"We, when they were, the second year we were at UWM [University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee] was his first year [at Butler]. They went to the NCAA tournament, I believe, and we lost, the last time we played them we lost in overtime at Butler. And we lost at home to them. And still in great dispute about the scheduling. There was a, in the Horizon League you play like back to back sometimes. You play UWM and then play Green Bay, or Green Bay and then UWM.
"By some quirk of the scheduling, I've never gotten an answer to this, that didn't happen. I believe the schedule was bumped because of a circus at Green Bay and there was, anyhow. You ask, that flashes back to me. And then Xavier, we [at the University of Wisconsin] lost at Xavier when they had (David) West and that team, which I think went to the NCAA tournament also and they were pretty good. So it's 0-3, if anybody keeps track of that stuff. I think we only played three times."
Bo, Thad Matta was talking this morning about he was very nervous at the meetings when he first came, to the league meetings and the MCC at that time, and that you really helped him out. He came up and started asking lots of questions. Did it just click between the two of you right away?
"Yeah, we hit it off right from the start as far as just we would sit at recruiting things and talk about Xs and Os. And we have the same philosophy on a lot of things with the game, and, you know, how this screen should be handled or this cut or this movement and things like that. So we've probably talked more than most coaches that we've coached against. And he's just, he's a very bright young man. He's very competitive.
"Probably to him I seem like an old, like an old soothing older brother, probably, you know. I mean, I was new to the league, I was new to both leagues where I've coached against him now, relatively speaking. Now he's new to this league. But, you know, I spent a lot of years at other places before. So I probably look like a settling influence-type guy. There's a guy with gray hair and I can trust him, was probably what Thad was thinking. No, I've got a lot of respect for Thad. He's got a great basketball mind and tireless worker, loves the game, does it the right way, doesn't promote himself. We've got the same philosophies on a lot of things."
From the different places that he's coached and now at Ohio State, are there common characteristics of a Thad Matta-coached team on the floor from what you see?
"Well, I think in any game of basketball there's certain things where you want to take care of the ball, you want to get good shots, you want to defensively disrupt other people. So, you know, basketball isn't as intricate as far as styles maybe as some other sports, but, because with five guys you can only do so many things. So I don't know if Thad is so much a factor because I think every coach is trying to do the basics, the fundamentals, and he's a guy that takes care of the fundamentals. So if we're similar along those lines, that's fine with me."
I know Packer fans in this state probably don't want to hear any thoughts yesterday of seeing Ted Cottrell on the sidelines and getting doused with the water bucket.
"The word on the street is the last time a defensive coordinator got doused was Buddy Ryan with the Bears. So the fact that Teddy Cottrell had the players do that to him, I did leave him a phone message, I said did you hire those two guys to douse you with the Gatorade, but he hasn't responded. That's just one of those games where as a defensive coordinator you have to feel pretty good about some things, but he's also one of those guys that knows you're only going to be as good as the next one.
"And just so people know what you're asking, is that Teddy Cottrell and I played on the same high school football team together. He was my center when I was a quarterback. I don't want people to think that I was out there rooting against the Green Bay Packers. In the state of Wisconsin I would never do that. I'm always, I have an assistant coach whose dad played for the Packers. That's how much respect I have for the Packers, because I knew that Robbie Jeter would get a lot of the good teachings that his father gave him growing up after playing for Vince Lombardi. So that was a smart hire. But I was happy for Teddy, and so would anybody else be of a high school classmate."
Didn't you cheer against the Packers last year when they played Philadelphia?
"No, I said I'd never publicly root against the Packers. Now, and I had nothing to do with fourth and whatever, and I, there's, look, you know how many times the Packers have beaten the Eagles? The Eagles have only beaten the Packers a couple times. I was there for one of them in 1960. But any other game of meaning was maybe last year's playoff game. But between 1960 and 2004, to have one game that you can remember for your home team where you grew up against the Packers, that just goes to tell you how good the Packers have been, because they certainly haven't been kind to Philly, that's for sure. Did you detect a lot of frustration there on my part?"
I'll let you give your Eagles-Vikings prediction in a minute. But can, how improved is Terence Dials, would you say?
