Basketball Coaches: The Wackiest Guys in Sports

What makes basketball coaches prone to temper tantrums filled with invective hurling, chair throwing, and wild gesticulating? Is there something inherent in the game that draws the high-strung and anger-prone?

This 1950 article by sports writer Harry T. Paxton from The Saturday Evening Post enumerates the idiosyncrasies of basketball coaches, both college and pro. We learned that tossing of furniture (and even more alarming reactions) was a thing with basketball coaches long before Bobby Knight.

Joe Lapchick, coach of the New York Knicks, “would pick up his chair and smash it on the floor. After he had run through half a dozen wooden chairs in this fashion, they finally got him a special unbreakable model made of stainless steel.”

George Keogan of Notre Dame became infamous, when, upon losing a game because of the timekeeper’s mistake, “he seized the timer’s now empty gun, held it to the student timekeeper’s head and pulled the trigger. Witnesses aren’t sure whether he knew the gun wasn’t loaded. They are confident that at the moment he wished it were.”

Other coaches’ tactics were more devious. The author tells this story of University of Kentucky’s basketball coach, Adolph Rupp:

Kentucky’s football coach, Bear Bryant —a champion recruiter himself—tried to get a Chicago high-school star for his grid team. Bryant campaigned all out to land the boy, but in the end the youngster told Bryant he had made other arrangements. It was with great surprise and glee, therefore, that Bryant spotted the boy on the Kentucky campus wearing a freshman cap the next fall.

“So you decided to come here and play football after all!” Bryant exclaimed. “When are you coming out for freshman practice?”

“Why, I’m not coming out for football, Mr. Bryant,” the boy told him. “You see, Mr. Rupp brought me here on a basketball scholarship.”

There’s no doubt there will be more coaching antics on display in the coming weeks. As Paxton notes, “With the possible exception of the professional comedians, who do it on purpose, there is no occupational group which produces so many weird public performances.”

Read “Wackiest Guys in Sports” from the December 30, 1950, issue of the Post.