He was 78.
He was Georgetown basketball.
He was a towering man and a father to many who needed one.
He was --- along with a few others --- the real Big East Conference. The one where it was rough and tumble, where they put in six personal fouls for a time. But where the fast breaks were also Picasso-like stuff.
The Big East that everyone tuned in for, the one where you might see --- in the same half, even --- the prettiest, high-flying dunk that came about after a crisp bounce pass and the ugliest street brawl of a fight.
The Big East, especially in the 1980s, was college basketball. Gosh was it incredible.
And the Big East had a personality because of the personalities. Take the 1986-87 season for example, here are the men who led programs in the league:
Thompson – Georgetown
Jim Boeheim – Syracuse
Jim Calhoun – UConn
PJ Carlesimo – Seton Hall
Lou Carnesecca – St.
Paul Evans – Pitt
Rick Pitino – Providence
Rollie Massimino – Villanova
Jim O’Brien – Boston College
Make no mistake, there is a common theme. Every single one of those guys had a my-way-or-the-highway quotient to them. They ran their program the way they wanted, they were tough on kids (with the right amount of love, too) and they demanded perfection. But, yeah, they were tough on kids.
That said, that demand for perfection could manifest in not-so-nice words or a berating if need be. Were those different times? Certainly.
But is it something that’s maybe missing in coaching now? A healthy fear? Perhaps.
And that’s one of the things I thought of this morning when I woke and quickly thereafter found out Thompson had died. I thought of the way young men are coached now.
Do the players experience enough uncomfortable moments? I don’t know if that’s the case --- or at least they seem to run from them.
It’s their way or they revolt.
They whine and moan and threaten to transfer if the situation isn’t exactly perfect --- and then subsequently get coddled too much.
Their parents have too much influence on the coach and they come to expect that is the norm.
So as I look at that list of the men coaching in the Big East during that 1986-87 season, I can’t stop thinking of the way they were dictators of their programs. They were in charge and really weren’t interested in outside influence or skewing the order of rank. They ranked first and anyone else was a distant second.
Simply --- whether it was Thompson or Boeheim or Rollie or PJ --- the coach was the coach and the kid was the kid. One person did the talking and teaching; the other person was there to do the listening and learning.
Period. End of story. Everyone will function better --- in both the short and long term --- if those rules remain firm.
Now I’m not here to advocate some Bobby Knight-type stuff or going over the line with abusive and abhorrent behavior, but you hear all the time now how kids don’t have the same focus. How they might lack the same drive they once had and they certainly don’t have that healthy fear of a coach they once did.
Is it an overly-litigious society where coaches, these days, are afraid to coach kids hard out of a fear of losing their job and/or ending up in court over a technique they are using to simply try and get the best out of a player? I’d bet there is some of it, to be sure.
But if you are a coach today and you hear of the death of John Thompson, I don’t know how you cannot think of the power of that old Big East.
Me? I also think of the way those men commanded and ruled their programs. There was a good healthy fear of coaches.
Perhaps we need to get to that place again.