Coaches cope with Division I pressures, expectations

By Chris Brooks

Whether they play on a court, a field or a mat, all athletes possess a strong desire to succeed. In each and every game, they give all they have to come out with a victory. But the pressures to win do not fall solely on the players’ shoulders. Coaches of Division I athletics also bear a heavy load of expectations to succeed.

Year in and year out, coaches are expected to win and bring acclaim to their establishments, but in the NCAA, the competition is stiff, and there are hundreds of other teams looking to harness all of the glory.

Basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett, who has worked at the Division I level for 16 years, is no stranger to the stress that comes from his profession.

“There is pressure from within,” he said. “There is pressure from your alumni; there is pressure from your administration. There are a lot of expectations for coaches to win, and at the end of the day it is a big business and a billion-dollar industry. So all of the pressure trickles down.”

Division I sports is a huge industry where everyone is expected to win it all. Sometimes, coaches who do not meet expectations are quickly axed to make room for ones who may do a better job. Even though the fans and the players are happy with their accomplishments, the administration doesn’t always agree.

“This year, Ben Howland for UCLA, who had been to three final fours and got to the NCAA tournament this season, lost and got fired,” Baggett said. “Tubby Smith in Minnesota -— with all the success he had — got to the second round. He got fired. It doesn’t even translate to getting into the NCAA Tournament anymore; it’s about winning it all.”

While it is no crime to expect a team to succeed, the pressure to win is bringing out the ugly side of the NCAA. Just recently, Rutgers basketball Head Coach Mike Rice was fired for physically abusing student athletes and using racial slurs. The pressures to win at this level could cause coaches like Rice to act on impulses that they would later regret.

Even though Baggett feels the pressure on a daily basis, he does not believe there is any excuse for Rice’s behavior.

“I think there are situations where coaches might bend the rules here and there, but I don’t think there’s ever a reason to put your hands on a player or throw a ball at a player,” Baggett said. “I don’t think those pressures should ever be taken out against anyone else.”

College athletics are a major stepping stone for all athletes involved. It is a period of their lives where they are looking to build character, not only learn to succeed in their sport, but in everyday life. Though the coaches may be under a lot of stress to win, acting out against their players will only cause more problems.

Field Hockey Head Coach Lori Hussong is a strong believer in becoming a role model for her players.

“The pressure that our coaching staff feels does not necessarily come from the feeling to win, but moreso is the pressure to provide our players with a positive experience in every facet of their college lives,” Hussong said. “Oftentimes a coach’s success is measured by the number of championships won, but for us, a successful season is knowing that we gave our best effort in helping our team reach its highest potential on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”

Hussong has been at Rider since 2000, and though she has felt the same pressures to win as every other Division I coach, she has not let that change her composure.

“I feel that keeping everything in perspective is key to handling the pressure of college coaching,” Hussong said. “Our staff is extremely competitive and we hate to lose, but at the end of the day, if we walk off the field on the losing side, we can still feel good about our day’s work.”

Hussong’s philosophy has made her one of the most successful coaches currently at Rider. During her tenure, Hussong has won four Northeast Conference (NEC) Coach of the Year awards, and led nine teams to either an NEC Championship or NEC regular season title. Her example shows that even with high expectations, she has found a way to succeed without bending the rules or mistreating players.

Baseball Head Coach Barry Davis has also found a way to be a role model while still winning a number of games for Rider. Davis has led the Broncs to two seasons with more than 30 wins in the past three years.

“My goal is to teach the game the best I can, as if the players will be coaches someday,” Davis said. “How can I help them make the transition from an 18-year-old young adult to a more mature and responsible 22-year-old graduate? And once in the workforce, how can I help them move forward? If I keep those simple objectives, we all will be successful.”

Coaches like Baggett, Hussong and Davis all understand that there are more important factors involved in Division I sports than winning. It is a time for them to teach their athletes how to be good and successful people on and off the playing field. While winning is very important to them, they have shown composure while also bringing winning seasons to this university.

“Each coach is unique and has their own personality,” Davis said. “It is a fascinating profession that has many highs and lows. Coaches are paid thousands and in some cases millions of dollars. The return on that investment is what these universities are looking for. So, yes, the pressure to succeed is there.”

Ultimately, the pressures of coaching Division I athletics can bring copious amounts of stress to the coaches involved. It is key that they do not let these pressures bring out the worst of their personalities. The NCAA has no room for coaches who act like Rice, but the expectations to win at this level might be too much.

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