"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, October 19, 2012

What are we, what should we be, how do we get there?

If you haven't had a chance to read the latest article on Marquette hoops in Marquette Magazine, I strongly suggest you do.  The article, entitled "Playing Old School" by MU's own Dan McGrath, focuses attention on new AD Larry Williams and his future view of MU athletics, specifically basketball and the desire to do things with integrity in light of some unflattering occurrences. 

The article has already revealed the ongoing fracture some MU fans have about certain MU officials, and specifically Larry Williams and Father Pilarz.   There is one camp of alumnae and fans that believe the new administration is somehow handcuffing Buzz Williams and his ability to put a successful product on the basketball court.  The program will no be able to compete and the new reality is that the only way to win is the current approach.  Larry Williams has been dubbed program killer, a Notre Dame elitist from a school that no longer can win with that mentality (ahem...Notre Dame is 5th in the nation in football right now).

A recent blurb by Jeff Goodman on his CBS blog only added to the fire when he said "Buzz Williams has done a superb job at Marquette, but he and athletic director Larry Williams aren't exactly bosom buddies and there's no telling how long he'll remain in Milwaukee."  Of course, back in the Tom Crean era some fans would say this would be Crean putting words into the bloggers mouth, but in this case apparently it is Jeff Goodman doing some serious sleuthing.  Considering Goodman's hits and misses this past season, who knows how accurate this is, but we'll assume he is right and address that a bit later.   

The other camp of graduates and fans have asked why are we destined to fail and become second rate simply by having a tighter leash on the program?  Does one path lead to the other?  When viewed through the lens of multiple off the court issues that put MU on the front page of the Chicago Tribune twice and on the evening news several times in the last year for embarrassing indiscretions involving an athletics team from MU can make folks feel a bit....squirmy (note that some fans like to pretend it was the tennis or track team and not members of a more prominent team).  Winning matters, but so does integrity.  Just win baby doesn't sit well with this group of fans, it's a lazy cop out and an excuse.  It is reaching for the ground, not the stars...it is harder to reach for the stars.

So who are we?  What should we be?  Is there only one way to win?  Is it wrong to aspire to do it the right way?  What is the right way in today's day and age?  All questions asked before and asked continually by our university and others around the country. All questions I have asked here on this blog several times. Let's look at the USA Today top 25 poll that came out today.  A number of programs on that list that almost universally fans will say don't do it the right way the majority of the time.  Of course there are also programs on that list that most would say strive to a higher ideal and succeed at it most of the time, even if they screw up on occasion.  It's impossible to be perfect all the time, it simply is.  Every program will have an indiscretion, sometimes a series of them in a short amount of time.  That's the case for MU recently, but fortunately the indiscretions have been rare in the long run and I think all of us would like to keep it that way. It is clear that Pilarz and Larry Williams feel that way, along with many influential alumni.

So is it wrong to aspire to be a quality athletic program AND also do well in the classroom and the community?  No one said it was going to be easy or perfect.  Yes, Notre Dame has student athlete issues, so does Stanford, Indiana, Duke, Wake Forest, BYU and others.  For trying to hold to a higher standard, when they fail they are ridiculed. Blogs, sports columns, fan forums explode about such and such Duke player from 2004 that screwed up or a Notre Dame football player from 2006 and the screams of hypocrisy echo aloud. It's easy to pick on those that try to aspire, but fail.  They are taking a risk to do better, to act in a higher regard and when they fail the critics come out of the woodwork.  It is certainly easier to take the lower path of standards and if you fail, oh well. What is the proper approach?  What should we be doing?

So what do you want to be?  I contend we can be a top notch program with Buzz Williams at the helm and also do it the right way in both reality and perception.  In many respects we are doing it the right way, but the perception has taken a beating (rightfully so) and we all know perception and reality are often confused.  MU, Buzz, and the program need an uneventful season. A nice, quiet, get the job done season would be very nice this year.  Go about your business, respect your coach and your university, perform well on the court, perform better off of it. 

At the end of the day, MU isn't going to have Buzz Williams forever, nor are they going to have Larry Williams and Father Pilarz.  If Buzz goes, there will be another basketball coach.  If Larry Williams goes, there will be another AD just as there will be another president at MU.  People change, but institutions change far less.  It is clear that MU wants to win, but to win in the right way.  For some, they feel this is pushing Buzz out the door or tying his hands. "If Buzz leaves, the end is near.  It's all over, Loyola of Chicago here we come."  Just stop.  Have faith in Buzz.  He's a good man, strong religious conviction, believes in his players, believes in discipline, has a core set of standards that should align well with the university's mission...some have argued it fits squarely into what he is all about. 

Therefore, it is not wrong to aspire to do multiple things well and to keep integrity as the guiding principle, even if at times we fail in that regard.  It is not wrong to hold people (players, coaches, administrators, fans) accountable.  Father Pilarz and Larry Williams are not out to destroy or cut the program down to size.  These are not stupid men. Buzz can work in this environment and succeed.  Or we can continue to read little blurbs in blogs about the AD and the program and wonder who provided that information.  It is clear the university is saying we want to win, but we will win in a specific way.  That bet has been made.  Buzz can make this work.  It is up to him.  He will stay as long as MU will have him...well MU has said they will have him but it will be with conditions.  Those conditions are part of what Buzz tells us he is all about so it's time to put all this crap behind us, get on board together as a fan base, a team, a coach, players, university administration and prove it can be done.  There are schools doing it today.  MU has done it in the recent past with Buzz at the helm and prior...we are not perfect, we never will be, but there is no shame in striving for a higher ideal.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done. This "old school" alum couldn't agree more.

-- Tampa Warrior

hoopgeek said...

AMEN & AMEN!!! Hey you fair weather alums, for heaven's sake QUIT WHINING!