We live in an age when professional sports coaches go to great lengths to protect their players from the media and avoid airing dirty laundry. Inculcating an us versus them mentality can build team unity and make players more loyal to his team.
NBA coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic threw such concerns to the wind with his infamous Dwight Howard-wants-me-fired press conference. But he was likely at wit’s end. Another NBA coach, albeit interim, Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks, has yet to reach Van Gundy’s incendiary heights. But he seems to feel no need protect his players from the media, even though New York is the media capital of the world. NFL coach of the New York Jets is a frequent source of colorful quotes, but when it comes to commenting on his players, he’s fairly anodyne.
Indeed, Woodson seems to use the media to reinforce messages that, knowing him, he’s already conveyed to his players. He speaks often of “accountability.” Translation: if you make a mistake, especially a defensive whiff, you’re gonna hear it from me when you leave the court for the bench. In addition, he’s not averse to general venting. Some samples follow.
On March 31, it was announced that emerging star guard Jeremy Lin would have knee surgery and likely be out for the season. From Newsday:
“He’s elected to have the surgery and we got to respect that,” Woodson said. “Only he knows the pain he’s feeling. There’s a problem and it’s got to be fixed.
“Only he knows his body. I know athletes that have torn theirs and played with it. I don’t know how severe it is. The doctors looked at it. Obviously, it’s severe enough that they’re suggesting or he’s suggesting they go in and have it fixed so he’s ready to go in six weeks.”
It’s almost as if he’s suggesting Lin is a wimp for not playing through a serious injury. Wait, it gets worse. From ESPN:
“He was starting to come as a player and it’s not a career-ending injury. Plenty of people play with meniscus problems. He’ll bounce back. We will anxiously await for him to get better.”
Lin was replaced in the starting line-up by veteran guard Baron Davis. From the New York Daily News:
The Knicks are playing a much different style without Stoudemire and Lin, but they have been successful.
It is a slower pace without Lin running the point. Baron Davis, who is nursing a sore hamstring and a balky back, doesn’t have Lin’s speed or flash in the lane.
“Jeremy is a lot livelier than Baron in terms of movement,” Woodson said. “Baron has been around. He’s a crafty veteran, but he’s playing banged up right now. He’s not the Baron of old. Jeremy brings a lot to the table. We’re going to miss what he brings.”
On Davis again, from Newsday:
Baron Davis suffered a stiff neck when he fell in Tuesday’s loss in Chicago. He already has back, hamstring, knee and calf issues. But he started last night, and had five points, three assists and five turnovers in 19 minutes.
“Somehow in whatever minutes he gets, he’s got to be a little bit more productive,” Woodson said. “I told him that in terms of getting into things quick, not walking the ball up the floor.”
One can’t help but feel that Davis might think Woodson is an ingrate since Davis is courageously playing with injuries. Now some sour grapes about Woodson’s previous head coaching job. From the Daily News:
“Listen, just to be back coaching means a great deal to me,” Woodson said. “I sat out a year, didn’t know why, but it happened. After a 53-29 season (with Atlanta), going back to the second round, I just wasn’t fit for that team anymore.”
On April 21 he expressed apprehension about forward Amare Stoudemire, who was returning from a back injury. From the Daily News:
Before the Knicks lost to the Cavs, Woodson said of Stoudemire, “How he’s alert defensively — that’s my big concern. I’m looking on the defensive end to make sure he’s doing the right rotations and blocking out and guarding his man in a one-on-one position. That’s more important to me.”
In the first round of the playoffs, the Knicks, depleted by injuries, stumbled against the elite Miami Heat. After the third game Woodson spoke of his star Carmelo Anthony. From the Daily News:
Mike Woodson’s message to Carmelo Anthony this offseason will have a familiar ring to it: Improve your fitness.
Despite being one of the NBA’s elite scorers, Anthony has seen his weight and conditioning get criticized in the past, and Woodson wants his best player to address those issues this summer.
“I’ve got to push him to be in better shape when you start the season,” Woodson said Friday. “Everybody’s got to be in better shape. … Melo is going to have to raise his game. He’s got to do some things this summer to better his game as well as Tyson and Amar’e and all the supporting cast that might return.
“If I’m the head coach here I’ve got to make sure that happens because that’s the only way you’re going to get out of the rut in terms of him (Anthony) being a first-round exit. He’s got to change that.”
While the previous quotes might be characterized as refreshing in their frankness, this one fails to do justice to Anthony, who has played his heart out as New York’s one-man offensive team. Obviously in good shape now, he plays lengthy minutes.
Whether one finds Mike Woodson insensitive to his players or refreshingly honest — especially under the New York spotlight, where another coach, Joe Girardi, plays everything close to the vest — the players have thus far responded to him. Let’s hope Woodson doesn’t throw them under the bus and returns next year.
Do readers know of other coaches, in any sport, who have no compunctions about sending messages to their players through the media? Let us know in the comments section.