He Said What?

I think every coach has a collection of things they say in certain situations on the basketball court.  Some of it can’t be printed publicly, but some of it can actually add humor to a tough situation.  One of the better coaches I learned the coaching craft from was Bob Bargen.  Bob was the boys’ basketball coach at Milford High School.  I joined his staff as the freshmen coach after two seasons working with the junior high program.

Bob had a way with words that could make officials laugh or make them as red-faced as a marathon runner.  In one game against Centennial High School, the local rival, the game got a little heated.  An official by the name of Rudy Stoehr decided to take charge.  Rudy was a character himself.  He never paid attention to what his bosses wanted, but would try different mechanics each year.  One year he decided never to give fouls to the score keeper with his hands, but instead mouthed the words to the scorer’s table.  He did it in such a way, there never was a question on the correct number of the offending party.

In the Centennial game, Rudy called a double technical on each team.  He had seen enough posturing by a bunch of high school players.  He brought the coaches over to issue a stern warning.  Bob decided Rudy was way too serious, so he suggested the coaches shoot the technical foul shots, not the players.  Rudy thought it was a funny idea, but the Centennial coach just didn’t see the humor in Bob’s unique idea.

Later in the game, Bob was upset with Rudy and said, “We’re getting hammered Rudy, just hammered!”  Rudy never uttered a word.  There was a jump ball at the time (no alternating possession yet).  Rudy gave the ball to his partner to toss up, walked straight toward Bob with a deadly stare.  He got right in front of Bob, turned and got into the position for the jump ball.  The trouble was his rear end was about two inches from Bob’s face.  Bob just turned to me and said, “You think he’s trying to tell me something?”  It was a great way to diffuse a tough situation.

Bob could get vicious with officials but very seldom drew a technical foul.  He really preyed on people with certain deficiencies.    Bald officials were his favorite target.  If they blew a call (in his opinion), Bob would say in a normal voice as the hair deprived official ran by, “Too bad about your hair.”  It was never loud enough that the poor, bald guy could say for sure what Bob uttered, but the smiles on the bench said it all.

Dale Butler is a long time official in Nebraska.  He is highly respected and the last time I checked he was still going strong.  Dale only has one arm with the other arm barely long enough to get through the short sleeve.  Bob loved Dale, but Dale had to rein him in occasionally.

During one blow-out game, Dale decided it was time to show Bob who was boss.  He waited until a normal complaint came from our bench and gave Bob a technical foul.  It had no effect on the game and Bob knew why Dale had issued reprimand.  As a player was shooting the pair of free throws, Bob called Dale over for a conversation.  First he made a “T” with his hand and other elbow, imitating the way Dale called the technical.  Bob said, “What does that mean, just one shot?”  Both got a good laugh the game ended with everyone smiling but the opposing coach.

Over the years, my assistant coaches and players sometimes make a collection of my less than intelligent words of wisdom.  If anyone has seen me coach, I talk to the officials a lot.  However, I have been assessed only one technical foul in the last nine years.  Of course I didn’t deserve the one I did get.  Lori Hopkins was my assistant coach for eight years.  Her parents came to a game during her first year of coaching in Maryville.  After watching their first Northwest game, her mother told Lori she didn’t like the way her boss (me) yacked at the officials.  Lori told her she wouldn’t think that way if she knew what I was saying.

My favorite line to the officials after a questionable call is to question their belief in the democratic system.  I’ll tell them the bench voted on their erroneous call and they lost the vote 15 – 0.   I follow that up with, “Do you believe in democracy?”   How can they say no?  The trouble is, not one official has ever changed a call for me using that line.

I did have one call changed for me.  It shows that it pays to be nice to the people in striped shirts.  My Doane College team was playing the championship game of the Bahamas Classic.  Northern Montana was our opponent and ranked number one in the nation in the NAIA polls.  They were better than us, but playing in the tropics has a way of leveling out the field.

The Northern Montana coach was really loud and tough on the officials, both of who were retired NCAA Division I officials.  They didn’t give her a technical, but they did get even.  The officials knew my team lacked the talent to win.

When my best player picked up her third foul in the first half, I called one of the officials over and suggested in a kind voice they had caught the wrong offender.  The official smiled and asked, “Who fouled?”  I gave him a number of a player that hadn’t committed a foul.  He stopped the game and changed the call.  We lost, but it was in overtime and the change of call had a big effect on the closeness of the game.

Counting fouls is not a good idea for coaches.  If the coach mentions the difference with the fouls compared to their opponents, it’s very likely to get worse not better.  I use this line, “Hey, we are feeling a little abused down here.”   Who can argue with abuse?

Even if the games are not close, there are times to straighten out the game officials.  Officials have a tendency to be more generous with their calls if a team is getting blown out.  If I am on the good side of a blow-out, my line will be, “It’s too early for sympathy calls, don’t you think?”  I’m not opposed to their judgments, just the fact they are a wimp by showing sympathy.  If an official refuses to make obvious calls in a blow-out, the line changes to, “What’s your hurry, do you have a date?”  If you can get them to smile, you’ll never get the dreaded technical foul.

If there’s nothing nice to say about an official and you have run out of humor, you can always give them the “Death Stare.”  Never say a word, just glare at them.  If you can’t keep it bottled up, say your piece to your bench.  Who can give you a technical foul screaming at your players?  Never mind if you say, “Can you believe that call.  We can’t get a call from those officials, even if they were bribed.”  They can’t give you a technical for streaming at some poor reserve player that just wants more playing time.

There are more things I say with regularity at practice or about my players while sitting the game bench.  However, that’ll have to be the subject of another blog at another time.  When you see me talking to the official, just remember, if they smile, we’re all good.

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.