Mike Francesa on Monday reiterated and expanded upon his comments from last Wednesday’s show in which he stirred controversy by dismissing the notion of women serving as head coaches of men at the highest levels of sports.
The original comments from the WFAN host came in response to a caller named “Rob from Greenlawn,” who wondered about his daughter’s chances of becoming a coach.
Francesa’s take led to charges he was being sexist, criticism that included a Newsday column by Barbara Barker that he appeared to reference specifically, including bringing up Sacramento Kings assistant coach Nancy Lieberman, whom Barker quoted.
“It is so ridiculous,” Francesa, 62, said at the beginning of an 18-minute monologue on the subject that started early in his show and led to a number of follow-ups from callers. “It makes absolutely no sense. And it’s not chauvinistic.
“This is a completely unique situation, trying to get women to run male athletic organizations at the highest level as far as coaching young athletes. It’s a difficult thing for men to do. The idea of women doing it is ridiculous . . . It is honest and it is reasonable. It is not in any way derogatory. I wasn’t being derogatory to anybody.”
Francesa said he would limit his discussion to basketball, asserting that football, hockey and baseball are even more far-fetched because of the relative lack of pathways at elite levels for women compared with basketball.
“My point was that it is so difficult having spent my life around these teams and around a lot of coaches,” he said. “I know how difficult it is for men to run teams in any of these sports.
“This has nothing to do with women’s rights. It’s not chauvinistic. I have no problem with women advancing in business. They have every right to, and they’ll do it as well as men, maybe better. Same thing with politics, and we’ve seen that.
“Nobody ever in this election questioned whether Hillary [Clinton] was experienced enough or had the credentials to be President. They questioned her character; they didn’t question her experience, and rightly so because she had plenty of experience, maybe more than most candidates have. So I don’t think that was in any way a question.
“But in male sports at the highest level, running young athletes, bringing them along on a college level, coaching them, teaching them, disciplining them, trying to turn them into a cohesive group, is probably harder now with all the trappings we have and all the money that’s involved than it’s ever been before.”
Francesa noted that while Becky Hammon with the Spurs and Lieberman are assistants in the NBA and that there are some assistants at the college level, there are no women head coaches in men’s college basketball. He also recalled Rick Pitino hiring Bernadette Locke as an assistant at Kentucky in 1990.
“The stories, and I remember them well, were that this was groundbreaking, that this was going to change the face of basketball,” Francesa said, adding the milestone “amounted to zero.”
Francesa said the only woman he ever thought might be up to serving as a head coach for men was the late Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.
“Just consider this: That the difficulty is not only in dealing with young males on such a level with discipline and dealing with cohesiveness and dealing with the things young men try to do when you try to coach them and how difficult it is to deal with the abundance of riches that these players have and dealing with the riches, which is harder and harder all the time, but also dealing with the credibility and the scrutiny that these players have in dealing with the coach’s credibility,” Francesa said.
He used as an example the recent critique of Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek by Carmelo Anthony.
“Think about the scrutiny that that places a head coach under,” he said. “You’re talking about Jeff Hornacek, who has his number retired at Iowa State, who has his number retired with the Utah Jazz, who scored 15,000 points in the NBA, who played over a thousand games in the NBA, who played in the NBA Finals twice, who won games on last-second shots on the college level, and at the NBA level in the playoffs, who played for guys you would consider top-flight if not legendary coaches on both levels, who’s spent his life in the NBA, who was an assistant, who was already a head coach before he ever came to the Garden, and with all that experience you have a player here questioning whether or not he can do the job. How would one of these women stand up to that kind of scrutiny, if we’re being realistic? How would she possibly? Where would she have gone for one iota of that experience, to be able to stand up to that scrutiny?
“You’re going to thrust a woman into that, who may have played in the WNBA or may have played in college and has been an assistant for a couple of years or a period of time in the NBA, when you’re talking about the pool that you’re drawing from of which there are really very few.”
He again returned to the example of Locke’s hiring.
“It went nowhere,” he said. “It produced nothing. And that was in 1990. It produced nothing in its wake. So the fact that there’s an assistant which you think is going to mushroom into some amazing avalanche of hirings is utterly ridiculous.”
He added, “This is not cruel. This is not unreasonable. It is just the way it is. Not everybody is attuned or designed to do every single job. And as we move forward there’s no saying that everybody has to be able to do every single job. Some are better for some people, that’s all. That’s not being chauvinistic. That’s not being stone-aged. That’s just being reasonable. I’m just looking at this with some modicum of common sense.”
Going on, he said, “The idea, watching men try to control a room of 60 men, is difficult. That would be a very tall order for a woman, and you know what? That’s not an unreasonable statement. It is different than politics. It is different than business. It is different than anything, athletics at this level. I don’t see how that in any way is stone-aged.
“If it ever happened, I really believe it would be nothing more than a publicity stunt, and I don’t think it would last very long, I really don’t, because I think the deck would be so stacked against that person it would be very hard to succeed . . . It’s not everybody for every job. That’s just not the way it is, and not the way it’s going to be for a long time.
“Frankly I think it would be a very, very, very really tall hill to climb. It really would. I don’t think that’s being chauvinistic or stone-aged, I think it’s just being practical, and reasonable. Back after this.”