.

That is to say, every school has to use every resource it can. At a time when elite college players are leaving after one year, the coach is the big man on campus. Coaches are celebrities and their personalities are what sell.

In the East Regional here this week, all four coaches were recognizable.

Miami's Jim Larranaga is well known as the guy who took mid-major George Mason to the Final Four, largely on the strength of his Bronx-bred, Queens-trained personality.

Tom Crean of Indiana is the high-energy communicator who is part of an impressive coaching family, the brother-in-law of Super Bowl opponents John and Jim Harbaugh.

Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is a towering presence, a Hall of Famer. "He has basically built this program from the ground up and it's been great to be part of the tradition," said James Southerland, his high scorer.

Boeheim often portrays himself as a caustic curmudgeon, although people who have been around the Syracuse program know him as a good guy with a great sense of humor.

Coaching now can make someone a different person for a few hours. Marquette's Buzz Williams, whose national reputation is gaining steam, has an in-game persona that is so overheated that he changes shirts at halftime because he sweats so much. He said the real Buzz is "distinctly different" from the one who never sits down during a game.

In real life, he never would put on a display like the dance he did after his team held off Butler last Saturday. Later that night, he said, "I shouldn't have done that."

But given the high-profile ground rules for coaching these days, he probably could not have done anything better.