Open Mouth, Insert Football: Coaches and their quirks

Ben Morrow
Sports Columnist


Many of the great head coaches in sports had certain trademarks or idiosyncrasies that helped distinguish them from the crowd. Bear Bryant had his checkered fedora. Bob Knight had his red sweater. Vince Lombardi had his hat, scarf and trench coat.

Beyond the world of fashion, some coaches have been defined by their tempers. Again, Bob Knight comes to mind.

Sadly, there are some coaches who spend an entire career piling up Hall of Fame numbers only to finish with a tarnished career because they fell asleep at the wheel.

See recently departed Joe Paterno.

Other coaches got caught up in a game and allowed one lousy moment to define what was an otherwise stellar coaching career.

Woody Hayes, tackling an opposing player. Lou Holtz, grabbing his own player’s facemask.

Did I mention Bob Knight?

There is another way coaches are often remembered. There are some who, despite their greatness, have some – shall we say – peculiarities that come with the X’s and O’s. Great strategists whose immortality is lessened – or in some cases cemented – by mere mortal oddities.

Here is a list of my five favorites:

5. Thad Matta

THE Ohio State men’s basketball coach’s foible falls under the “one lousy moment” clause; but his sin, which was so egregiously committed against all things sanitary, could not in good conscience be ignored.

During a game against Wisconsin in 2007, THE coach was caught on camera picking his gum off the floor and putting it back into his mouth. The video, which went viral soon after the game, shows an excited Matta spitting his gum onto the court while shouting instructions to his team and quickly restoring the chew to its rightful place. THE coach explained after the game that he adheres to the three-second rule, so no harm was done.

THE Ohio State University quickly rallied around their coach, even as fans and bloggers had a field day with the video. THE Ohio State Biology Department later released a statement confirming that it does indeed take longer than three seconds for floor wax, body sweat and tennis shoe dirt to contaminate a piece of ABC chewing gum. Now we know.


4. Steve Prohm

Although I hesitate to write anything to embarrass the most popular man on Murray State’s campus not named Canaan or Poole (and deservedly so), I must point out the obvious.

Anyone who watched the ESPNU coverage of Murray State’s game against SIU-Edwardsville game last Saturday noticed that Prohm went through more than his fair share of Chap Stick during the game.

In fact, when he wasn’t busy applying, he seemed to be frantically attempting to lick every ounce of the recently touched-up lip balm off of his face.

I’ll be honest. The constant routine of “lick, apply, repeat” fell somewhere among the distracting, the hilarious and the disturbing, especially since I’m quite sure he wasn’t even aware he was doing it. But if Coach wants to be on TV, he’d better get used to thinking about the image he puts forward.

Right now that image is a new coach with a tremendous upside. Before long it could be as a great coach with a petroleum-based trademark.

As it is, I’m quite sure Prohm went through at least four tubes on Saturday. That doesn’t diminish his role as a great coach, however. If the Racers keep this run going, maybe he can score an endorsement from Chap Stick as a spokesman.

Maybe Coach knows what he’s doing after all.


3. John Thompson

The legendary coach of Georgetown basketball from 1972-1999, Thompson was primarily known for two things: producing NBA-caliber post players and donning a white cotton towel on his shoulder during games.

Thompson, who would sweat profusely through his suits while coaching, never paced the sidelines without his trademark towel.


2. Jerry Tarkanian

Speaking of towels. Wow.

Tarkanian, head coach of UNLV from 1973-1992, coached his Runnin’ Rebs to more than 500 wins and an NCAA championship with future NBA stars like Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.

He also rarely went a game without a towel to chew on.

Tark took John Thompson’s trademark to a whole new level. Instead of using the towel for its typical purpose, he would fold it neatly into a thick bundle and use it as his chew toy during games.


1. Les Miles

The LSU football coach will go down as an elite leader with probably more national titles under his belt than the two he already holds. His record, however, should note more than his play calling on the sidelines. It should also reflect his culinary preferences on the sidelines.

To be more specific, Les eats the sidelines.

Miles had been spotted not once, not twice, but many times kneeling down and eating blades of grass while calling plays. The act has become somewhat of a ritual that Miles himself has laughed at on ESPN GameDay commercials.

This beats sucking on towels and eating Chap Stick any day. Some of these things are subconscious by nature. But grazing during the game?

That’s tops in my book.

Contact Morrow.