When Indiana freshman Brian Evans took an ill-advised shot during a recent game against Purdue, everyone inside Bloomington's Assembly Hall and those watching on television knew what was likely to follow. An explosion from Bob Knight.
It came during the next timeout. First, the Indiana coach pulled Evans toward the bench, then forcefully guided the player into his seat. Finally, Knight gave Evans an earful of his favorite adjectives.
And Knight knew what was coming, too: a question regarding his sideline behavior. What has become almost an annual event in Indiana has taken on renewed significance, given this season's firings of Lou Campanelli at Cal and Tom Miller -- a former Knight assistant -- at Army.
"If I had been coaching at Army or California, when I grabbed Evans and sat him down, I would have been fired on the spot," Knight said later with his typical sarcasm.
Though Knight hasn't changed much in the relationship he maintains with his players, others have. The drill sergeant instructors of the 1960s have become part-time psychologists in the 1990s. While the pressure to win has increased, so has the attention paid to other aspects of a player's college life.
The pressure and the attention is no greater than during the NCAA tournament, which begins Thursday. Certainly, the relationships between coaches and players are never under more scrutiny than during this month of madness.
"There's more of an attempt to reach kids from an intellectual point of view," said former Maryland star Len Elmore, also an ex-television analyst and now a sports attorney. "The days of trying to motivate players with some sort of sensory-deprivation, Pavlovian method are over."
But what methods are acceptable? The dismissals of Campanelli and Miller -- as well as the termination of Utah State's Kohn Smith -- have raised questions about coaches crossing the line ++ between motivation and verbal abuse. The boundary appears unclear.
"Sometimes, yelling at somebody is what you need to do," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Knight at West Point and is a recent president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "Sometimes, you have to pat them on the back. Sometimes, you need to yell at them and pat them on the back. I still yell at my kids at home. That doesn't mean I don't love them."
The situations of Campanelli, Miller and Smith were different, but the reasons given for their terminations were nearly identical. The athletic directors at all three schools cited verbally abusive behavior. In Campanelli's case, Cal athletic director Bob Bockrath happened to overhear a locker room tirade by the Bears coach after a loss to James Madison at a tournament in East Rutherford, N.J., in late December.
When as many as 10 players complained later to Bockrath about Campanelli's personal attacks, the coach's eight-year career at Cal ended. Campanelli, 56, seemed stunned by his firing.
"I did nothing immoral," Campanelli told The New York Times acouple of weeks after his firing. "When you commit a crime, you at least get a trial. What I got was a bullet to the head."
What Bockrath got was a storm of controversy. The Bears had a winning record (10-7) at the time, and Campanelli always has been held in fairly high regard. But Bockrath said later that he didn't merely back down to a bunch of mutinous players, and that Campanelli's tantrums were only part of the problem.
"I made my recommendation to dismiss Campanelli Monday morning [Feb. 8]. I didn't know about the meeting with the players until 1 in the afternoon," said Bockrath, in his second year at Cal. "I simply listened to them and reaffirmed in my own mind that what I did was right."
The reaction from coaches and administrators around the country was swift -- but predictable. Coaches backed Campanelli. Athletic directors supported Bockrath.
"There's a contradiction here," said Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell, a noted disciplinarian who has his Eagles in their second NCAA tournament. "At a time when society is telling us that we have to be tougher with our kids, they [college administrators] are saying just the opposite."
Said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger: "It's no longer just the coach's team. It's the university's team. It belongs to the players as much as it does to anyone."
But should it be?
"Do we want some 18- or 19-year-old kids running the athletic departments?" asked Mitchell.
Some of the most respected coaches have been known to lash out at players. Mostly, they do it in the privacy of closed locker rooms, but sometimes in full view of several thousand spectators and millions of television viewers.
Certainly the leading example of this is Knight, an enfant terrible at Army and Indiana who has raged right into middle age. Then there are those who are a bit more discreet, coaches who are rarely out of control during games, but who rail at players in practice. Seton Hall's P. J. Carlesimo admits to falling in that category.
