March Madness

March 2019 was filled with Madness.

On March 11, I received an email indicating the University of Rhode Island’s athletic director wanted to meet with me the following morning in his office. 

We already had a meeting set on the calendar. We were scheduled to meet after the URI Men’s A-10 Conference Tournament, which was the following weekend. The purpose was to review the past season and discuss what was expected the following season – which would be the last year on my contract. 

Red Flag.

After the last game of our season, I was eager to meet and discuss the issues I had all year and how it effected our on court performance.  I wanted to share my thoughts on how I planned on continuing to improve the culture of the team.  This focus came a year after a sports psychologist was assigned to my team to evaluate our culture and provide feedback to the coaches and the players on how we can all improve.  Everything she recommended was adhered to and adopted.  However, we still experienced issues I felt were out of my control as a head coach.  I wanted the opportunity to explain this to him. 

I would not have that chance.

I walked over to his office for the earlier than anticipated meeting and felt as if I was walking to my impending doom.  A heavy feeling was in the air and the oxygen disappeared completely as I reached his office. I could barely breathe.  I was 10 minutes early.  I couldn’t stall any longer.  I entered his office and sat down at 11 a.m.  The meeting lasted all of 5 minutes. 

The Athletic Director called me into his office and told me that he had decided to terminate my position as head coach but would honor the last year of my contract.

I was shocked. The news hit me like a bombshell.  For the first time in my entire 20 plus year coaching career, I experienced something I had never endured before. 

 I was FIRED.

My initial concern was not about me or my career. The first thought was how would this impact my boys, especially Terance. A senior captain and starter at Florida State, Terance and the Seminoles were about to enter the ACC Tournament.  I knew that my firing would be the new narrative for the reporters and TV commentators who were covering his upcoming games. I feared this distraction may affect Terance’s performance.  After the shock, I asked the URI AD if the announcement of my firing could wait until after the weekend as to not be a distraction to Terance, who was entering the ACC tournament. His response was a hard and fast NO. I rose from my seat, thanked him for the opportunity and left his office. I looked at my watch.  It was 11:05.

The walk back to my office felt like an eternity. I was not concerned that I was let go with another year on my contract, or that after 22 years I was no longer a basketball coach, or that I wasn’t going to represent the University I had grown to love over the past 5 years. When I entered URI I was inheriting what was considered one of the worst programs in the country. Rebuilding takes time and energy. I had recruited one of the best incoming classes and the those players were eager to play for me the following season.  We still had work to do. I would no longer have that opportunity. That wasn’t my big concern as I headed to my office to clean out my personal belongings. The only thing on my mind was protecting my son.  How would my unexpected news affect his play? When the TV cameras found me in the stands what would the commentators say when referring to Terance’s mother, a long-time Division I coach who was in attendance to support her son? I cried… not because I no longer had a job, but because for the first time I felt I could not protect my son.  I called him right away and told him the news. 

Despite the recent news,  my son turned in a strong performance at the ACC Tournament and emphasized he was always proud of his mother.  The reporters asked questions and the commentators mentioned I was fired from URI, but the negativity was overshadowed by their focus on Terance and how he was playing exceptionally well.  He led his team and even hit the shot to send his team to the finals of the ACC Tournament. Terance had a fire in his eyes and a vendetta in his heart.  His performance that weekend caught the eye of every NBA scout in attendance.  He was even named to the All-Tournament Team, the result of his outstanding performance throughout the ACC Tournament.

The disappointment I had suffered was erased by Terance’s performance and support . For years I had his back and that weekend he certainly had mine. The focus of our family’s madness in March was directed to Terance Mann, one of the best players to ever wear a Florida State University uniform.  Terance’s performance led his team to the NCAA’s  Sweet 16 and he continued to impress the NBA Scouts with his resilience.  Since I was no longer working I was able to be at every game – a first for me. His mom, the COACH,  was at every game cheering him on and having his back.  My firing was a far distant memory as I sat there watching my son play hard in honor of his mother’s perseverance.  

I may one day coach again and with a renewed appreciation for the opportunity, but also a renewed appreciation of the balance of being a Mom and a Coach.