Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Last Word on Tommy? Part 2

On his Friday Washington Post Radio show, Tony Kornheiser had ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on as a guest, presumably to talk about the Final Four. However, Kornheiser brought up Tommy Amaker (as he did with John Feinstein the day before) at the beginning of the interview, and it ended up dominating almost the entire segment.

As you might have guessed, Bilas had quite a bit to say on the subject as he stuck up for his good friend and former teammate. If you've been following this story for a while, some of this stuff will probably be familiar to you, as Bilas said many of the same things immediately after Amaker was fired by Michigan. He also made the comparison to Gary Williams, which Rob Parker also tried in Amaker's defense.

Again, I've transcribed the dialogue, which is a bit longer than the conversation with John Feinstein. But if you'd prefer to listen to it yourself, the show is available via podcast. (You can also download the show directly here.) If you're pressed for time, the Amaker stuff is from the 33:00 to 43:00 mark.

Tony Kornheiser: This is interesting - and if you don't want to talk about this, you can actually say on the air, "I don't want to talk about this" - but your teammate for years at Duke, the point guard at Duke, was Tommy Amaker. I think I'm correct on that, right?

Jay Bilas: Yes. Oh yeah. We played for three years together. We coached for three years together.

TK: I'm quite certain he's a dear friend of yours.

JB: Yes.

TK: And he did not succeed - at Seton Hall, the jury was out, but at least he made the tournament - and he did not make it at all in Michigan. He's personable, and he's smart, and he's accomplished - and he would seem to be a perfect candidate to be a big-time basketball coach. And I wonder why it's not working?

JB: Well, I think it did work at Seton Hall. You know, he took over a program that was in bad shape, and he turned it into a winner, and he recruited a bunch of great players, including Eddie Griffin, who wound up being a top pick in the NBA draft. And they did get to the Sweet 16, and then he left for Michigan.

And when he took over at Michigan, I'm not sure... Listen, I'm not in the business of making excuses for friends or otherwise, but --

TK: Right, right.

JB: -- but what I think happened is, when he took over Michigan, that place was in a hole like I can't imagine. He was there for six years; five of the six years, they were on probation. They were forbidden from going to the NCAA Tournament one of the years that they were qualified to go, and I think would've gone his second year there.

And Tony, when you look - just for example - if you looked at Gary Williams, and when he took over at Maryland, and the hole that place was in --

TK: Terrible.

JB: -- it was very similar to what Michigan was going through. Michigan fired Steve Fisher, they hired a guy named Brian Ellerbe that actually coached at Loyola-Maryland, and lost there, and wound up the head coach because they fired Fisher at Michigan. So it was similar to what Maryland had gone through - without the horrible tragedy, the Bias death - but hiring Bob Wade, and then [Williams] taking it over.

Amaker's record at Michigan, in his first six years, was better than Gary Williams' first six years at Maryland. But Michigan didn't have the patience to see this thing through. And I'll tell you one thing that most people don't know. He had a point guard there named Daniel Horton; graduated not this year, but last year. I think it was three years ago.

Horton had gotten in an altercation with his girlfriend, and the school decided to suspend Horton - through the basketball program - for the entire season. Now, Amaker didn't agree with that. I certainly agree with it when I heard about it. But Amaker remained silent about it; he did what the school wanted. But the truth was, Horton was being suspended for what Steve Fisher did, not for what he did. And I thought it was wrong, because you should treat each kid the same, and handle each of these things the same.

The football program didn't have to worry about that, because the basketball program had been through a horrible scene where they cheated, and they had to pull all their banners down --

TK: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

JB: -- they had to vacate five years of games. Five or six years of games. Including two Final Four appearances. And that's what they were punishing the Horton kid for. And that's one of the reasons they didn't make the tournament that year. So it's those kinds of things that we can look at it from afar and say, "Six years, no tournament - he's gotta go."

But while Michigan's sitting there, talking about "everybody wants this job"... If so many people really wanted that job, and it was so great - and it is better now than it was when Amaker took it over - why didn't Tubby Smith go there? He went to Minnesota!

TK: Yeah...

JB: The truth is, it's not that great of a job. It's a good job, it's a Big Ten job. But they're going to wind up with... you know, they're gonna get a good coach. They're gonna wind up hiring either a mid-major coach like Chris Lowery or someone like him. Or Kevin Stallings from Vanderbilt, or something like that. And that's what Michigan is dealing with right now, because their facilities are awful.

Amaker and his staff had to drive from their office to practice. They couldn't, like, walk downstairs or walk in the same building. They had to get in their cars and drive to practice - which is ludicrous.

