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Lee Should Keep To Himself, Let Qualified Decide Who Makes The Grade

Bob Hamilton Sagle, Idaho

So, sports reporter Greg Lee presumes to grade the high school basketball coaches of North Idaho.

To borrow a reaction from UCLA coach Jim Harrick when he was asked a particularly obnoxious question at a postgame interview last week: Greg, I don’t think you’re qualified.

As one who has been a head coach, a sports reporter and a high school journalism teacher, I know there are many coaches with the language skills and subject mastery to become sportswriters after just a few hours of training in the mechanics of journalistic style. There are plenty of examples of those who have made such a switch, especially in the broadcast media.

But I don’t know of any career sportswriter who became a varsity head coach (Pat Riley doesn’t count). If I needed a really knowledgeable evaluation of a coach, I would talk to the other coaches in that league, not the sportswriters who cover him.

Most coaches are excellent teachers. Belittling them with low marks because their teams didn’t measure up to criteria wafting about in someone else’s head suggests they did poorer jobs of teaching than other coaches, when exactly the opposite might be true.

Greg responds to all anticipated criticism with simply, “The grades are my opinion.” That is a copout.

Teachers understand grades are not opinions. By definition, they must be based on known standards that apply to everyone fairly. Coaches, as with teachers, also understand the agonies of grading and the effects - positive and negative - such marks can have on those being graded. So, who should be grading whom?

Prefacing his evaluation of the Inland Empire League boys coaches, Lee notes every letter grade except F is used, then adds, “And interestingly, the grades parallel the teams’ order of finish.” Interestingly, indeed. The maxim “good players make good coaches” is intentionally and deliciously ironic.

Schedule, talent, injuries and coaching aren’t the only factors influencing the relative success of a team. Few people, including sports reporters, are aware of the many peripheral factors such as locker room conflicts, boy/girl friends, parental pressure, administration politics, ad infinitum, that can accompany any season at any school in varying degrees. Nevertheless, all these and many others can affect the outcome of a game or a season, and often there’s little the coach can do about them.

I’ve already teased Greg over his skewed prediction of how the Idaho A-1 girls state basketball tournament would turn out. With that recent record in memory, why should anyone take seriously any further athletic opinion from such a provably fallible source?

Besides, using the grading metaphor to fill a between-seasons column has long since become a cliche. Just give me the facts, please; I’ll form my own opinion.

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