"Wow, on film, bouncy, take up space, run the floor, left-hand jump hook, right-hand jump hook. I mean, we always knew he was talented. It's just, again, because he was younger he was maybe inconsistent. It happens to other players, but with him it's really a significant change, and it certainly is something that they needed to go with. Everybody knows they've had the outside shooters, but outside shooting can be streaky. But him two feet from the basket, that's not streaky. That's pretty solid. He is definitely one of the most improved players in the country, not just in the league. It just goes to show you what hard work can do."
I'm hoping this isn't a silly question. Have you ever felt under fire as a head coach?
"No, I can't tell you that I have."
Could you imagine what that would feel like if you were? And I'm thinking of Mike Davis at Indiana and your friend with the Vikings?
"Well, you know, we all know what we get into when we do this, but in my mind there's only one thing I think of each and every day when I get up and each and every day when I'm out and about and doing our thing and our profession, and when I go to sleep at night, is, you know, there's things that you take care of for the here and now and you can't ever worry about all the other stuff that's going on. And, you know, a lot of it's created by outside influences. And so be it.
"You know what? Maybe for me it's having grown up the way I did and playing on the playgrounds and having guys trash talk me and be threatened and stuff like, if somebody wants to say you're not, you know, you're not doing this or you're not doing that or this, I guess it all depends on how you've grown up. Some people have thicker skin than others. And that's, what words come out of people's mouths in regard to a coach here or a coach there or anywhere else, what can those words do. Words can start conflicts. Words can create a lot of controversy. Words can do a lot of things.
"So when you ask have you ever been under fire, you know, I've been under fire to myself when I feel that maybe we've been inadequate or that maybe there's something else we can be doing. But there aren't too many coaches that I know that aren't their own worst critics, because we're always striving to do better.
"I'm sure in the profession of the media and everybody tries to be a better writer, everybody tries to be smarter tomorrow than they were today, have more information, process that information better, people that go on the air and people that go to a business or run their business. If you're not constantly finding ways to get better and to stay in tune with what's going on, there'll always be shots coming your way. And even if you're doing well there's shots coming your way. So I don't think Mike Davis or Ted Cottrell change their daily routine other than what inside tells them this is what we've got to do."
The NCAA is considering some proposals from the coaches about more access for the coaches and the players. Is that something that came from the committee you're on, or what exactly is, what is the committee looking for?
"By more access, there's so many hours you can be with a player or be with the players during the week. We turn those hours in. And we've been very straight up about it. We don't fudge. There's been some question at some places about how many hours they're with their players. But, you know, when you're at the University of Wisconsin as a student athlete, and the RPI of the student body here is, as I said before, probably in the top 1 percent or 2 percent in the country, and you're practicing your players any more than the allowable hours, you're putting them in the hole further, in a tougher spot because of how competitive it is here.
"So to try to gain an advantage on the basketball court by cheating them out of hours with their studies and everything else, you would just, you'd be shooting yourself in the foot. So for us it's very easy. There's so many hours, this is what we do. Players can volunteer to come and talk to coaches. Players can do some things. But during the summer, during pick-up games, during the fall and pick-up games, for me to be in the gym, just sitting in the stands and watching our guys play and taking mental notes of weaknesses, strengths, tips that we could offer our players, even in an e-mail, even in just a note, even, and you know what? From the time I was five years old I've played basketball, gone to basketball games, kept score in gyms when I wasn't playing, kept score clocks for tournaments, I'm a gym rat. I've been around this game all my life. Why do I have to disappear when my guys play pick-up games when I'm not going to talk to them, I'm not going to tell them they have to run this. Because of what 1 percent or 2 percent of the coaches in the country did by giving guys drills and making them do this and making them do that, 90-some percent of our profession has to not be able to watch guys play pick-up games.
"Now, I would think on campus here when my daughter was in theatre and drama. When she would go through her rehearsals and she would practice with her groups. And they would go through their things. The professor in that field of study and the TAs could watch them practice. There wasn't a limit on the hours. So what happens is in athletics there are coaches who have gone to the extreme. It would be the same as saying in your profession that somebody that lied and made up memos or somebody that plagiarized but then, therefore the media can no longer talk to athletes. It would be the same thing.
"So when we've asked for access, what we're saying is in the summer, I'm around the Kohl Center. If my guys are playing I can't sit up in the second deck and watch them play? That's all. And I can learn things, but I can help them. I could actually help them. If I'm demanding that you have to do this, you have to do that then that's wrong. But not everybody was doing that.
