A View From The Edge

This is How It Feels

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, right, talks to OU director of athletics Joe Castiglione during practice on Final Four Friday before the national semifinal between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Villanova Wildcats in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at NRG Stadium in Houston, Friday, April 1, 2016. OU will play Villanova in the Final Four on Saturday. Photo by Nate Billings, The OklahomanThe following is a fictional conversation between Joe Castiglione, athletic director at the University of Oklahoma, and Men’s Basketball coach, Lon Kruger. It never took place late one afternoon after the OU Sooners lost to Texas Tech University, their sixth loss in a row and 13th out of their last 15.

Joe Castiglione:  Hey, Lon. Come on in and have a seat. How’s Barb and the rest of the family?

Coach Kruger: They’re doing great, boss. What did you need to see me about?

Joe Castiglione:  You may have noticed I came by to observe one of your games the other day. I could only stay for about 30 minutes. I’ve been really busy so I haven’t been able to stop in as much as I’d like.

Coach Kruger: Oh, I understand. There’s always something going on around here.

Joe Castiglione: Lon, to begin with, you’re an effective coach and I know you work very hard. The university is fortunate to have someone with your talent and experience.

Coach Kruger: Thanks, Joe. I appreciate that.

Joe Castiglione: Yet, I have to be frank with you. That game I observed was not very good. In fact – if I can be brutally honest it was a train wreck. The boys looked confused on defense, committed too many turnovers, and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn most of the game.

Coach Kruger: I agree. This losing streak has been difficult. The guys are working hard but we just can’t put it all together.

Joe Castiglione: Exactly, that’s why we needed to talk today. Last year, you were a great coach and your team went to the Final Four. This year, the results have been very disappointing. Are you not coaching as well?

Coach Kruger: I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’m hitting it hard every day and working 60 to 70 hours a week.

Joe Castiglione: I know you’re working hard, coach. However, if you’re not getting the same results as last year, maybe you need to work smarter, not harder.

Coach Kruger: Joe, you do remember that last year’s team had an incredible senior class, including Buddy Hield, who was a consensus All-American, Wooden Award winner and first-round NBA draft pick. Not every year can be as successful.

Joe Castiglione: That’s sounds like you’re making excuses for your ineffective coaching, Lon.

Coach Kruger: I’m not making excuses! I’m just pointing out that this is a different team, with new players who aren’t used to playing at the Division I level.

Joe Castiglione: Lon, as you know, the University of Oklahoma has high standards. I will not allow you to subject these young men to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Coach Kruger: What are you talking about? I have very high expectations, but I’m also not a magician. I can only work with the players I have …

Joe Castiglione: (interrupting) … players you recruited if I’m not mistaken.

Coach Kruger: What are you getting at, Joe?

Joe Castiglione:  Well, I guess I’m saying you picked these players, so it’s not fair to blame them for your deficiencies. John Calipari at Kentucky had seven freshmen on his 2015 team and won 32 games in a row.

Anyhow, I hate to rush this but I have another appointment in ten minutes, so let’s get to the purpose of this meeting. We need to take a few minutes to review some of the indicators from the Marzano Evaluation Rubric for Coaches. Remember that ‘effective’ is a good rating. I have you marked as effective in most of the areas but there are two items that need improvement.

Let’s start with ‘personal relations.’

Coach Kruger: I have strong relationships with my players! There is a lot of mutual respect and trust.

Joe Castiglione: I understand it may seem that way to you. But, during the game, I observed you raising your voice and using hurtful, potentially embarrassing words and phrases when speaking with one of your players.

Coach Kruger: I don’t understand what you’re talking about.

Joe Castiglione: It was with the tall white kid who comes off the bench sometimes. You put him in the second half. After he dribbled the ball off his foot, picked up three quick fouls, launched an air ball, and clumsily knocked down one of his teammates, you called him back to the bench. Before he could sit down, you got in his face and confronted him. You sounded angry. I won’t use your words but you suggested he needed to remove his cranium from his rectum. That’s rather harsh, don’t you think?

Coach Kruger: Are you serious? I’ve been coaching for over 30 years. I was simply trying to get his attention.

