This week's Sports Illustrated includes a feature on Steve Lavin, which is great exposure for the program and the coach, as the Red Storm try to crack the top half of the Big East and the top-25 with the platoon of seniors.
With great exposure, come big questions. And in Steve Lavin's case, the question is about that sticky narrative following him - the idea, held to be certain by certain people, he's a bad coach. The question is alive and well, and those questions will be echoed closer to that scheduled contest in Pauley Pavilion against UCLA. Author George Dohrmann's digs into the Lavin prose, sounding almost annoyed at the way the coach weaves through language, searching for a conclusive answer.
Can he coach?
Can this question really be answered? And does it matter?
Somewhere early in his career, Steve Lavin received a scarlet letter as an inept coach, despite what looked like decent success. He was young when he was handed the wheel of the Bruins program, and it showed at times. His teams were inconsistent despite their NBA-level talent. When they were on, it looked like a freelance offense. They lost to less renowned programs and were a wilder card than they might have liked in the Pac-10 race.
Once a fanbase believes a coach isn't a good coach, they criticize with extra vehemence. Nothing the coach can do is right until the "bum" is gone. The Sports Illustrated piece visits with Coach Lavin in Los Angeles, as he goes to dinner with assistant coach (and former UCLA player) Rico Hines and former star player Baron Davis. Dohrmann recounts the path Lavin has taken to the St. John's job, the years in broadcasting, touching often on the coaches' gift for gab/ metaphor.
And then, that pervasive question. Can he coach?
Probably. Possibly. We may never know; coaching is always more than the ability of one head man to win games. Coaching is the ability to build a staff. The ability to recruit the right players, not just the ones that sound exciting on recruiting websites. The ability to manage personalities. The ability to train and educate.
All of these aspects of leadership have been on display, and the early returns have been positive. But half of a season isn't conclusive; these questions will dog Lavin for his whole career. Some will say that he's nothing without his current assistants. Some will point out some unexpected loss and say "see, a terrible coach!" And if he never gets that right mix of players, maybe some circles will always view him as a terrible coach, unworthy of a spot in UCLA - or college basketball - history.
That's the way it is. We know why those questions are asked; I touched on Lavin's negatives and took a long look at his UCLA teams, and came out realizing that there are certainly flaws, but the man did something right if his "failures" repeatedly get him wins in the NCAA Tournament. If Lavin can "fail" the way he did at UCLA while he coaches games in Carnesecca and Madison Square Garden... somehow, I think Red Storm fans will defend his coaching.