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Vol. 57, No. 1 • November 2019 • .pdf version
Open locker rooms are good for coaching legends
By MIKE WATERS / Syracuse Post-Standard
Coaching is very often a copycat business.
A coach wins a Super Bowl with a 3-4 defense, every coach in the NFL is switching to a 3-4 defense the following year.
A baseball manager discovers that a shift is effective, and the next season every team in the majors has three players on the right side of the infield.
In college basketball, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jim Boeheim have combined for 10 national championships. Krzyzewski, Boeheim and Williams rank one, two and three for career wins among active coaches. All four are in the Hall of Fame.
And each opens up his locker room to the media after games.
So my question is: Why don't more coaches copy the practices of these four coaching legends?
Think about it. If you're looking for commonality between Coach K, Roy, Boeheim and Izzo, there isn't much there. Krzyzewski believes in man-to-man, slap-the-floor defense. Boeheim is synonymous with the 2-3 zone. Williams has an "aw, shucks" persona. Izzo is the personification of intensity.
The one thing they all share is an open locker room.
And outside of those four, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than one or two open locker rooms in any major conference in the country.
As a writer who covers Boeheim's Syracuse teams, I have first-hand knowledge of how an open locker room works and I'm here to tell you the open locker room is a good thing.
A reminder that the USBWA membership isn't just a collection of sport writers. A large number of our members are sports information directors. As such, this isn't meant as a bitch session among writers. The writers already agree with me.
This column is directed toward those in our membership who might have a coach's ear and can relay a few thoughts. I want you to think about the open locker room not for how it can help a writer on deadline, but how it can help you and your coach develop a better team atmosphere and even help a team do better in the post-season.
End the star system: A closed locker room usually means that one or two players are brought into an interview room. That promotes a star system.
Only the players who had the best game get interviewed. What about the reserve who came in and provided key minutes, but didn't score 18 points? A good reporter wants to talk to that player, too.
An open locker room gives the reporter an opportunity to go around and talk to more players. The reporter can observe interactions between players or go back and ask a follow-up.
A year ago, I happened upon a story about a walkon whose family had to vacate their home in California due to the wildfires after a brief post-game conversation with the player.
And I've found that when a reporter talks to a role player, a substitute or even a walk-on, his teammates are happy.
Responsibility: A few years ago, Syracuse suffered a tough loss on the road. When the media was let into the locker room after the game, Jonny Flynn, the starting point guard, was nowhere to be found.
When Boeheim heard that Flynn was not at his locker, he found the guard hiding out in the shower area. Boeheim told Flynn that all of his teammates were talking to the media and he should be, too.
I believe it taught Flynn a lesson in responsibility and it also showed that no player was entitled to special treatment. Flynn wound up becoming a team leader.
Maturation: An open locker after a loss is an interesting place. You see which players know how to handle adversity. They're at their lockers, fielding questions.
In a closed locker room, a younger player who didn't get into the game doesn't see that happening. But in an open locker room, the freshman can watch how a senior comports himself in front of the media after a loss. It's observational learning and, believe me, I've seen many a younger player begin to take on the habits of a team veteran.
Post-season preparation: In the NCAA tournament, as well as most conference tournaments, locker rooms are required to be open to the media.
Short of laying down black carpet and putting up blue curtains, coaches will do anything to prepare their teams for NCAA tournament play.
Is it not a possibility that Krzyzewski, Williams, Boeheim and Izzo are getting their players accustomed to the post-season environment by opening up their locker rooms during the season?
There are many more reasons in favor of an open locker room.
But most of those are from the writers' point of view. Better interviews. Better stories. Better relationships.
But this was an attempt to get SIDs and coaches thinking about their post-game practices in a different way.
Oh, I almost forgot. Rick Pitino also had an open locker room policy. Seven Final Fours. Two national titles.
Lodge Notes: Greenberg inducted into seventh Hall of Fame
Mel Greenberg was honored with his induction into his seventh hall of fame, this time by his alma mater with a Temple University Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Hall of Fame award, for his pioneering work in women’s basketball coverage. Greenberg entered the USBWA’s Hall of Fame in 2002.
Several past USBWA board members changed jobs. Jeff Greer, Louisville beat writer for the Courier-Journal and The Athletic the past six years, is taking a break from college hoops this season to travel through Europe for the year with his wife and freelance while there. Former Burlington Hawk Eye sports editor John Bohnenkamp will run Sports Illustrated’s Iowa Hawkeye Maven and serve as the sports-writing coach for the University of Iowa student newspaper, the Daily Iowan. Matt Vautour, the UMass beat writer for 20 years at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, was named a sports columnist for MassLive in May. After covering Florida for 15 years at the Gainesville Sun, Kevin Brockway will cover Indiana and Purdue for CNHI, which serves 11 state-wide newspapers within Indiana.
Andy Staples was one of several college writers to leave Sports Illustrated, to cover college football at The Athletic. Tim Layden resigned after 25 years as a staff writer at SI and has signed an agreement to work for NBC Sports Group. Dan Greene and Joan Niesen were among more than 40 employees to lose their jobs in layoffs there in October. Greene had worked there for nine years and Niesen for six.
Sam Blum moved from the Auburn beat at AL.com to cover SMU football and basketball at The Dallas Morning News.
Nominations being taken for USBWA awards
Nominations are being accepted through Nov. 15 for the following USBWA awards to be presented next April.
HALL OF FAME: Established in 1988, the USBWA honors past and current members for their contributions to the organization and for their achievements in sports journalism. To be eligible, an individual must have a minimum of 20 years experience as a sports writer or college athletics administrator dealing with basketball. Send nominations to USBWA Executive Director Malcolm Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KATHA QUINN AND MARY JO HAVERBBECK: Both awards recognize individuals in men's and women's basketball for their service to the media and for the inspiration they provide to those in the sports journalism profession. The awards are presented in honor of two former sports information directors who have passed away – Quinn (St. John's) and Haverbeck (Penn State). Send nominations for the Quinn Award in men's basketball to past president Malcolm Moran at email@example.com and Shannon Ryan, USBWA second vice president, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and to Mel Greenberg at email@example.com for the Haverbeck Award in women's basketball.
MOST COURAGEOUS: The USBWA honors a player, coach, official or administrator who demonstrates extraordinary courage while facing adversity in life. First presented in 1978, it is the USBWA's oldest award. Send men's nominations to Luke DeCock, USBWA third vice president, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and women's nominations to Greenberg.
RISING STAR: The USBWA honors a member who is under 30 and shows outstanding promise as a journalist covering college basketball. Send nominations to past president John Akers at email@example.com.
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