Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Yesterday is proof I’ll watch just about any basketball game on -- Welsh, Gonzalez talk

It was just too hot to be outside yesterday, even on Shelter Island where the temperature is usually about 10 degrees cooler than in New York. The thought of playing golf, or even just hitting golf balls, made me feel slightly ill. No one in my family disagreed.

So we holed up inside—Thank God the air conditioning was working—and everyone did something different. I worked for a while but, having worked out in the morning and having been out in the heat for some time doing errands, I ran out of gas around 4 o’clock.

I plopped down on the couch and turned on our newly installed TV—its an old TV but the first time I’ve ever had one outside my office in this house for a number of reasons—and began flipping around. Nothing. If I heard one more report about where LeBron James or Dwyane Wade might or might be going I was going to throw a rock through my beloved new TV.

I flipped over, finally, to ESPNU. To be honest, I’ve appeared on ESPNU (Patriot League basketball) more often than I’ve watched it. I won’t pay the extra money it costs back home and I didn’t even know it is part of my basic service out here until recently.

The U (that’s what they call it, right?) was showing the entire NIT over the course of the day. Hey, it’s July. There isn’t even spring football to ruminate about. I’ve said this before and it remains true: There is almost no basketball I won’t watch. Years ago, I had some time to kill in New York one afternoon and wandered down to the park where I grew up. I found myself sitting on a bench next to the old basketball courts I had played on as a kid.

There was only one full court in the playground and that was always the game you wanted to be in because that’s where the best kids played. The court was nowhere near regulation size—maybe 70-feet—but the thrill of going up-and-down, trying to beat the defense back or make a steal and going the other way, was about as good as it got when I was about 12-years-old.

Nothing had changed. The best kids were playing on the full-court. As I watched, I noticed one kid who reminded me of a kid I’d grown up with. All I remember is his name was Moey. He wasn’t necessarily the best player we had, but he was the toughest. He always won, in part because he’d cheat if he had to. He’d grab you and deny it; call a foul when there was none; call his when the ball had clearly gone off his hand. No one challenged him.

This kid must have been Moey’s son. As I watched—and I sat there for a solid hour and watched—I got ANGRY. I came thisclose to telling Little Moey to knock it off before I remembered how old I was and how stupid I’d look.

Back to yesterday. When I flipped to the U, they were showing the Virginia Tech-Rhode Island game, a quarterfinal in Blacksburg that I knew Rhode Island had won late to advance to Madison Square Garden. I sat there transfixed, watching a game that had taken place more than three months ago, one where I knew the outcome. Didn’t matter. It was basketball—pretty good basketball at that—so I watched.

As the game wound down, two things ran through my mind. Tim Welsh was doing the color on the game. I like Tim Welsh but we had a bad falling out a few years back. He was coaching at Providence and had a very good team, led by Ryan Gomes. He committed to come play in the next year’s BB+T Classic, then backed out—in late March when finding a team was going to be, to put it mildly, extremely difficult.

Maybe I take the charity work I’m involved with too personally—but I’m really not going to apologize for that. Welsh handled the whole thing badly: first his scheduler began ducking calls from our tournament director (the deal had been completely agreed to on both sides and we’d sent out the contract) and then when I tried to call Tim to find out what the hell was going on he ducked my calls. When I finally got him on the phone he tried to claim some assistant AD was forcing him to blow off the event, which I didn’t believe for a minute. He was better-dealing us for a bigger payday, taking advantage of Gomes’ decision to return for his senior year.

I began referring to Welsh every chance I got as, “the aptly named Tim Welsh.” He wrote me a note asking what he could do to make up for the, “awkward position,” he had left me in. I told him not to bother. Welsh was fired a few years later and, like most fired coaches, ended up doing games on ESPN.

And, like most fired coaches, Welsh wanted to coach again. He got that chance this past spring when he was hired at Hofstra—a good job in a good league for good money. Then he made a bad mistake: getting stopped for DUI within a week of his hiring. Within 72 hours he had resigned.

