Rutgers’ Mike Rice proves winning really is the only thing

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Although people who knew him said legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi never actually uttered those words, they appear to be true.

I don’t often write about sports on this blog, although I used to be a sportswriter. But the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice for shouting obscene things at his players, hitting and pushing them and throwing basketballs at their heads, has brought this into perspective.

I don’t mean to condone Rice. His tactics were as deplorable as they were ineffective (he won only 44 of 95 games as the school’s coach). He deserved to be fired.

But the NFL names its championship trophy after Vince Lombardi. Using any similar measuring stick, his tactics as head coach of the Green Bay Packers weren’t much different.

He was verbally abusive. And while he perhaps didn’t lay his hands on his players, he either browbeat or shamed them into playing with injuries.

Here’s an excerpt from a Baltimore Sun piece by Bill Glauber on Lombardi (read the entire piece by clicking here):

“Lombardi was a perfectionist who would not accept mental errors. His views on physical pain were perhaps the most controversial aspect of his reign. When Marv Fleming broke a bone in his foot, Lombardi said the tight end could play, because the break did not occur on a weight-bearing bone. Lombardi was brutal, but he also coolly judged which players he could push, and which players he could not. He urged (Paul) Hornung to play with strained knee ligaments and claimed defensive end Lionel Aldridge was “loafing” because he had not run a week after having a cast removed from a broken leg.”

Does knowing which players would respond to abuse and which wouldn’t make the tactic any better?
What’s the obvious difference between Lombardi and Rice? Lombardi won championships, of course.

Need more perspective? Why is it that as I watch the NCAA basketball tournament I’m periodically treated to funny commercials featuring former Indiana coach Bobby Knight?

He was fired after a career filled with abuses, both at practice and during games. He then went to Texas Tech and did much the same.

But Knight was a winner. That’s why we not only see him in commercials, we laugh when those commercials play off of one of his uglier public tantrums, when he lost his temper and threw a chair onto the court during a game.

He also choked one of his players, Neil Reed, which was caught on film.

If you win, your tantrums can be used as a part of sales pitches on commercials. If you lose, you’re just a social pariah.

Nike is being criticized for a new ad campaign featuring Tiger Woods and alluding to his extra-marital affairs. “Winning takes care of everything,” it says.

Sadly, that appears to be true.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

One comment

  1. John Charity Spring

    Evensen should be ashamed of himself for making this careless and irresponsible comparison of Rice and Lombardi. These two men are as different as night and day.

    Rice is an acknowledged egotist with documented incidents of abuse. Indeed, it has been proven that Rice abused players simply to abuse them, with no discernable tactical or coaching based purpose. It is clear from the tape that he abused players because he enjoyed doing so.

    To the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence that Lombardi ever struck a player or called a player a sexually-based derogatory name. In fact, it is well documented that Lombardi loved his players and did everything he could to help them.

    Evensen has completely missed the mark in his claim that Lombardi’s encouragement of players is in any way similar to Rice’s abuse. It is one thing to encourage a player to acheive his best by overcoming injuries, and quite another to berate and assault players simply to demonstrate the ability to do so.

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