Last week Texas Tech began its men's basketball season with Bobby Knight at the helm. Remember him? The former University of Indiana coach who was asked to step down by university officials amidst allegations of physically abusive treatment of his players. His 29-year career in Indiana included three NCAA championships, induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and film clips of him hurling a plastic chair across a basketball court during a game and choking a player.
Evidently, Knight's winning ways were enough to make Indiana look past his admitted temper problems for nearly 30 years and enough to convince Texas Tech that he was worth the gamble, after his dismissal from Indiana. And if he continues to churn out wins for the Red Raiders, hooray for them. Whatever blazes their saddles.
It's a shame, though, that so much attention gets focused on big media "darlings" like Knight behaving badly, and little mention is made of small-town standouts like Soldotna High School swimming and diving coach Sohail Marey. If snarling, brooding, swearing, and sideline-storming are the trademarks of the stereotypical coach, then Soldotna has had a well-kept secret in Marey that may have, until recently, gone unacknowledged.
Marey was named the 2001 Alaska School Activities Association Coach of the Year for swimming and diving at the state championship two weeks ago. I know this fact has been stated already, but I believe it's worth reemphasizing in light of Marey's commitment to swimming on the Kenai Peninsula. When the last light flickered out of the high school swimming and diving season for Soldotna, Marey continued his roll as coach, mentor and teacher guiding the youth of the swim club called the Soldotna Silver Salmon. He was back at the pool the following Monday.
"I enjoy seeing success by athletes," he said. "I like to see them strive for goals and achieve them."
And he's been seeing to young people's success with the Silver Salmon since 1988.
But what is most impressive about Marey is that he, unlike Knight, has always managed to project a composed and pleasant demeanor. During meets, he strode alongside the pool with a face that was relaxed, regardless of the situation. When his team finished a race, he was often there to either congratulate, console or offer constructive criticism. His was not the loudest voice to be heard during the heat of competition. And more times than not, he was silent.
During meets, there were no displays of unchecked emotion or angered outbursts in public view. And his coaching staff said this is the case in practice.
"I've never seen him yell at the kids," said Stars assistant swim coach LaDawn Druce. "They can look at the clock and know what they've done wrong."
And he's won. When he took over as head coach at SoHi in 1999, he continued the school's winning tradition in Region III bringing home three straight girls' titles and two boys' titles.
This is not to say that every coach everywhere is some big bad monolith who coaxes wins out of players through means of intimidation. This is not to say that Marey is the only coach who displays a pleasing personality more often than a not-so-pleasing one.
But the image of athletics continues to receive black eyes from sports figures big and small misbehaving. From James "The Harlem Hammer" Butler's post-fight sore-loser-sock-out of winning opponent Richard Grant on ESPN2's boxing offering Friday night to the "brawl on ice" of the Houston-Palmer hockey game last Saturday that ended with nine ejections, sports needs more recognition of some of its positive characters to be uplifted. Even here on the peninsula.
In the incident that ended Knight's career at Indiana, he allegedly grabbed and swore at a student. Following the incident, he said his actions were an attempt to teach the student "manners and civility." Having a tough guy and good coach in the same mix isn't a bad thing. But if someone like Marey can espouse the same morals Knight was trying to teach and still inspire success in his team, doesn't everybody win?
This column is the opinion of Clarion reporter Marcus K. Garner. Comments and criticisms can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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