September 25, 2023

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What’s Next?

Civic-minded individuals in several United States cities and a number of the world’s major metropolitan areas consider a fine world-class orchestra a hallmark of excellence and a demonstration of their appreciations of the arts.

Millions of dollars are spent to hire skilled violinists, experienced greats in the brass section, percussionists, drummers and wind instruments.

But without a conductor/director, the collection of musicians seldom produces beautiful music.  There are average conductors and truly outstanding virtuosos, and the quality of the music is quite different, depending on who has the baton.

Directors of a major symphony or orchestra scheduled to play Boston Symphony Hall, Lincoln Center or the London Royal Festival Hall would not want to turn over the conducting to a stand-in conductor.

The same analogy could be used relative to any sports team entering a crucial, season-ending tournament.

A Division 1 basketball team is composed of highly recruited, talented players, some tall, some quick, some great shooters, others excellent in their defensive skills, some who can assume the role of a court leader and great rebounders.  But as in an orchestra, a team of outstanding athletes, basketball players, will not be able to achieve excellence, produce a winning effort, a championship, without a truly gifted coach.

This year’s KU basketball team won the regular season conference championship, winning many tight games.  Coach Bill Self is recognized as one of the country’s best, if not the best and it appeared the Jayhawks were headed for another winning, post-league championship in Kansas City, then move on to “March Madness” where 64 teams would be vying for the championship.

KU fans and players were enthusiastic, but there was one thing missing.  Coach Self admitted himself to the Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City for an undisclosed medical issue.

Self did not coach the team for the post-season tournament, and KU lost the championship game to Texas.  Assistant Coach Norm Roberts handled the team.  Hope was high Self would be able to return to coach the team in the NCAA tournament, but, again, he was not able to coach the team he had recruited and guided all season to the league title.

Again, Assistant Coach Roberts moved into the leadership position.  KU won the first game against one of the four lowest-seeded teams in the tournament, but lost the next game and was eliminated from the tournament after winning the National Title the year earlier.

Without their strong coach, one of the nation’s best, the collection of players could not perform up to their potential.

Prior to the tip-off of the tournament, a group of former great college and professional players said the most important factor in determining which team was most likely to win the championship would be the team that had a coach who could adapt to the changes which take place in most every game.  A coach who had earned the confidence and trust of his players and who had demonstrated exceptional skills in leading and directing his players.

This proved to be the case with KU’s team in the post-season league contest and the NCAA National Championship tournament.

Norm Roberts is a fine individual with a good record as an assistant coach.  But his record as a head coach cannot measure up to what Bill Self has achieved.  Few do.

Now, the big question is whether Self will return to coach the Jayhawks next year or whether he’ll say it’s time to step aside, to not gamble with his health and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without the tremendous pressures of coaching at one of the nation’s best basketball programs.

“All Star” high school players who have indicated they intend to enroll at KU may now have serious questions if they might want to attend another school due to the questionable coaching situation at KU.

Self’s future plans should be of high interest and concern to many:  current and possibly future players, KU administrators, generous financial contributors, KU alumni, coaches of other teams in the Big 12 Conference and their recruiting efforts, NCAA officials who have been dangling possible severe penalties against Self and the KU basketball program and others.

Whatever happens, Self has been a highly successful coach who has brought much happiness, pride and national recognition to KU and Lawrence.  It is hoped he will be able to return to coaching in Allen Field House and enjoy many years of good health.  But if not, it’s imperative the next coach has the ability, talent, commitment and drive for excellence that has been the hallmark of all past KU coaches:  Dr. James Naismith, Dr. Forest (Phog) Allen, William O. Hamilton, Dick Harp, Ted Owens, Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and Bill Self.  They were all coaches who were able to recruit and put together the highest number of victories as any major college/team in the United States.

And they all enjoyed living in Lawrence.