None of us condone DUI. There are also very few of us who haven’t made the mistake of getting behind the wheel at some point when we shouldn’t have and been fortunate enough not to be stopped. Welsh was both dumb and unlucky. Now, he’s out of coaching—and probably untouchable—and who knows if ESPN will take him back. God knows the four-letter folks have brought back people who have done worse, but Welsh isn’t a big star. So, with his first child due next month, Welsh is out of work.

As I watched the game, feeling badly for Welsh, I saw something on ESPN’s crawl—which may be the most annoying thing every created since 90 percent of the time it gives you information you absolutely don’t need while you wait around for the 10 percent you do need. The crawl note was about Bobby Gonzales, the recently fired coach at Seton Hall.

Gonzales has apparently been charged with shoplifting some kind of expensive satchel from a high-end clothing store. I have no idea if there’s any truth to it—his lawyer, as you might expect says it was all a misunderstanding—but, again, I feel badly.

I know there are LOTS of people who can’t stand Gonzales. I was, to be honest, stunned when The New York Times ran a piece on him in March quoting people at Manhattan College talking about how they couldn’t stand Gonzales when he was there. He’d been gone FOUR years and, by the way, completely rebuilt the program, going to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2003 and 2004; beating Florida in the first round in ’04.

Gonzales came very close to turning Seton Hall around. His team was on the NCAA Tournament bubble all season and had some heartbreaking losses in The Big East. But close doesn’t count in coaching and Gonzales was fired with people at Seton Hall saying, ‘good riddance, he was nuts.’

I’m not prepared to argue with that but I always liked Gonzales. I’m affected, no doubt, by the fact that he always treated me well dating back to his days as a Virginia assistant coach. Early in his Manhattan tenure I was at a Manhattan-Army game while researching, “The Last Amateurs.” Bobby knew I was there to see Army and write about their kids but he sought me out after the game. “I just want you to know how much guys like me appreciate the fact that you try to stand up for the little guys in this game,” he said.

Naturally, I was flattered by the comment and I was pleased for his success and the fact that he got a shot at The Big East. It didn’t work out. Now, whether these charges have merit or not, he’s been publicly disgraced.

It’s remarkable how quickly you can go from hero to bum in coaching—or, I guess any job where you’re in the public eye. Chances are it will be very difficult for either Welsh or Gonzales to coach again—or even get TV work. There’s no doubt they both made mistakes. There’s also no doubt in my mind they deserve another chance somewhere, someplace, sometime.


John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show ( to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:

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Tim said...

John - you may be the ONLY one even remotely in the Bobby Gonzalez fan club these days.....he is getting pummeled from all sides. Did read that his sister came out to defend them on the Seton Hall fan site. Not sure its the smartest thing to do, but I certainly understand her coming to his defenses.

Anonymous said...

You might as well lump the idiot Georgia AD, excuse me ex-AD, in this category. I think maybe if he didn't try and get out by trying to play his 'influence,' and then crying like a baby, maybe just maybe it would have been salvageable.

Sometimes I shake my head in bewilderment of some people's choices.

Mark said...

If it had been Roy Williams or Coach K or John Calipari, those guys would not have been fired.

John, what school did you manage to get to replace Providence when they blew off your tournament? Is there a good story behind that?

Oh yeah, speaking of ESPN, Vitale or Bobby Knight would have also survived a DUI.

Anonymous said...

Funny enough, I caught myself watching a rerun of the WAC conference from Nevada today....I too miss college basketball.

This year, I hope the PAC10 makes a resurgence. That said, after the tourney, they didn't seem to bad. UW, Cal, Az, ASU, UCLA all should be good. And maybe even that Dukie at Stanford will continue to improve.

You ought to do a column on the best places to see a college game, and the reasons. Everyone has their bucket list, but it would be interesting to know the hidden gyms around - saw a big game once at Utah and fell in love with it. The Pit was great as well, along with the usuals of Cameron, Dean Dome, and one of my favorite unknowns, GTs great venue.