"Kids who go to our place know I'm critical," said Carlesimo, who yells so much he is often hoarse even when his team isn't playing. "I'm not sure at times I haven't gone too far. We all go too far sometimes. But if the trust is there in the relationship, I don't think players mind being yelled at."
Coaches have often copied Knight's tactics (like Miller, Smith is a former Indiana assistant). Cincinnati's Bob Huggins, whose Bearcats take on Coppin in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday, seemingly has patterned himself after Knight. But if Knight can get away with his behavior because of his record (three national titles) and immense popularity, those who imitate him often can not.
'Know your audience'
Bob Valvano's short but successful career at Catholic University ended abruptly last spring, amid charges that he used too much profanity with his players and that, on one occasion during his first season there, challenged their manhood by giving them tampons. Valvano was fired after three years.
This, despite leading the school to 20 wins in 1991-92.
"You have to know your audience," said Valvano, who just finished his first season at St. Mary's in southern Maryland. "Unless you understand and speak their language, whatever it is, they're not going to respect you. Where do you draw the line? If your kids mess up, should you not make them work on a certain drill?"
Illinois State coach Bob Bender, who played 1 1/2 seasons for Knight at Indiana before finishing at Duke, said: "I find myself saying a lot of the same things they said to me, things I remember thinking, 'If I become a coach, I'll never say that.' "
A lot has to do with the words coaches use, not how loud they say them. Teyon McCoy, who played for three coaches at Maryland and Texas, said: "A mature player wouldn't let verbal abuse bother him." And former Coppin State star Larry Stewart, now with the Washington Bullets, said: "You have to look past the yelling. With Fang, it was always something besides the yelling."
McCoy, a marketing representative for the Atlanta Hawks, said he has a better understanding now of certain tactics used by his former coaches -- Bob Wade and Gary Williams at Maryland and Tom Penders at Texas. They didn't chastise their players as much as challenge them.
"They wanted players with heart and courage," said McCoy. "They wanted people to stand up to them. If you can't stand up to the challenge of a coach, then you're not going to stand up to the challenge from other players on the court."
Of the three, McCoy said, Williams was the most effective.
"He made me play harder than anybody I've ever played for," said McCoy, who left Maryland when the Terps went on NCAA probation.
Williams, who has been a Division I coach for the past 15 years, said recently that he has learned to balance his criticism of players with praise, to show players a different side when they are off the court.
"Players have to know you respect them as people, regardless of what kind of basketball player they are," said Williams. "Even if they've had a bad day in practice or a bad game, I think they know they can come to my office and talk about it."
Former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, who was often caustic with his players, said the problem starts when the players are in high school. Those who are being highly recruited are usually playing "for AAU coaches who are spoiling them, giving them sneakers and taking them on trips to Vegas for tournaments."
"By the time they get to college, some of the kids have never been disciplined," said Phelps, who has been out of coaching two years. "The first time a coach gets on them, they start to complain."
Those complaints often are addressed with the coach, but sometimes players go to the athletic director or to their parents. Mostly, the issues are resolved quietly. But, sometimes, as happened at Army and Cal, they become public.
Geiger said it's his job as an administrator to listen, and then to mediate if necessary.
"First, you try for a reconciliation, to bring things back together," said Geiger. "Sometimes, that blows up in your face. But we're living in a different time."
Said Bockrath: "A lot of coaches think student-athletes are like sheep and cattle. That doesn't work in today's world. They [the players] were in terrible shape academically. Some might not have been eligible next year. But this is a different team now. We've got happy people."
The Bears went 9-1 under interim coach Todd Bozeman, finished 19-8 and play LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Campanelli sits at home outside Berkeley, trying to put back the pieces of a shattered career.
And coaches everywhere -- well, maybe except for the guy in Bloomington -- are a bit more careful of what they say to their players.
"I'm starting to look over my shoulder," said Krzyzewski, "and make sure my locker room is not bugged."
He was joking.
Or was he?