Mark Story: Sean Woods needs to see himself as others see him, before it's too late

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 24, 2012 

Morehead State Coach Sean Woods talked with Maurice Lewis-Briggs during the Eagles' season-opening win over LIU Brooklyn. Woods has drawn unwanted attention for his sideline demeanor.

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In 1999, I wrote a story on why sports motivation — often loud, profane and in your face — is so different than real-world, business motivation.

In that, a prominent former point guard discussed how hard his ex-college coach had pushed him. The guard admired his former coach, credited him with getting more out of the player than he knew he had to give.

Yet by the time the guard's career had ended, he said he had made a vow to himself. "That there would never be another man talk to me like (the coach) did. That if I ever had another boss talk to me like that, I'd punch them out."

Rick Pitino from his hard-charging University of Kentucky days was the coach in question.

The ex-point guard speaking? Sean Woods.

That came to mind Wednesday night as the video was going viral of now-Morehead State head man Sean Woods first shoving point guard Devon Atkinson during the Eagles game with Kentucky and then engaging in a protracted verbal confrontation with the player.

By Thanksgiving Day, Woods and his bench decorum were a national story, on the front page of ESPN.com.

Only five games into his career at Morehead State, Woods already seems at a bit of a crossroads. His confrontation with Atkinson has placed him in the national consciousness as "that crazy coach at Morehead."

That's not the image one with ambitions of making major-college basketball coaching a life needs to have.

So as someone who has long liked Woods personally, I hope Morehead State administrators gave their first-year head coach more than a (deserved) one-game suspension for the Eagles' Monday meeting with Norfolk State.

Hopefully, they gave Woods the game tapes both from MSU's loss in Rupp Arena and from Morehead's Nov. 12 contest at Maryland and told him to watch himself.

Before he sabotages a promising coaching career, Woods needs to see himself as others see him.

During MSU's contest with Maryland, Woods' sideline demeanor moved ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt (a Maryland alumnus) to tweet: Sean Woods, Morehead State basketball coach, is so outwardly hostile toward his players, it is uncomfortable

Simply put, the ex-UK guard needs to dial back an in-game coaching style that can make him appear — whether it is actually the case or not — emotionally out of control.

When Woods first came back to Rupp Arena as a college head coach with Mississippi Valley State in December 2008, his coaching was so in the face of his players, many sitting on press row thought one of the Delta Devils was going to slug their coach.

By last season, Woods' fourth as a head man, I covered Mississippi Valley State in an NCAA Tournament game against Western Kentucky. MVSU suffered a brutal loss, dropping a game in which it led by 16 points inside the final five minutes.

Yet that night Woods' sideline demeanor was never overly confrontational toward his players, not even as they gave away a big lead with a late flurry of turnovers and missed foul shots.

Afterward, the ex-Kentucky guard handled a crushing disappointment with class and grace.

I left the University of Dayton Arena impressed with how much Woods had grown as a coach in four years.

That, I assumed, was the Sean Woods we'd see at Morehead.

Hopefully, it still will be.

The good news for Woods is that America's attention span is fleeting. Memories of what happened Wednesday night in Rupp Arena will fade as long as the MSU coach doesn't do anything else to reinforce an angry persona.

Take away the appearance of sideline fury, and Woods has much to recommend him as a rising college coach.

In one-on-one interaction, he is engaging. As a player, he hit a well-remembered clutch shot in, arguably, the greatest NCAA Tournament game ever played, which should help him open doors as a coach. At Mississippi Valley State, Woods built an NCAA tourney team with all but no resources behind his program.

None of that, however, is going to matter if Woods allows an agitated sideline comportment to define him.

So for the good of his future and Morehead's, lets hope MSU administrators demanded of Woods the same thing coaches have been requiring from their players for eons.

Watch the game tape.

Be honest about what you see of yourself.

Learn from it.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230Email: mstory@herald-leader.comTwitter: @markcstoryBlog: markstory.bloginky.com

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