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SIU's Barry Hinson more embarrassment than example

The rules for college coaches are not the same as for the pros

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

7:42 PM CST, December 19, 2013

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Why did so much of America laugh with Southern Illinois basketball coach Barry Hinson instead of at him?

What was so funny about a college coach failing every Salukis player on scholarship and their parents by being more of an embarrassment than an example?

Hinson made a fool of himself Tuesday night after SIU's fourth straight loss in a juvenile rant that quickly became a YouTube sensation. In a comedy routine gone bad, Hinson publicly embarrassed himself, his university, his profession and, worst of all, Marcus Fillyaw, the 19-year-old point guard who played "absolutely awful,'' in the coach's words.

"That's as PG as I can put it,'' barked Hinson, 52.

Besides stereotyping his players as "mama's boys," the second-year SIU coach also compared coaching 18- to 22-year-old student-athletes to training puppies. Hinson chided SIU's center who went 1 of 6 by saying his wife could make more shots and made a sophomoric crack that "size doesn't matter'' when answering a question about rebounding.

He criticized the performance of a senior, Bronson Verhines, who played through a painful high ankle sprain. He mockingly referred to snipers shooting down his players from somewhere in the gym because, well, the image of gunmen on college campuses is downright hilarious to some people.

The biggest joke was the man who kept talking — not anything Hinson said.

This isn't a coach who thought he was making his team better by holding players publicly accountable. This was a coach thinking he was funny. He wasn't.

By the next morning, Hinson's outrageous outburst attracted national media attention, which could negatively affect how well SIU recruits. To every coach recruiting a prospect SIU also wants, Hinson became that guy who rips players publicly. It was Hinson's early Christmas gift to Missouri Valley Conference rivals. The program that gave the Big Ten coaches Bruce Weber and Matt Painter deserves better; its standard should be higher.

As Hinson's 15 minutes extended into Thursday, more people compared his comments to famous sports rants by Dennis Green, Lee Elia and Jim Mora. The comparisons were understandable, except overlooked was that all those men coached professional teams. Hinson doesn't. No matter how professionalized college sports become, the rules remain different coaching guys compensated with room, board, tuition and books rather than millions.

Talk radio and Twitter have created a sports culture in which the kind of snark Hinson supplied sounds perfectly natural, desensitizing us to insolence and destroying the line between insight from insults. Professionalism and decency still matter in college sports; they must, especially at a mid-major basketball school in the heart of the Midwest.

Another Hinson apologist asked if how he behaved differed from Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight's act at Indiana and Texas Tech. That question assumes Knight's antics were right. Much of the time they weren't, but Knight winning three national titles helped the end justify the means to his bosses. Hinson never has qualified for the NCAA tournament in 12 seasons as a head coach at three schools. That suggests Hinson should try a new approach to communicate with players, who likely will tune him out now.

Instead, Hinson said he felt encouraged by hundreds of supportive emails and texts from parents and colleagues, according to USA Today. The local paper in Carbondale, The Southern Illinoisan, quoted Shakespeare — "Much ado about nothing'' — and chalked it up to "Barry being Barry.'' Chuckles along the way during interviews — even Hinson's wife appeared on "The Dan Patrick Show'' — empowered the finger-pointing coach one snicker at a time.

Sorry, Hinson shouldn't be celebrated for showing what he considered old-fashioned, tough love. He should have been suspended for at least a game by athletic director Mario Moccia, who issued a statement supporting Hinson's passion.

For context, I reached out to a parent of an SIU player, a Division I head coach and a BCS-conference athletic director, and each person found Hinson's behavior inappropriate and unacceptable. The parent, who asked not to be identified, felt a mixture of frustration and disappointment in Hinson but believed he deserved a second chance to learn from the incident. The concern was real.

The Division I head coach called Hinson's decorum "indefensible'' based on his own experience on the bench and at news conferences bigger than Hinson's. The athletic director used the word "shameful'' to describe how Hinson comported himself and thought he erred in not regretting everything that came out of his mouth — not just calling out a player.

"That was very immature of me,'' Hinson said the next day of criticizing Fillyaw. "Everything else, I stand by. If that ruffles your feathers, you're going to have to deal with it.''

Something tells me nobody will have to deal with Hinson too many more seasons at SIU — and he won't be laughing when that inevitable day comes.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh