Mixed Martial Coaching

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A coach’s job is to motivate. When a first-team All-PAC-12 player like Allen Crabbe is shooting five for 13, the coach knows he has to step in and hit the reset button.

Even if he has to shove that reset button.

Cal’s basketball coach Mike Montgomery’s controversial physical altercation with junior guard Allen Crabbe on Sunday night made the headlines. We know where Cal’s athletics director stands on this issue, and we also know that Montgomery apologized for his behavior after. The PAC-12 even stepped in to declare its disapproval.

What we don’t know, however, is if what he did was wrong. Hateful violence is never the answer — that’s always true. But Montgomery’s single shove was not the mark of an angry man out to hurt his player. A coach does not fight a player and then put him immediately back in the game, unless he is trying to communicate something words cannot.

It’s easy to see the effect of that timeout break — the tables quickly turned, and Cal recovered from a 15-point deficit to win by two points. Some might think, and perhaps rightly, that such retrospective justification of the coach’s behavior is only a result of winning the game. Had Cal lost, one could reason, the uproar would have been even greater, and the masses would be calling for Montgomery’s head.

But they didn’t. And some of the credit should go to Montgomery. The fact is, we can’t judge history except by how it led to the present. Montgomery’s tactics, though unconventional at best, were effective. No one got hurt. It was a spur-of-the-moment act, not another crime to be tacked on a list of other defenses. Montgomery’s clean record at Stanford indicates he is a good coach, not some crazy guy who likes to beat up his players.

Normally, hitting is no-no, but chalk this one up to good old-fashioned, drill-sergeant-style motivation. Give Montgomery a break, and cross your fingers for Cal’s game against Oregon.

Image source: avinashkunnath under Creative Commons.