Joe Castiglione: That may have been true in the old days, coach. His mom approached me after the game and told me he was really upset. Did you know research now says that yelling only works in the moment. Like a playground bully, it’s used to intimidate students into compliance. But, it doesn’t change behavior and can lead to less trust in your relationships. It can also have a negative effect on an athlete’s self-confidence and breed resentment.

Best practice says you should have spoken privately with the student after the game. By choosing non-confrontational words and using positive tone and body language, you may have been able to achieve the same result without singling him out in front of his peers.

To help you grow in this area, I would like you to spend a few hours observing our women’s golf coach, Veronique Drouin-Luttrell, during her next tournament. She does a great job of managing behaviors on the golf course. She’s so calm and always under control. The students seem to like that a lot.

Coach Kruger: That’s crazy! Are you implying that women’s golf is anyway the same as men’s basketball? Basketball is a high stress competition.

Joe Castiglione: I’m sorry but I don’t see it that way, Lon. You are welcome to add your personal comments to the bottom of your evaluation form. Let’s move on to the next item: Questioning.

I notice you ask very few questions to your players during the game. In fact, you tend to shut them off when they try to talk during the team huddles.

Your time-outs also seem to be mostly lecture format. The only question I recall you asking was one during a timeout in the second half when you asked your players, “What the hell are you doing out there?” According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, that’s really a low-level question and, honestly, rather ambiguous, don’t you agree?

Next time you might ask a higher depth-of-knowledge question, something like this: “Guys, I want you to take a second, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and reflect on our team’s performance this half. Can you formulate some theories on why we are down by 22 points? I’d like you to be prepared to provide evidence to support your theory.” Make sure you give adequate wait time so that all players have a chance to develop an answer. This would be a great way to get more participation and make players feel like they have more control.

Coach Kruger: That’s nuts! During a game there’s not enough time to listen to the players. I have to get through a lot of material in a short amount of time. There’s no damn time for questions!

Joe Castiglione: Hey, Coach Kruger – there’s no need to get so upset. Why are you getting defensive? I am here to support you in becoming a more effective coach. The Marzano system is a professional growth model. I’m just pointing out potential items for your S.M.A.R.T goal-setting plan.

Coach Kruger: You hired me because I was a well-respected and highly qualified coach. Why don’t you just leave me alone and trust that I am doing the best job I can.

Joe Castiglione: Lon, people read the papers and don’t like to see their tax dollars go to support mediocre teams. They demand results. We can’t afford to sit on our laurels and cling to the status quo.

Coach Kruger: I feel like I am being targeted here. I know other coaches here who aren’t working nearly as hard as I am. Are you making Coach Stoops do this crap, too?

Joe Castiglione: I will remind you that Coach Stoops has actually won a national title for the university. Plus, this is a conversation about how YOU can improve, Lon.

Here’s a personal copy of Mike Krzyzewski’s book, Beyond Basketball: Coach K’s Keywords for Success. I’d like you to read it in the next two weeks. While you’re reading, you should keep a journal of any thoughts or ideas you have so we can talk about them at our next meeting. I will need the book back, though. It’s actually autographed by Coach K. He’s awesome!

Oops, I’m sorry coach, but our time is up. I will just email you a copy of the rest of the evaluation rubric for you to look over. I will also plan on conducting another observation in about two weeks. I hope to see that you have made some growth in the areas I have identified. If not, we may need to move to the next step and develop a formal personal development plan (PDP).

Do you have any final questions?

Coach Kruger: The only questions I have is why I would stay another year in a place where my boss has never done my job, doesn’t understand what I do on a day-to-day basis, and sets unreasonable expectations? And why you have so little trust for a coach with a Master’s Degree and thirty years of successful experience at six different schools?

Joe Castiglione: Terrific. It’s always great talking with you, Lon. Thank you for all you do. 

Coach Kruger leaves the AD’s office feeling angry, underappreciated, and defeated.

For most people, it’s probably difficult to imagine a conversation like this would ever take place anywhere.

It’s not for a teacher.

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2 thoughts on “This is How It Feels

  1. daveeckstrom

    Exactly like every evaluation conference I’ve ever had in 23 years of teaching. Well, unless the principal likes you, I suppose…I wouldn’t know about that.

    And let’s face it, there is never a time when they can’t find something wrong with your performance…I had a conference like this the year 100% of my AP Chemistry students got a 5!

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