UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Should ejection of coach keep referee off upcoming games?

Referee Doug Sirmons watched the action during the second half of Kentucky’s game against South Carolina on Feb. 13 in Columbia, S.C. Sirmons ejected UK Coach John Calipari early in the first half.
Referee Doug Sirmons watched the action during the second half of Kentucky’s game against South Carolina on Feb. 13 in Columbia, S.C. Sirmons ejected UK Coach John Calipari early in the first half.

Referee Doug Sirmons’ ejection of Kentucky Coach John Calipari last weekend raises an interesting question: Should Sirmons work another UK game this season? Or should he be quietly removed from UK assignments for a while until any lingering ill will subsides?

John Clougherty, the supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said he would be reluctant to remove a referee from an assigned game because the referee ejected a coach in a past game.

“You’re sending a message,” Clougherty said. “By enforcing the rules … you can be removed from a game.”

That message might discourage referees from their duty of giving coaches technical fouls or ejecting coaches when merited, Clougherty said.

“Then you also send a message to other coaches,” he said. Coaches would be encouraged to ask for referees to be removed. Opposing coaches would be encouraged to ask for the same referee to work the game.

“It’s a slippery slope,” Clougherty said.

A school like Kentucky should be obligated to not only accept a referee like Sirmons working a future home game, Clougherty said, but “take precautions to see that things are managed” to ensure the referee has a safe environment in which to work.

But what if the ejection was undeserved? It’s a safe bet that many UK fans believe that Sirmons was wrong to banish Calipari from the court.

With the goal of not further inflaming the situation, might a league supervisor be wise to remove the referee from an upcoming game?

“Not necessarily,” Clougherty said. The ACC supervisor said he would talk to a referee about how better to handle such a situation in the future.

“It’s hard for me to say an official should be reassigned unless he did something so outrageous,” Clougherty said.

Sirmons nearly leaped off the floor when motioning Calipari’s ejection. But he followed standard procedure by then moving away from the UK coach.

There is a precedent to consider. Three years ago, referee Doug Shows ejected UK assistant coach John Robic from a game at Tennessee. Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin also received technical fouls in a game Kentucky lost by 30 points.

Two weeks later, Shows worked Kentucky’s game at Arkansas without incident.

NBA’s example

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas pointed out how the coach-referee relationship is different in the NBA than in college basketball. The relationship is much more contentious at the college level.

“The fact that NBA coaches behave better than college coaches is embarrassing,” Bilas said. “Or should be.”

While NBA referees speak much more with players than coaches, ACC supervisor of officials John Clougherty said it was “very idealistic” to expect referees and coaches not to interact on the college level. He said he encourages ACC referees to speak with coaches.

Such dialog fosters mutual respect, Clougherty said. Conversely, a referee that ignores a coach can lose credibility.

Of course, one person is sure to object to a coach speaking with a referee. That’s the opposing coach. Jealousy and suspicion result.

“Like grade school, third-grade nonsense,” Bilas said. “There’s no reason for it.”

So sensitive

John Clougherty mentioned how differently coaches in the NBA and college react to technical fouls.

In the NBA, coaches barely flinch. They pay the $500 fine and move on, Clougherty said.

In college, coaches can get hysterical.

“These coaches take it like you’ve kidnapped their child,” Clougherty said. “They take it so personally.”

One question: why?

“I think it stems back to they want to be in total control,” Clougherty said. “The NBA is a players’ game. College basketball is a coaches’ game.”

College coaches, often the kings of their kingdoms, object when “a referee has asserted his authority over a guy in control of everything,” Clougherty said.

Come together

Referees can irritate by being demonstrative in calling a foul “like they’re identifying a murder suspect,” Jay Bilas said. “There’s no reason to jump around and point at a player like he committed a crime. It’s just a foul.”

Bilas called for more poise and decorum by coaches and referees.

“Everybody’s in this together,” he said. “And I’m not sure anybody’s doing as good a job as they can.”

‘Atrocious officiating’

UK fan Greg Hayes called last week to suggest that less attention be paid to John Calipari’s behavior at South Carolina and more attention be paid to the game’s “atrocious officiating.”

Hayes, 66, bolstered his case by saying, “The sports pundits at halftime mentioned how many calls were not going Kentucky’s way.”

Hayes lives in Pikeville and retired from a job involving the reclamation of land that has been strip-mined.

