Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bill Self and the NBA: Why Wouldn't He Listen?

In its daily quest to stir up people at every opportunity, ESPN published an interview with Kansas head men's basketball coach Bill Self, where the man in charge of the most popular and successful program at my alma mater said, and I'll quote it here:

"[The NBA] hasn't really tempted me because I haven't had that many people talk to me about it," Self said Monday night, speaking to The Oklahoman during ceremonies in which he was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. "But at some point and time, sure, I think it would.”

The best comment below the article comes from disgruntled Illinois fans, where Self coached before going to Kansas:

“Bill $elf proved when he left Illinois that he has no loyalty other than that to the mighty green back.”

“scumbug like that already belongs in the NBA.”

I have no doubt that these two upstanding citizens have never left one job for another. I am certain they are both quite happy changing the oil in the deep fryer at Steak'n'Shake at eight bucks an hour, and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives and say “Boy, am I happy Steak'n'Shake hired me, I never want another job.”

Or, perhaps, they work somewhere better.

Illinois is not one of the top basketball programs in the country. There are six college basketball programs that any coach would have to seriously, seriously consider, if not actually take: Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, UCLA, Duke, and North Carolina. That's your list. (You can make a good argument for Michigan State from the Magic Johnson years on, but that's nothing compared to the rest of them. KU's first head coach was the man who invented basketball, James Naismith, and he's the only Jayhawk coach with a losing record. Need I go on?)

That's why Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas (he was also a grad assistant at KU in his first year out of school, I'm sure that was a factor). When Roy Williams left KU for NC, dozens of coaches publicly stated they wanted the KU job, and big names, too. Rick Majerus, who had recently retired from Utah (with the health problems that would eventually kill him), said he wanted the job. Former KU coach Larry Brown said that he rued the “can't leave for college” clause in his NBA contract with the Detroit Pistons at the time, because he wanted to go back.

Truism: everybody would like to have a chance to work at the top level of their industry, whether that industry is accounting or coaching or training animals at the zoo. The problem is that sports fans, with their fanatic loyalty to their one team, don't remember that coaches are people too. Maybe their boss sucks, and that's why they leave. Maybe they're losing resources and administrative staff in budget cuts, and that's why they leave. Maybe they feel like there's nowhere to grow in their current job, they still want to be challenged, and that's why they leave. And maybe there's a completely different reason. It's true in every job, and it's true in coaching.

My point is, why wouldn't Bill Self be interested in the NBA? What basketball coach wouldn't? All coaches, even the best in the biz, have thought about leaving- or did. Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Coach Williams... remember when Florida's Billy Donovan took the Orlando Magic job and then left at the introductory presser?

Never say never. It would be intriguing because it is intriguing. His legacy at KU is secure. Another title, and why wouldn't he want to try coaching the best players in the world? (My argument is that the collegians play a better brand of basketball, but that's another column.... or eleven.)

You're not at your first job anymore, or even your second.... you're looking to succeed at the highest level you can.... why shouldn't Bill Self?

Would it suck if he left KU?  Absolutely.  I want Bill to retire as KU's all-time winningest coach. (Phog Allen won 590 in 39 years, Bill has 300 in ten.  They play a few more games nowadays.)  But it's one thing when your coach gets fired.  It's another when he leaves for the NBA.  That's a job that a lot of people will want, just like when KU hired Bill Self in the first place.  This I know for certain: Larry Brown has had an escape clause put in every other contract he's signed. And it's not to go work at Steak'n'Shake.