When one of your players screws up – really screws up – it pisses you off as a coach. It’s not just the fact that it hurts your program. You have to suspend him, it hurts the team, might cost you games and the bad publicity doesn’t help anyone. But it also bothers you.
How could he do this to me? How could he do this to his teammates. You work hard to establish your standards and create a winning culture, and with one stupid decision one of your players takes a swipe at all of it. It’s hard as a coach not to make it personal. You know what you have to do as a coach and make a clear statement to your team, but it’s hard to get over one of your key players doing something so stupid. It sticks with you.
It’s easy to hold a grudge, and it’s something you want to avoid as a coach. It’s important to define the discipline clearly, make sure it is fair, but when it’s over, it’s over. It’s so easy to carry the emotion of it with you and have it affect your decision making.
One year at RIC two of my better players got into a fight in the locker room. There was a dispute over something rather minor, but it escalated and punches were thrown. I was able to get to the bottom of it pretty quickly with the players and the team, and it was clear the players needed to be suspended. One was clearly the instigator, and the other one had stepped in to protect his teammates. But both of them were clearly wrong. So they were both suspended.
It was clear where the players on the team stood regarding the fight. They were all on the side of the player who was defending his teammates and blamed the kid who instigated it all. So I asked the team how they felt about bringing him back to the team (He had been suspended indefinitely, while his teammate sat out 3 games).
The team all agreed that they wanted him back on the team. But it was clear there was still some resentment there. He wasn’t the most popular teammate to begin with, and this didn’t help. But he was a good player and they saw the value he brought on the court.
So I had to explain to them what it meant – there would be no hangover based on the fight. If he was going to be back on the team, he had served his punishment and he was going to be back in good standing. He was going to take minutes away from other guys who were currently playing. We could not hold a grudge, even though we all felt he did something significant that could have derailed the season.
It wasn’t easy to do. Everyone could still feel the emotion of what happened. I had to make sure that our guys didn’t carry the tension of the fight onto the court. They had to see that I got over it and that things were back to normal. And it wasn’t easy for me. There was still some personal emotion that I felt based on the fight that aggravated me. But I couldn’t let it affect the way I coached him.
Both players who were in the fight played significant roles for us down the stretch that year. The players who had instigated the fight came off the bench in the tournament semi-final game and helped us come back from an 11-point deficit in the final minute to get us to the championship game. He helped us continue to win big games.