By the time I talked with UAB's Jerod Haase, it was Wednesday afternoon and three days since his Blazers had upset North Carolina at Bartow Arena to give this second-year head coach the biggest win of his career and one of the most notable in school history. He'd had plenty of time to digest it, think about it and reflect on it. So I asked for his thoughts.
"I fully appreciate how big the win was for our program and the fan base," Haase told me by phone. "But, having said that, I don't know, even to this point today, if I've enjoyed the win at all. Most times when you win a game, you enjoy it. But in terms of enjoying this win, I really haven't. Maybe one day I'll enjoy it. But, to this point, I just haven't. It's awkward."
Young coaches get big wins all the time. Veteran coaches suffer disappointing losses on the regular. So, in that regard, there is nothing unique or notable about what happened this weekend in Birmingham. A second-year coach at a Conference USA program recorded the most notable victory of his career. A Hall of Fame coach at an ACC program suffered a loss that knocked his historically powerful program straight out of the Associated Press Top 25.
But what made this different was the characters involved.
The second-year coach was Jerod Haase.
The veteran coach was Roy Williams.
Here are the important details: Haase is a 39-year-old who played for Williams at Kansas, then served as his assistant for 13 seasons at KU and UNC. That makes Williams his mentor. The two have been close since Haase was in college, and they've worked hand-in-hand for the majority of years since. They're tight, which is why Williams agreed to take UNC to Bartow Arena in the first place, because he knew it would generate interest in, and be great for, the program Haase is trying to build and establish.
Then the game tipped.
Then UAB grabbed 52 rebounds and won 63-59.
Then the UAB players celebrated, and the UAB fans went nuts. But Haase? Well, he couldn't bring himself to be as happy as everyone around him, mostly because his greatest moment had just come at the expense of his greatest influence.
Can you stop for a second and imagine how difficult that must be?
The Harbaugh brothers know that feeling, I guess.
The Manning brothers do as well.
But most of us are never placed in a position where the only way for us to experience a professional high is by making somebody we care deeply about -- and, in Haase's case, somebody who quite literally helped him get his job -- experience a professional low. While Haase spent Sunday night and Monday morning accepting pats on the back and compliments, Williams returned to Chapel Hill to a firestorm of questions about the state of his program because, remember, that was UNC's second bad loss of the season. And nobody knows how UNC fans deal with such things better than Haase. So, yeah, he was struggling on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. He couldn't feel too good for himself because he knew that his nice moment had put his mentor in a tough spot.
"It's hard," Haase said. "Whenever our next win is -- hopefully we'll get another win at some point in my career -- I'll be more excited about that win than I was about beating Carolina, solely because of my relationship with Coach."
Which brings me to late Wednesday night.
Like most serious college basketball fans, Haase was sitting at home watching North Carolina's improbable victory at top-ranked Michigan State, and I couldn't help but think of Haase when the game went final. Just like that, Williams had a victory that would quiet any critics, at least temporarily, and the smile was certain to return to his face. Way I figured, that development 700 miles away would free Haase to feel a little better about his big moment from three days earlier. So I texted him that thought exactly.
"I was thinking the same thing," replied Haase, who must've felt better about UNC's win over Michigan State than he did UAB's win over UNC. I realize, on some level, that's a weird sentence. But it's true for a man who just wanted that "awkward" feeling to go away.