On The Beat: 10/17

W hen I first saw the quote, I thought Alabama’s Bill Battle was like so many other college athletics directors, full of puffery for a basketball coach he hated to fire because the coach was such a great guy and had tremendous student-athletes on his teams and never brought a hint of scandal to his school.

But, ah, he didn’t win nearly as many games as the heavy-handed, big-money alums wanted.

After six seasons and one NCAA appearance, Anthony Grant was looking for a new job. Dayton’s new head coach is the guy Battle fired.

“Anthony is a man of impeccable character who has been an excellent representative of our program,” Battle said at the 2015 axing. “He has made tremendous contributions to our program, and we always will be grateful for his efforts. Anthony, his wife Chris, and their children have been tremendous assets to our university and our community.”

Two years later, after coaching two seasons with a mentor, Billy Donovan, in the NBA, Grant is back in college coaching, this time as a favorite son. He played for Don Donoher and the Flyers in the 1980s.

Grant is given to stories about life. He also offers insight into how the college sports game works.

It was earlier during that 2014-15 Alabama season the Crimson Tide’s followers were becoming anxious. In three of his previous five seasons there, Grant’s teams had won 20 or more games, but appeared in only one NCAA post-season tournament.

The media was turning on him and so were the fans. College athletic teams do not work in a vacuum. Negative articles and broadcasts feed negative fans, kind of the way it has been working in the federal government. But that’s another story.

Despite a good start, Alabama was on its way to a 19-15 season in 2015, again out of NCAA consideration, and Battle wanted to keep his coach.

“With all the negativity from the media and whatnot, he [Battle] wanted to announce publicly I would return next year,” Grant said. “I said, ‘I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know what the end of the year is going to bring.’

“It’s about your fan base; it’s about the support you get for your program. It’s a business. At the end of the day, if you don’t have that [support], it’s tough to get that back moving in a positive direction.

“My thing was, if the negativity won’t allow me to recruit the way I want to recruit to get the program where it needs to be, then you’re not going to have the program you want.”

Grant turned his AD down, and not because he didn’t want to stay. At the end of the season he didn’t have a choice.

Coaching is different from what most of you and I do. It’s putting your job on the buck of a teen or 20-year-old and telling him not to drop it. No matter how well you play, the guy in the stands always checks the scoreboard.

“You recruit four kids,” Grant was saying. “If you get two kids to achieve the level you thought they could achieve—or surpass that—when you recruited them, you have a chance to be really, really good.

“Recruiting is not an exact science. You don’t know. What are some of the issues that you don’t know about kids until they get on campus?”

Does the kid you’re watching in high school play with the skill and passion needed to carry on at the next level? Every coach has to guess. Two out of four, Grant says.

Take a look at the 2005-06 Florida team he helped Donovan coach to the National Championship. There were four sophomores in the starting lineup—Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green, and Corey Brewer, as well as junior Lee Humphrey.

“On that team, Corey Brewer was the only one considered a Top 50 [recruit],” Grant says. “Those other guys were good players.”

They overachieved, at least for the scouts.

“In other years, we had players who underachieved,” Grant says. “Sometimes, you can get a kid and he doesn’t pan out to be as good an athlete as you planned for. It could impact your ability to be a coach—and remain a coach.

“That’s a big part of it, wins and losses. But to me, there’s another side to it in terms of development and trying to put together a group of people going for the same cause.

“Sometimes, like in real life, it doesn’t work out the way you want it to work out.

I get it. We didn’t win enough. I knew, when I got into this profession, the scoreboard is up there for a reason.”

He went on to call the Dayton fans among the best in the country, the resources exceptional, the recruits excited about playing for a school that has attended four straight NCAA tournaments.

Finally, he talks about himself.

“Now you’ve got to go out and do your job in terms of bringing the players in and putting in the system and style of play you can win with and competing for championships. We have to put in the work.”

Let everyone else look at wins and losses. Anthony Grant is looking at work. He doesn’t need an athletics director to tell him he’s a nice guy.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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