As a superfan of the double, double toil and trouble that Stanford’s Pac-12 opponents get themselves into, few things have pleased me more in life than the Trojan turmoil of 2006 and the to-be-resolved Oregon “oops!” of 2011.
But there’s nothing like the good ol’ Cal chuckle: that warm, giggly feeling I get in my heart when I find out that the Golden Bears have done something else wrong.
This time it’s not dipping Academic Progress Ratings, reckless former players or sickening Tweets by Daily Cal journalists, but a regrettable move by respected men’s basketball coach Mike Montgomery. With the Bears down by double digits at home against USC, Cal star Allen Crabbe jogged lazily up the court as his coach called timeout. Montgomery took offense, shouting at Crabbe and giving him a quick shove for motivation. Teammates had to separate a steaming Crabbe from his coach, and he spent several minutes in the tunnel before returning and going on to spark a comeback victory for the Bears.
Even though he is Cal’s head coach, Monty garners nothing but respect from us Stanford fans. NCAA Tournament appearances were taken for granted by the end of his 18-year tenure on the Farm from 1986-2004, when he led the Cardinal to 12 Big Dances and a Final Four. He’s the coach I grew up watching—even idolizing—and his teams were models of how to sustain basketball success at a school that has been a bit light on that lately.
Monty did have a bit of a temper every now and then, but it was always directed at referees, not his players. And that’s an important distinction.
Because even though I believe Monty—with his near-spotless record over 35 years of coaching—does deserve some slack, this wasn’t “blown out of proportion” by the media, as Crabbe suggested. Even though this was a mistake, apologized for in a heartbeat, the incident shouldn’t be swept under the rug quite as quickly as one Daily Cal columnist implored on Tuesday.
Even though the shove doesn’t change what I think of Mike Montgomery, it can’t be excused. Monty himself acknowledged that.
Crabbe’s father put it best. “I told Montgomery, ‘I respect you as a coach,’” the San Jose Mercury News reported him saying. “‘Do I respect what you did? No. You can’t put your hands on a kid. It’s 2013.’
“He understood and said it was his mistake.”
To me, that’s about as healthy of an attitude as could come from those inside the situation. Though Montgomery was surprisingly unapologetic right after the game in question, after some time to reflect, he came to terms with what he had done and made sure the right people knew that. And the right people listened.
But as honorable as it was for Crabbe to forgive and forget, that’s not the course we should take as media—or fans.
Somehow, even after Bob Knight and Mike Leach and Tommy Tuberville, big-name college coaches continue to get caught up in the moment and act violently. Though there’s rarely any long-term malice at work, impulsive abuse is still abuse. Even if Crabbe acts the bigger man and publicly accepts Monty’s apology, for the public to do the same is to create a sense of appeasement for a practice we must eliminate from college sports.
And who knows what the targeted party really thinks of his coach in these situations? It’s entirely possible that despite deciding to help his coach—and university—save face, a player who has been attacked by a coach harbors some real displeasure with that coach’s underlying style of motivation. Though by most accounts that’s not the case at Cal, if there was a deeper issue that only came to the fore with the incident this weekend, this would be a real chance to address that issue. But if fans forgive their coach and move on, it only encourages the continuation of those distasteful practices (so long as they don’t surface again on the sidelines).
So despite my unwavering respect for Mike Montgomery as a man, I’m still going to remember this incident as a blemish on that otherwise spotless record. As a principle, I’m not going to rush to defend coaches who commit violent mistakes, however rare or incidental.
To do otherwise would be to let the real offenders off the hook.
Joseph Beyda is currently fighting off anxiety attacks caused by his newly uncertain feelings towards Monty. Give him advice on how to deal with this blow at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @DailyJBeyda.