While saying “biased” officiating should be corrected, Hayes acknowledged that Calipari went too far in his protests. Freshmen Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe had to physically restrain the coach.

“I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do,” Hayes said of Calipari’s let-me-at-him blow up. “But you can understand one’s anger when taking up for your team.”

Yes, Hayes agreed, coaches are role models.

“I can understand why the guy lost his composure,” Hayes said. “When all is said and done, Cal will probably apologize.”

But, Hayes added, Calipari’s combative behavior at South Carolina was out of character.

“Cal is not a belligerent, aggressive-type person … ,” he said. “Cal is an excellent P.R. person for our state.”

Ejection protocol

When a referee ejects a coach from a game, there is a protocol that must be followed. John Clougherty, the supervisor of officials for the ACC, explained a few of the do’s and don’ts.

First, the coach must leave the court and go to the locker room or anywhere he or she chooses outside of the arena.

At halftime, the coach is allowed to talk to his team and, well, coach. UK associate head coach Kenny Payne said John Calipari spoke to the team between halves at South Carolina.

“He felt he didn’t need to talk to the team,” Payne said at the postgame news conference. “I told him I thought it was important that he did.”

During the game, a coach who has been ejected cannot communicate to anyone on the bench via text, note discreetly passed to an assistant while the teacher is not looking or message in a bottle.

Any communication is prohibited by rule, Clougherty said. The penalty for getting caught engaging in such communication? A technical foul.

Don’ts and don’ts

Craig Pinkerton, the SEC’s director of communications, sent the NCAA’s list of what it considers unsportsmanlike acts that can result in a technical foul. Those include:

“Disrespectfully addressing an official.”

“Attempting to influence an official’s decision.”

“Using profanity or language that is abusive, vulgar or obscene.”

“Objecting to an official’s decision by rising from the bench or using gestures.”

“Possessing or using tobacco.”

The NCAA recommends that referees indulge a misbehaving head coach “who engages in spontaneous reactions to officiating calls” provided the coach stay in the coaching box and the reaction is not “prolonged, profane, vulgar or threatening.”

Big 12

Rob Carolla, who directs media relations for men’s basketball in the Big 12, passed along his conference’s guideline concerning ejections:

“In the event of disqualification, every effort should be made to remove the individual(s) discreetly. Further, there should not be P.A. announcements, video productions or other methods to highlight or entice fan response to the ejection. Nor should the ejected individual/player have interaction with media during the contest.”

Big 12 reprimands

The Big 12 reprimanded TCU Coach Trent Johnson for his actions following a game at West Virginia last season.

Johnson, who formerly coached at LSU, tried to confront referees on the court after the game. Then he tried to enter the referees’ dressing room.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby publicly reprimanded Johnson. In a statement, Bowlsby said harsher penalties would result from future sportsmanship violations.

Johnson apologized for his actions. “I let a difficult ending get the best of me,” he said in a statement. “And it took away from how proud I was of the way our team played and competed.”

It happens

It’s unusual for a college coach to be ejected from a game. But it happens.

Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley was ejected from a game against Arizona on Jan. 3.

Pac-12 Conference rules require a coach who has been ejected to go to the team’s locker room or leave the arena. Failure to do so opens the possibility of further penalties from the league.

After a review of the circumstances surrounding the ejection, the Pac 12 commissioner has the authority to reprimand, suspend or fine the coach.

Clougherty retiring

John Clougherty, 72, is retiring after this season. He has been the supervisor of ACC officials for 11 seasons.

Prior to taking the ACC supervisor job, Clougherty was a Division I referee for 30 seasons and a familiar face calling SEC games.

Could that be?

The Louisville-Syracuse telecast seemed to show a familiar face. As U of L’s Ray Spalding was helped off the court and toward the locker room, he and the medical staff passed a man sitting about three rows off the court behind a baseline.

The shock of gray hair and craggy look of an outdoorsman brought to mind a former UK player.

Could it be … Jimmy Dan Conner? It could.

At the UK-Tennessee game, Conner confirmed his attendance. Why?

“Well,” he said, “I live in Louisville.”

Conner said he attends a handful of U of L games each season.

Happy birthday

To Rajon Rondo. He turns 30 on Monday. … To former UK assistant Herb Sendek. He turns 53 on Monday. … To Jamal Murray. He turns 19 on Tuesday. … To Tom Heitz. He turns 55 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton