In the wake of the public relations nightmare after the much-publicized questionable motivation tactics of former Rutgers University Men’s Basketball coach, Mike Rice, the college clearly dropped the ball in hiring Julie Hermann as the new athletic director. Ms. Hermann allegedly has some skeletons of her own along those lines in her closet. However, in the world of competitive amateur sports, good luck finding a winning coach at any level from youth to collegiate who hasn’t had a Mike Rice moment.
Some of the most revered and successful coaches of all-time have run their teams with the rod and been applauded for it. Does it make the practice right? Of course not, but it does prove the point that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Rice is not the first coach to use these tactics and sadly he won’t bet he last. He was just called out for it.
Bobby Knight, the legendary and fiery man behind Indiana basketball, was infamous for his curse-laden tirades and bullying methods. Yet, Knight is considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time even though he was once arrested for assault and threw a chair across the court during a game.
Perhaps one of the most renowned coaches in all of sports, Herb Brooks, also falls into this category. Brooks was the mastermind behind what is still considered one of the most amazing sports upsets of all-time, the ‘Miracle on Ice’, when a group of unheralded college boys beat the Soviet hockey machine in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Brooks was well-known for his somewhat unorthodox techniques when he was chosen as the architect of the 1980 Olympic hockey team. With the games being played on United States soil in Lake Placid, New York, the message was clear from USA hockey executives. The country did not want to be embarrassed on their home ice.
While Brooks’ reputation was already established by this time, so was his winning record. He had taken a struggling University of Minnesota hockey program from obscurity to powerhouse and he didn’t do it with a Mister Rogers persona.
In an exhibition game in Europe early on in the team’s training, Brooks sent his players back out onto the ice following what he felt was an uninspired effort against a marginal Norwegian team. Players skated drills which would later be renamed Herbies over and over to the point of exhaustion and beyond. Perplexed rink managers eventually turned the lights off on them and the team skated on in the dark.
It was a scene which would be made famous in the movie Miracle. While there wasn’t the Hollywood “Who do you play for” moment in real life, the episode achieved the desired effect for Brooks who used his degree in psychology well. These young men were not separated by regional boundaries any longer. They were united by one common bond; they hated their coach. However, wasn’t it also punitive punishment?
There wasn’t a single player on the squad who wasn’t a victim of Brooks’ legendary mind games. Was it mental cruelty from today’s standpoint? Perhaps, but that probably depends on your perspective.
Forward Rob McClanahan, who was verbally attacked by Brooks in the locker room between periods of the opening Olympic match up with Sweden for being a “candy-ass, a pretty boy and a white-collar coward” after coming off the ice with an injury early in the game, was said to have been deeply troubled for years following the incident which was also prominently portrayed in the film. According to Wayne Coffey who penned the New York Times Best Seller, The Boys of Winter, “it took years before he could forgive Brooks for what he did” and that “the wound was agonizingly slow to heal.”
One can only ponder what the reputation of these coaches would have been like today in the world of cell phone videos and YouTube. Would they still be revered or in disgrace like the unemployed Mike Rice?