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Gregg Marshall erupts: this tirade has layers

Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

Wednesday night, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall lost his cool during an exhibition game in Canada. The successful coach got upset with officials, running onto the court to scream at every walking body on the hardwood. He has since been suspended one exhibition game.

This has become a relatively big story. Thanks to football season not yet beginning, and MLB’s dog days of August being in full swing, people needed something polarizing to talk about. A man in a position of authority going bonkers did the trick.

A lot of context has been lost during this discussion, as you might expect from any “people going bonkers” story in the middle of a long, hot summer. Most — not all — people weighing in have only seen the video. They have not heard “why” Marshall lost his cool in the first place.

First things first, though: No. It is not ideal for a college coach to run roughshod during a game. How Marshall acted, especially as the main person representing his university in an international setting, isn’t something he should regularly practice. Moreover, his actions — no matter the reason — are something he would never accept from one of his players. If one of them had, the college basketball community’s fans would turn on that player and degrade him as though he was the reason for all the wrongs in the world. Double-standard-type stuff.

Anyway, Marshall did have a relatively good reason for losing his marbles. Apparently, the referees in the game were calling the game loosely, which led to a Wichita State player being concussed. Marshall had expressed his frustration with the lack of foul calls, and he reached his own tipping point.

“There were players with stitches, concussions, not keeping score accurately, a bloodbath, then touch fouls on us,” Marshall told ESPN’s Andy Katz. “I’m not happy nor proud of the reaction, but when is enough enough? I want my players to know I’ve got their back. Once ejected, I wanted the ref to know exactly my impression of his work.”

Yes, it is worth noting that he wasn’t exclusively upset that his kids were getting fouled hard. He also happened to be upset that his team was getting called for touch fouls. For the sake of consistency, it does hurt the idea that he unleashed his fury only to protect his kids.

Still, if he truly felt his kids — or, heck, the other team’s kids — were in some form of danger thanks to the officials, his shenanigans make all the sense in the world… at least in terms of how we discuss college coaches as whole persons, not merely highly-paid mercenaries who try to win games.

While I rarely buy into the idea that college coaches are “leaders of men” and “father figures to kids” or any other romanticized narratives, part of a coach’s job is to protect the players he brought into the fold. If a torrent of hellfire was the only way (he saw or perceived) to bring a recurring refereeing issue to daylight, so be it.

Sincerely: If he saw danger, what else could he have realistically done?

There’s also the idea of Gregg “Evil Genius” Marshall being tossed around. The idea, unpacked, is that despite evidence showing he had solid reason to go banana pants, he planned this tirade all along to build chemistry with his team. For the sake of pretending he is that forward thinking — and evil — in his approach, he should be applauded for doing so now, given the minor infractions that awaited.

Simply put: If all it cost him was a one-game exhibition suspension to have his entire team bond in a singular moment, that’s a win for all involved. Think about it logically, according to the “evil plan theory” some have on this situation: He weighed the reward of team bonding over the risk of an exhibition game suspension, and chose the right path.

Gregg Marshall made what certainly seems to be a highly logical cost-benefit analysis.

Gregg Marshall made what certainly seems to be a highly logical cost-benefit analysis.

Marshall has since accepted the suspension. In a statement released by the school, however, he did not do so in the most contrite way.

“I fully accept the decision of the athletic department and the University. As a program we expect to represent Wichita State University in a manner in which we can all be proud of, on and off the court. Last night, in my attempt to stand up for, and protect, my team I fell short of those expectations. I will gladly sit out tonight’s game in hopes that a lesson can be learned that it’s not just about doing the right thing, but doing it the right way.”

That’s a man who will take the measly one-game suspension, but still believes he did the right thing. Sure, he can later discuss trying to do the right thing the right way, but he doesn’t actually believe that… at least not in this instance.

Regardless of the size of the story, this isn’t about a coach completely overstepping his bounds. Yes, Marshall did do that, but there’s more to it than that. There are shades of gray. There’s the nuance of his players getting pummeled into the ground and a person having to do something about it. While most of us agree a grown man becoming an extra in 28 Days Later isn’t the answer, what is?

If we are going to continue to pretend college basketball coaches are all these other things — leaders of men, ambassadors of the sport, father figures, etc. — and not simply guys paid to win games, Gregg Marshall did his job. More precisely, he did his job the way we subtly hint coaches always should. He just happened to take care of one of his ancillary tasks, which was to protect his own, in a form that created a viral video.

Substance, or style? Will we focus on the larger point of a coach’s actions in a complicated context, or will we simply look at a piece of video footage and think the worst about a person?

The better path, the better answer, has been made clear, but it’s up to the wider college basketball community to arrive at that point in a sincere and intellectually honest manner.

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