National Columnist

Hands off Mike Montgomery


Cal basketball coach Mike Montgomery shoved Allen Crabbe. The world saw it. You did. I did.

And since that shove Sunday, the world has crashed down on Montgomery. His boss at Cal rebuked him. So did the Pac-12. A state senator wants him suspended. A former Cal player raised a racial angle.

All of which has me wondering:

Did these people not see what I saw?

I didn't see a bully. I didn't see a monster. I didn't see Woody Hayes slugging or Bob Knight choking or even Morehead State coach Sean Woods shoving and then verbally destroying a player.

I saw motivation. Pure, unbridled, innocent motivation. I saw a coach who was fired up, trying to fire up the best player on his team.

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Don't tell me what I missed, because I didn't miss anything. I saw it. Studied it. Read all about it, including the fact that Allen Crabbe's mother said, "I'm probably having a hard time putting it behind me," and that his father said, "You can't put your hands on a kid. It's 2013." His parents are not happy, and that matters. This is their kid, not mine. Who am I to tell them how to think?

I'm just telling you, here and now, what I think. And I think people are taking some loaded phrases -- "coach" and "put hands on" and "player" -- and running with them straight to the Outrage Store, without considering the context or motive of that "coach" who "put hands on" that "player."

Bullies are the worst. Agreed. One of my two teenage sons was bullied a few years ago, and it takes everything in me, when I see one of the bullies -- we work out at the same gym -- not to walk up to him and his father and berate the both of them. So what I can say is, if Allen Crabbe III were my son, I'd probably see this differently. Maybe I'd see it the same way Cheryl Price and Allen Crabbe Jr. saw it. A parent isn't always right, but a parent's protective instincts are not to be questioned. Not here. Not by me.

But this is me questioning California state Sen. Leland Yee, who called for a suspension for Montgomery. And Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, who described Montgomery's behavior as "unacceptable." And the Pac-12 for saying Montgomery didn't meet the league's behavioral standard. And absolutely this is me questioning former Cal player Ronnie West for unfairly and dangerously bringing race into this equation when he told the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami: "We are troubled by Coach Montgomery's actions and ... "hope to spark important dialogue about broader issues concerning African-American males."

Did none of you see what I saw?

A college basketball game isn't biology or Western European literature. They're not dissecting a frog or discussing Flaubert. They're trying to compete with everything they've got, every ounce of energy and determination they can muster, to beat another team of high-level coaches and athletes trying to do the same thing.

Mike Montgomery wanted to win that game against Southern California, and he knew his players wanted to win that game. He knew Allen Crabbe, his best player, had more to give and he tried to make him give it. And it worked, though I'd be saying this same thing -- hope I would, anyway -- even if Crabbe hadn't scored 10 points in the final 4½ minutes to rally Cal from a 15-point deficit to victory.

Now then, there's a line a coach can't cross and Montgomery got up close to that line. He was breathing on that line, and that line could tell by the smell of his breath that Montgomery was chewing Dentyne.

Maybe that's your problem, that Montgomery came too close to the line, and you're OK that his school and his conference and even his state senator let him know that another inch would have been too far. That's one way of looking at it, but it wouldn't be accurate. Because if you'll notice in the comments from his AD and the Pac-12 and even Sen. Yee, nobody said anything like, "What he did was OK, but not another inch." No, what everyone said was, "Mike Montgomery went too far."

Allen Crabbe clearly thought he went too far, by the way. Crabbe eventually poured in those points and sparked that comeback victory, but his first reaction to Montgomery's shove was shock, anguish. He left the court and angrily paced a nearby tunnel before returning to the bench. Allen Crabbe was not the slightest bit OK that his coach shoved him in the chest.

That matters, much like it matters that Crabbe's parents were hurt by it, but it doesn't change what I think I saw. Nor does it sway me that Montgomery -- after initially acting proud of his shove, saying after the game, "Worked, didn't it?" -- has since taken a tone of contrition. Two days later Montgomery said, "It's something I deeply regret. It's not going to happen again."

You ask me, Montgomery was saying what he had to say. He was being political, not honest. Because he knew he wasn't bullying Allen Crabbe when he pushed him in the chest. He was coaching Allen Crabbe.

Worked, didn't it?

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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