I know you are a huge basketball fan. What made you want to be a sideline coach?
When the program was announced through an email from Coach [Dave] Paulsen to faculty and staff, it had a very strong appeal, particularly to those who were fans of Mason and our basketball team. It was a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the team and coaches as they prepared for a game. What fan could resist the opportunity?!
As long as I’ve gone to Mason games (since back in the day when they played in the PE Building), there had never been an opportunity like this one. Apparently, Coach Paulsen had done this in his previous job at Bucknell, and it was easy to buy in to the idea that this sort of program was an outreach to the rest of the Mason community on his part as a way of uniting the program with the more academic side of the university.
Indeed, enough people responded to the opportunity. More than 80 people expressed interest for only 15 home games. They held a lottery to determine who would get to be sideline coach, and I was fortunate enough to win one of the slots.
What did you do as a coach?
There were several aspects to the sideline coaching program. The day before the game I was assigned (the January game against George Washington), I attended a practice at the EagleBank Arena. Mike Quinn, director of basketball operations, who was the liaison between the sideline coaches and the team, greeted me and outlined what would be happening that day and also on game day and the general expectations of the sideline coaches.
According to Coach Paulsen, we were to be like the “corpse at an Irish wake”—quiet, appropriately dressed, and be sure not to commit any technical fouls during the game.
The team participated in some drills. During that time, I got to meet Coach Paulsen and many of the assistant coaches, all of whom were very welcoming. At the end of practice, we adjourned to the locker room where one of the assistants broke down film on the GW players.
On game day, I arrived about two hours before tip-off, dressed in a suit, tie, and sneakers, as instructed (it was a “Coaches vs. Cancer” week throughout NCAA basketball that week and that was the standard apparel for coaches). I must admit that, with as many games that I have attended, it was the first time I had worn a suit.
I was in the locker room while Coach Paulsen went over final details and quizzed each player. Afterwards, I followed the team and coaches to the court, fans cheering, the Green Machine blaring the Fight Song, and high-fiving the cub scouts that lined the way! Quite a rush!
Being on the bench next to the team, the game is much more intense than sitting dozen of rows up in my usual season ticket seats. It was a good crowd and an exciting game so standing behind the team trying to listen in on the coach’s instructions during the time outs was a real challenge. Once and a while when a player was coming out of the game, he would go down the bench slapping hands with everyone on the bench, so that was a new thing for me as well.
After the game I went back to the locker room with the team and heard Coach Paulsen’s encouragement to the players. Despite the narrow loss, the team had shown great grit and development since the beginning of the season, and Paulsen said it hurt that their efforts weren’t rewarded with a win.
There was a light buffet available in the locker room that was available to me as well. With that, my tenure as a sideline coach was ended.
What was the best part about the experience?
There was a point late in the game when Otis Livingston led a fast break and made a behind-the-back pass to DeAndre Abram for a spectacular dunk to tie the game. Online later a Vine was posted of that moment and if you look really closely, you can see an old man at the end of the bench leaping . . . well, sort of . . . with joy—that would be me!
The arena exploded with cheers and in the moment I thought this is somewhat like it must have felt at the end of our win against UCONN in 2006 that took us to the Final Four!
The next day the college newspaper had a general story on the sideline coaching program that did not involve my specific stint. The article was posted on masonhoops.com and someone posted “Well that explains the Bernie Sanders look-alike at the end of the bench of yesterday’s game.” Must have been the suit!
Did you play basketball as a youth?
As much as I loved the sport, I’m afraid I was strictly an intramural player, and not a particularly good one. I did try out for the JV team at the small high school I attended, but never made the cut. The coach took pity on me and asked if I would be interested in keeping the stats for the team, which I gladly accepted. In an indirect way, that opportunity had a significant influence on my career.