Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's About Life

Georgia lost the other day to Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Many people are on the message boards, calling for Coach Felton to be fired. Some, to be sure, have contacted the Athletic Director, Damon Evans, to demand change.

I figured that it was a good time for me to express my opinion as well.

I want W's as much as the next guy, if not more. That's part of the reason for having a Blog. I enjoy following Georgia Basketball and I really want the team to win, and win big. But the Blog is just as much about life as it is about basketball.

And it's that confluence of life and basketball that makes me think that Coach Felton should stay.

As I think about the state of Georgia Basketball, I look at the roster. Lots of freshmen and sophomores. There is no doubt that Coach Felton would have a more experienced team, with a better overall record, had he not dismissed Mike Mercer, Takais Brown and Billy Humphrey. The offense would look better, the defense would be more effective.

However, Coach Felton's approach is that standards are just as important, if not more important, than wins and losses. And he's right.

Basketball may seem like everything, and that line of thinking is often embraced by fans, friends and family. Even teachers look the other way and let athletes slide. But in the grand scheme of things, the window of time in which a player is able to compete athletically opens and closes very quickly.

Therefore, Georgia's coaching staff would be doing their players a great disservice, in my opinion, if they as practical guardians of young lives, did not at least attempt to address patterns that would hurt the players (and possibly, the rest of society). They would be harming, rather than helping, student-athletes if they did not try to instill habits that would serve the players well during their collegiate career and long after they hang up their tennis shoes.

Standards are more important than wins.

And as I heard Coach Felton speak during the post-game show, a difficult interview time for him, I'm sure, I heard him say that he told his team that "things are never as good as they seem, and never as bad as they seem."

It would have been easy for him to fly off the handle, start throwing chairs and what-not, and there may have been some private expressions of frustration, but in his public comments, his tone was very measured. No excuses. Disappointment. Concerns about the lack of execution by the team. But even in his team's embarassing defeat, he still seasoned his comments with encouragement. Coach Felton showed me the marks of a mature program leader-- one, who in the midst of setting standards, also grasps the importance of relationship.

And that's why I really want him to succeed. I want him to be successful because of what it means to him and what it means to me.

I want a coach to be able to get relationship, standards and winning records in the proper order. I want that coach to be able to demand that his players go to class, and for the leader of a basketball program to have the confidence to insist on doing things the right way, no matter how talented you are at putting a ball through a hoop.

Then while a player is in the basketball program, I want to have the coach to build in some important life lessons-- the kind you pick up while distributing toys to kids at St. Mary's, or having parties for children at the Boys and Girls Club.

As we go through life, we will have a multitude of opportunities to choose between a "W," and a less glamorous, less exciting, more uncomfortable, standard. We will be called upon to adjust to losses while preserving relationships.

I believe that you get the relationship down first, set standards that allow the relationship to grow, and then you build like crazy with effort. At the end of the day, or the end of a life, you look up and you find that success has visited, stayed and become a close friend.

I think we caught of glimpse of what the program can be during last year's SEC Tourney. It was enough to cause me to believe that Coach Felton can get it done.
I'm going to go out on a limb here. I'm predicting that Georgia Basketball will begin to take off this year, with Coach Felton at the helm.

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