Bruce Weber Responds To Fan Complaints

College basketball coaches often face a dilemma. They are restricted on the time they can coach their players, but fans often complain about a lack of efficiency. Fighting Illini head coach Bruce Weber hears the complaints, although rarely during the games. Many fans don't really understand what is happening, so explanations are useful.

Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber's practices are limited by NCAA edict. But it isn't just a lack of time that reduces efficiency. Sometimes, it takes awhile for players to fully appreciate what is being taught. This is especially true for younger players according to Weber.

"Brandon Paul came up to me in the spring, and he said something I told him almost every day since he got here. He asked what I meant by this one particular thing.

"I showed him what it was, and he said, 'Oh now I get it.' And he had been there 8 months. All of a sudden, there was an epiphany. He had to get through the season, get his mind cleared. And some of it is accepting coaching."

During games, fans yell at the head coach when problems arise. They may be well-meaning, but they may not understand all the variables at play.

"I remember during one of the games a fan yelled, 'Hey, Weber. Don't you think you should teach them how to pass?' I wanted to turn around and say, 'Don't you think they should know how to pass by the time they got here?'

"Now it's a problem. We WERE trying to teach them how to pass, which means we weren't doing something else. They should have already known that."

Weber rarely hears the fans' laments.

"Usually I don't hear much, but that one particular day it was real quiet during a free throw or something. We had trouble against a 1-3-1 and couldn't move the ball, and I actually heard it.

"Probably out of the year, I hear five things. I'm pretty good about blocking it out. I coach, that's what I'm thinking about. I care what the fans think and say, but at the same time I've got to coach my guys."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings called time out near the end of a game against the Illini last year he was certain to lose. When a fan yelled for him to give up, he turned around and told the fan he was teaching for the next game. Some coaches will converse with fans, but it is not Weber's style.

"I've heard Coach (Gene) Keady talk to the fans. I've seen other coaches. At SIU they were right up on top of you. Some of those fans had been sitting there for however old the arena is, 25-30 years or longer.

"They're friends of mine, and that's their whole thing. What they're hoping is to get the other coach to turn around and say something. I laugh to myself sometimes, but I don't acknowledge them."

When a team is losing, fans look for an explanation. If there is something they don't like about a coach, losing gives them justification to complain about their pet peeve whether it is the source of the problem or not.

One frequent complaint last season was Weber's tendency to yell out to his players during games. Fans became concerned it was a distraction. Of course, they usually can't hear what he is saying. Weber can often be heard yelling toward his players, but it is to assist rather than demean them.

"'Make the next pass,' or 'Kick it ahead.' 'Move the ball,' 'Screen.' To me that's not negative. You hope they do it on their own, but everyone gets stagnant. I get mad at practice and yell, but I think I let the coaches do a lot more talking in practice. I just kind of let it happen.

"Everyone's different. Coach (Bobby) Knight's thing is you let them play during the game and then teach them in practice. I think you still can help them during the game."

Weber is the ideal point guard coach because of his court awareness. Like a grand chess player, Weber sees beyond the moment. If he has players who are also conscious during play, he doesn't have to remind them of things.

"In 04-05 or the one after that, some recruits said, 'You just sit back and let them play.' If they know what they're doing, that's one thing.

"But if they don't know...I'm a point guard coach. I see things. I can see the next three passes. Or defensively, I can not only see the first two guys, I can also see the third one. I hope we can get to the point where they can do it on their own and I don't have to do quite as much."

It is easy to misunderstand the situation, especially when fearful emotions run rampant. For instance, a minor incident between Weber and his star point guard Demetri McCamey in a game last season was blown out of proportion by a television crew and some newspaper media.

It gave the impression there was a major rift between player and coach. That was not the case, but even today some believe that.

"We got into it with Demetri during the year. But to be honest, until after the game when everyone made a big deal, it wasn't a big deal. He was frustrated, he made some mistakes. Somebody said something to him, he had some emotion.

"He walked by me and I said, 'Get your butt back in here and listen.' I happened to put my arm out to get him as he was walking through. It looked like a confrontation. To be honest, I didn't even think it was anything.

"I like to be hands-on with the players, and I like to talk. Deron (Williams) has turned out pretty good, and I had lots of arguments with Deron. But his was more during practice at the beginning when I was trying to get them to understand what I was trying to do."

Fan overreaction is common, but there is little chance for coaches to ease their concerns with explanations. Weber understands that, but it is frustrating nonetheless.

In part 6 of this 8 part series, Weber talks about recruiting and the problems he encountered early in his tenure at Illinois.

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