I’ve been approached of late by several Gopher women’s basketball fans. I listen attentively but with a non-committal demeanor as they complain about the current head coach. And as much as they’d hoped I would agree with them, thus far I have avoided such traps.
Let me be perfectly clear — I don’t advocate for any coaches losing their jobs. It’s so easy for non-coaches, eh, fans to give ziggies from their seats. However, I challenge anyone to do their job with literally hundreds of pairs of eyes beaming down like Scotty on your every move. It’s oh so easy, even for those passionate Gopher fans, but most if not all of them haven’t walked in the coach’s shoes, no matter how expertly they think they are.
When I watch a team play, whether college or pro, I try to make my evaluation based on game-day performances by the assembled talent at hand and how that talent stacks up against the competition. Does the talent fit or is it mismatched? If your talent isn’t right, winning games is like Neil Sedaka — very hard to do, no matter who’s coaching.
Leslie Frazier didn’t deserve to be fired by the Minnesota Vikings because the talent was horrible. Tubby Smith shouldn’t have been fired either — the Gophers lacked leadership, consistent scoring and the ability to execute in crucial moments.
But after reading a local newspaper sports columnist in January that a NCAA tournament run “would not save” her job, this newspaper columnist on the other hand wants it to be clearly known:
Minnesota Coach Pam Borton should not be dismissed.
I am the only local beat writer who has covered the team throughout Borton’s dozen seasons at Minnesota. We had the first of many one-on-one’s on her first day on the job, and we have respectfully agreed and disagreed numerous times over the years. I have seen her teams at their best and sadly at their worst as well.
This year’s team, outside of junior guard Rachel Banham and freshman redshirt center Amanda Zahui B., aren’t that good. They have too many inconsistent parts to be seriously considered as Big Ten contenders.
“I really love Rachel Banham … but she needs some help,” notes Lea B. Olsen, who played for the Gophers in the 1980s.
This columnist has written this before — my consistent criticism of Borton is her inability to recruit and sign local Black players, many of which went on to other Big Ten schools and did well. This is something the
coach and I have oft-discussed over the years.
Sistahs bring something special — speed and a unique toughness to a team. Their often-misunderstood exterior attitude can be an asset as well. The list of Black women basketball players who have worn Gopher colors is miniscule compared to just about any other basketball program in the NCAA.
“I don’t know what the coaching staff do day in and day out to recruit,” continues Olsen, a Minneapolis Washburn graduate. “It’s not just the X’s and O’s — it’s really connecting with people and getting them in believing [in your program].”
Furthermore, I also evaluate a coach’s performance based on whether or not his or her players quit on them. That clearly took place during former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis’ final season. That didn’t occur under Smith or Frazier.
The Gophers haven’t quit on Borton either.
Should Minnesota be better? Can they be better? Yes and yes.
As I didn’t want to see Smith and Frazier, or even Rambis, get fired, I don’t want to see this happen to Borton either.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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