TK: What happens to a guy like Tommy Amaker now? Is it sort of like with Matt Doherty, where you have to take a couple of steps down? Do you get out of coaching altogether? How does it work?

JB: Well, he's so versatile, he could do a number of different things. But he's going to stay in coaching. And he'll, I'm sure, be interviewed for things. But Tommy, he keeps things very close to the vest and very quiet. He's a very dignified person, and handles things, in my judgment, the right way.

TK: Yeah, he's a local for us. I mean, he's from northern Virginia, so it's why I bring it up.

JB: Listen, I don't want to sit and wax poetic about Tommy all day...

TK: You can.

JB: But there's no player I played with that I admire more than Tommy. None. He was the best teammate I've ever had, and remains one of my best friends. Not because of any other reason than he's an unbelievably good guy, a good person. I'd hire him today, if I had a job - whatever it was. I think he's a big-time basketball coach. And I think he will be, again, in the eyes of sort of the casual observers. But what does a guy do in his position? He probably won't get the big-time job now, like a Big Ten job or something like that. He probably will have to take what some people would think is a step down.

But he's a really good coach, and a really good guy. This is something that happens in basketball, which is why it's important that you always take into account the circumstances of any job you take. There are some jobs that you're better off not taking, even though they may be great later on, because the circumstances aren't going to be in your favor during that time period. And if you don't turn it right away - and Tommy did turn it; he went to postseason and he won 20-plus games three times while he was there - he just didn't get over that NCAA Tournament hump.

You know, Tony - one other thing: Look at Stan Heath. He went to two tournaments in a row and Frank Broyles fired him.

TK: Yeah, at Arkansas.

JB: So there's no rhyme or reason to it.

Again, consider the source. Bilas obviously can't be objective about this, though he raises a good point about how much Michigan continued to punish itself for the sins of the Steve Fisher era.

After Bilas got off the phone with Kornheiser, however, Mr. Tony pointed out the folly of the Gary Williams comparison to his co-host. Even if Amaker and Williams initially found themselves in similar situations, Williams had Maryland at the top of the ACC in six years. Amaker, as we're painfully familiar with, couldn't even get Michigan into the NCAA Tournament within that same period. And now, all parties are moving on.

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  • At April 03, 2007 10:16 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    Bilas should just shut his trap. The Horton comment bugs me especially.

    Does Michigan really punish itself for Steve Fischer, or are they simply trying to live up to the football program's reputation as being one of the more honor-bound in college athletics? Or more likely, isn't it probably a combination of both?

    Bo's whole legacy of honor and discipline lingers over the athletic department, which is really why I think the Fischer / Ed Martin scandal is so devestating. That kind of crap just doesn't happen here.

    You look at the football team, and it looks like Carr's going to suspend Arrington for quite a while. He'd take Marlin Jackson out of games without so much as a word as to why. Top recruits have been kicked off the team for fairly minor marijuana posession. Guys got kicked off for public masturbation. Think about what you'd have to do to actually get kicked off most top 25 football programs.

    Why shouldn't the basketball team be run the same way? Amaker was into character guys to be sure, but to save Horton was to save his job. It's that simple.

    And most importantly, Amaker showed no ability to develop players. Deon Harris should have been one of the best to come out of Michigan since the Fab 5. Instead, he's a mediocre to above average college player who'll never make it anywhere else. Courtney Sims was the same guy in year four as he was in year two.

    Bilas should just say, "No comment," and leave it at that.

    Making excuses for Amaker regarding the school suspending a player for not just getting in a spat with his girlfriend but allegedly choking her? Making excuses about crappy facilities? Making excuses about how the program was a hole? Even if all that's true, it doesn't change the fact that talent was squandered, opportunities were wasted, and expectations were completely unmet.

    See ya, Tommy.

  • At April 04, 2007 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    and horton was only suspended for about 1/2 the season, not the whole season by any means. And its not like even horton developed while he was here. He was big 10 frosh of the year, but by the time sr season rolled around, he really wasnt averaging any more per game or turning the ball over any less. Its plain and simple, no player in this program developed much from frosh-senior year.

  • At April 08, 2007 1:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's simple. Tommy has no concept of how to coach: he can't teach a team with average talent to run an effective offense; he can't teach or motivate his players; and he can't even motivate the fans, who desperately need something to root for. His teams were fraught with senseless turnovers because of lack of fundamental skills, which never got better.
    Some pople can play the game well, and some can coach it well. Tommy has proven to me that he can't coach, unless perhpas he has players with Duke skills and self-motivation.
    He should get into broadcasting, like his misinformed, biased friend Jay Bilas, who "guarnteed" TA would do a great job, even when he know the difficulties he faced in the UM program.
    Bilas has lost significant credibility in this fiasco, also.


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