"The reason they took that away years ago, a long time ago, was because there was some coaches that were making their players practice five hours a day, twice a day, come in in the morning, come in at night, and also demanding certain things that were just too tough for the student-athlete. And it wasn't just basketball. In football there's a limit too. In hockey there's a limit. I think in every other sport I'm pretty sure there is, from what we've seen as far as legislation.
"So all we were asking, can we be around, can the players talk to us in the summer if there's something on their mind, how are you doing, the guys that take classes in the summer, how are you doing here, come on in and talk to us, let's spend some time together. Well, these are the things that have been taken away from the coaches because they don't want us to have too much contact with them. Because they feel that some coaches were being, were overbearing in their demands of their time."
A follow-up on that. (NCAA Division I vice president) David Berst said there is an issue with trust. Why, when you say it as eloquently as you can say it, do they still not believe you?
"They believe us. I'll tell you who believes us. (NCAA president Myles) Brand believes us. And I'm not saying David Berst doesn't. You just said it. But I think now that he's seen some, I think it's like anything else. As people look at the landscape and then what is perceived as this was the reason, this is the problem, this is this, this is that, as time changes then you have to maybe change with the times.
"And, you know, it's very difficult when you recruit a player and they come to play for you and you're limited in your time that you can spend with them, when the trust factor is we need for the players to trust us, we need to trust the players. The more we're around one another it's not so bad because it's not in an environment where you're making them do things if you're sitting in an open gym. You know, they're just playing pick-up basketball. You're not running drills.
"But if a coach were seen out there on the floor directing traffic, that coach is wrong. Then the school should deal with that. That's a violation. The school has to deal with that. That's institutional control. Did you hire a coach that's not going to abide by the rules. The institution's got to take care of that. That's why there are compliance officers, and that's why they have a compliance staff. So there's a lot of us that feel in this profession that we could really help these young men the more we are exposed to them, and that's all coaches have asked for.
"And it isn't an excuse because there's so many good stories out there about so many college athletes that have done so well as a result of their experience that the other thing is coaches feel that that story's not out there enough either. But we also know that that isn't a story, because that's what you're supposed to do. It's only the out-of-the-ordinary, the thing that somebody doesn't do when they're supposed to, that becomes a bigger issue. But we feel that if we have more time around the guys, especially in the summer, especially in the fall when they're playing pick-up games, if we're around what's so bad about that, what harm are we doing."
Do you think that maybe off-court incidences that do occur on campuses generally would actually go down possibly with more mentoring from the coaches to the players?
"Well, what a lot of the coaches are saying is the stronger the connection the better the chances of knowing exactly how your players are doing. You want to know what? I can tell when I start practice and we go out there on the floor, and we always start with a passing drill, pass and catch, the simplest thing in the game of basketball, a lot of times I can tell what kind of practice we're going to have, and I can tell who stayed up late studying, who is mad because they're not playing, who's ready to have a good practice, who's focused. You can see that.
"Well, in the summer if I'm watching guys, everything going okay this summer, you guys doing all right, everything. Now you can say, well, can't they come by your office and do that. Think about when you were 19, 20, 18, 19, 20 years old, did you always go to the authority figures and check in with them? Hey, Coach, I just thought I'd come by today and say hi, see how you were doing, Coach, how are you doing. How often does that happen? Sometimes.
"But, again, if we're around there's just that influence that you can have, if your institution believes that the coach is somebody that can have a positive effect on the players when they are around them. But, again, it's that 1% or 2% that makes for the bad images, the bad dialogue, as it is with every profession. It's the same thing."
Some coaches like when their team is coming off a loss to get back out and play as soon as possible . . . a lot of time to prepare. Is there a pro or con for you in these games that are relatively quick turnaround . . . what your philosophy is on all of that?
"You know, I can take you back and go through on this number of days' rest or this number of days' preparation this happened, that, but there's no clear-cut... There's no statistic that says that this happens X number percent of the time. Just the guys like to play. They do like to play. But they also know that practice is needed.
"So they came yesterday and got some good reps in. Today hopefully we'll get some good reps in. So I'm just all about what's going to happen here starting as soon as I leave this room, when we go in and start doing our stuff to get ready for Ohio State. They're attentive. I'm sure they want to play again. Most people that, when this is in your blood, most people do."