Photo: Jimmy Lake, former Washington Huskies football coach, by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
In generous terms, these coaches are described as "passionate", "energetic", "focused", "committed", "feisty" and on and on.
The reality, of course, is far less flowery.
From youth leagues to the professional ranks, the Olympics too, the coaching profession is littered with people who struggle controlling their emotions, people for whom "my way or the highway" seems a guiding commandment. The result of these, dare I say, character flaws is a growing list of failed, undesired outcomes -- bullied athletes subjected to unrelenting verbal and sometimes physical abuse. At last, whistles are being blown, with regularity.
It's about time.
Yet some coaches appear oblivious to this shift in acceptable norms, changing nothing about their interactions with players, and such refusal to "read the room" is destroying careers.
Jimmy Lake is just the latest to run head-first into this brick wall, which has been erected very slowly (if not sloppily, at times) through the generations but, in 2021, is a clear and present obstacle, a danger to coaches everywhere.
We all see the wall. Or should.
The University of Washington fired its football coach on Sunday after suspending Lake for one week for an incident with one of his players during a game against Oregon. Lake was captured by a television camera swatting the player in the facemask and shoving him in the back following a skirmish between opposing players on the sideline.
As coaching eruptions go, this hardly rises to the level of most egregious. Understandably, the coach was apparently frustrated by the actions of his player and sought to remove him from the situation. But this is a no-no nowadays.
During Lake's suspension, according to The Seattle Times, five anonymous witnesses alleged the coach, while an assistant at Washington, also got physical with a Huskies player during halftime of a 2019 game.
“Lake comes in on just a complete rampage pretty much, picks up Quinten Pounds and throws him into a locker,” the Times quoted a witness. “Those lockers there were wooden lockers, and it was violent. It really caught everyone by surprise. It was really unprompted. He just kind of did that and then went on a tangent about how the offense needs to start playing better.”
In media reports, Lake denied striking the player in the most recent incident and said nothing improper happened at halftime of a game against Arizona two years ago.
Sports are emotional. Players and coaches alike invest a lot of time and emotion to compete at the highest level. Sometimes disappointment leads to trouble. Too often, and for far too long, administrators have looked the other way while coaches stepped out of bounds.
Woody Hayes and Bob Knight were campus legends at Ohio State and Indiana, respectively, feared and revered by many. How many lines were they allowed to cross before an administrator was forced to call timeout? Hayes, who coached Buckeyes football for 28 years, was fired after slugging a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Knight, who once infamously hurled a chair onto the basketball court in a game against rival Purdue in 1985 and was seen on video appearing to grab a player by the throat during practice in 1997, was finally given his walking papers in 2000 after an incident with a student who allegedly said, "What's up, Knight?" as the two passed one another. Knight reportedly grabbed the student's arm and demanded he be called Mr. Knight or Coach Knight.
Others, with far less success and longevity than Hayes or Knight, have gotten the hook or were pressured to quit in recent years, deservedly.
Former Wichita State men's basketball coach Gregg Marshall resigned last year after an investigation revealed allegations that he pushed and punched a player, put his hands around a staff member's neck, and attempted to punch an athlete from another sport at the university for parking in his spot. He also was accused of verbal abuse, body-shaming a player, telling a player of Native American descent "to get back on his horse" and, another, of Colombian ancestry, that he would make "a great coffee bean picker," according to an ESPN report. He agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement.
This month, Seattle University men's basketball coach Jim Hayford resigned after players said he used a racial slur during a scrimmage. A Boston-area high school assistant football coach was fired last month for allegedly using a racial slur in a team huddle after a game. In 2013, Rutgers fired its men's basketball coach, Mike Rice, after a video aired showing him shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players, which actor Melissa McCarthy lampooned in a sketch on "Saturday Night Live." He also was seen using homophobic language.
These are but a handful of examples. The list of transgressions by coaches feels endless and exhausting.
At the very least we can applaud reaching, however delayed, an age of accountability.
In case you haven't noticed, coaches, you're on notice.
That's my take. What's yours? Fire off your comments!