Feb 17, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears head coach Mike Montgomery on the sidelines late in the game against the USC Trojans at Haas Pavilion. California won 76-68. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Cal Basketball: Mike Montgomery’s Shove of Allen Crabbe Is Overblown


A  sideline tiff — light on significance but not on exposure — was the lasting image of the weekend, even if it was much ado about nothing.

In an effort to light a fire under his underperforming star, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery gave Allen Crabbe the proverbial kick in the rear by way of a shove to the chest. It was a quick, explosive nudge, more accurately, no different than the kind teammates routinely exchange to fire up one another. Best of all, the gesture worked, sparking a 44-24 Golden Bears run to turn a daunting 12-point deficit into an eight-point, tournament-hope-sparing win.

I’m seeing lots of sizzle here, but not much steak, certainly not the full-course meal the blogosphere is serving up. Take a look at the entree yourself.

Out of line, perhaps. Regrettable, of course. Worthy of reproach from all corners of the sports interwebs? In the name of hypocrisy, heck no.

“I have great passion for this game and tonight, I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment,” Montgomery said in a statement released after the game. “While my intent was to motivate our student-athletes, my behavior was inappropriate and I apologize for my actions.”

No need to apologize, coach. You’re as much a victim here as you are a wrongdoer.

Players respond to different modes of motivation. Some need tough-love, others a big hug. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to inspiring kids, loath as the couch coach from home is to admit it.

By all accounts, Crabbe, a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate and one of the fiercest competitors in the league, is the fiery type who responds well to inflammatory challenges. He certainly didn’t appear offended after the game.

“An emotional game was going on at the time and I guess he was just trying to motivate me,” Crabbe said of the incident, according to The Associated Press. “But everything’s fine. It’s under the bridge. He’s my coach, no hard feelings. We’re just going to keep moving on.”

That last line should go for fans, critics and morality referees too. For a motivational tactic common to the game, Montgomery’s alleged evildoing was but a humdrum moment, overblown only because it was committed by a guy in a suit, not a uniform.

Please, for the sanctity of competitive sports, put away the kid gloves. Leave the wussification for the youth rec leagues, where everyone gets a trophy. Short of a Sean Woods power trip or Bob Knight prop demonstration, confrontational coaching, while unflattering and often ineffectual, is in-bounds. These are young men playing a physical game.

The Golden Bears are in the thick of the Pac-12 race, and it isn’t because their coach is treating them like cubs.

 

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