Coaches speak out on Chatman saga

CLEVELAND – At last, the elite coaches in the women's college basketball world have spoken out on former LSU coach Pokey Chatman, who resigned last month in light of LSU learning she allegedly had improper relationships with past players while those players were on her team.

The coaches were subtle about it, talked around it somewhat and were very professional on a media Final Four teleconference last week, but if you read their comments closely you can see where they stand. They were clearly not taking up for one of their own and adhering to some sort of loyalty code as the coaches of the men's game often do.


Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who has been coaching the women's game for nearly 40 years, perhaps said it best when asked how difficult it is to balance the coach-player relationship.


"How difficult of a balance is it? I don't think that it's a difficult balance," said Stringer's whose team kicked off the Final Four Sunday night against LSU. "I don't think it's a difficult balance. You hopefully don't put yourself or that athlete in a position where they have to guess about your intentions. I believe we all as coaches have a standard of conduct that we all agree on and uphold. Conduct that is in any way, shape or form detrimental or of question to an athlete is unacceptable, period, whether that's a male or female."


Keep it clear, she is saying. Coaches over here. Players over here.


Stringer, who coached against Chatman and beat the No. 1 ranked Lady Tigers 51-49 in overtime in the 2004-05 regular season, admitted she did not know anything more than the average reader about Chatman's relationships with players.


"There are suggestions that certain things happened," she said. "All I'm thinking is that we as coaches have a responsibility to these young people to serve as their moms, to be their coaches, to be their mentors, for them to trust and respect us in the positions of power and decision making that we have. That speaks to anyone, like I said, male or female, and that goes for football, basketball, baseball, anything else. There's a code of conduct that is acceptable. I think we can all agree on that."


For someone who lacks first hand knowledge of what Chatman is accused of doing, Stringer just delivered a slam dunk on the forehead of these Chatman apologists who repeatedly point out that there is no written LSU policy of any kind that prohibits coaches having sexual relationships with players. It doesn't have to be written down. We people with brains know it's wrong already.


And again this is not about Chatman's lifestyle. A coach can be lesbian, homosexual, heterosexual or whatever. A coach just can't have sexual relationships with his or her male or female players.


Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who coached against Chatman when Chatman was a player, assistant and head coach at LSU, brought up something few have mentioned. Summitt did not actually use the following words, but what I read into what she was saying is that college age women are learning and forming their sexuality and should not be coerced or reinforced by someone – heterosexual or homosexual - who is supposed to be an adult role model and teacher.


"At times you wear a lot of different hats," said Summitt, who started coaching at Tennessee when she was right out of college at the age of 22 in 1974. "I'm their parent if need be. And at the same time, you pretty much just have to draw the professional line and understand that they are – they are young and they are kids and very impressionable and you're a role model."


Impressionable. Great word. Impressionable, young people can be taken advantage even if that young person is consenting, even if that young person makes the first move.


"I always tell our student-athletes that you have to decide what kind of role model you're going to be," Summitt said. "Certainly from my standpoint as a role model, I have to set the professional example and be their teacher."


North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who like Summitt has been head coaching since her early 20s, pointed out that the quality of role models for today's young people is slipping, which is why she believes being a strong role model is the most important part of her job.


"Being a positive example nowadays is a priority on my list," Hatchell said. "To be the right kind of role model is important because there's so many role models out there for the young people that are not the right kind of role model."


Could Hatchell have been talking about Chatman? Maybe not purposefully, but it may fit.

Hatchell and Summitt both said that good relationships and friendly relationships can be formed between coach and player that last a lifetime, but all coaches must guard against being a friend to a player while that player is on your team.


"I'm not their friend. I'm their coach. That's the one thing that was important to me when I started my career," Summitt said.


Such a stance does not blur the line.


"My objective has never been to have the players as my friend," Hatchell said. "You have to draw the line."


Chatman, if LSU's information is correct, instead went way out of bounds.




Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU and the Southeastern Conference for Gannett News Service. Read him at  or in the Shreveport Times, Monroe News-Star, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Lafayette Advertiser, Opelousas Daily World and occasionally USA Today. You can contact him at

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