Sean Woods Has A Passion Management Problem

Check this video of Sean Woods nearly knocking out a referee with a fist pump/right hook: 

You’ll forgive him, right? The referee certainly did, reacting with more “calm down, psycho” exasperation than affronted anger. The video was from this past March’s NCAA Tournament play-in games, where Woods, then the coach of Mississippi Valley State, was in his own world, celebrating what, at the time, probably seemed like an eventual win over Western Kentucky (WKU came back from a 16-point deficit to win the game).

You’ve seen Doc Rivers do the same thing countless times. Wednesday night, Woods, now at Morehead State, got his Kevin Garnett on, though, going 7:30 on sophomore guard Devin Atkinson.

Woods wouldn’t comment, specifically, on the incident (“Don't want to get into that. Just coaching my guys,” he said in a text to ESPN), but in his coming mea culpa, it’s safe to assume the word “passion” will be used as a quasi-excuse. (UPDATE: Morehead State suspended Woods for one game "to contemplate the appropriate way to conduct himself with his players and on the sidelines.")

Back in May, at Woods introductory press conference as the new head coach of Morhead State, he and athletic director Brian Hutchinson kept mentioning energy and passion.

The word “passion” was used about a dozen times. Passion is a good thing. Passionate people are compelling people. Unbridled passion can turn malignant, though. Two passionate people can be in passionate love that often features them throwing household objects at each and yelling so hard that, amid the dishes and lamps, you can see projectile larynxes.

Woods is a passionate dude, no doubt. Not more than two weeks ago, he was in junior center Chad Posthumus’ grill doing his KG/Bobby Knight impression. Of course, many of us had no idea, because that incident didn’t occur in front of a considerable television audience against a high profile team like Kentucky. The Woods/Atkinson confrontation is not a rarity in college sports. Texas Tech football coach Tommy Tuberville smacked the headset off of one of his assistants and he’s yet to be suspended. More care and protection should be awarded to the college athletes, of course, but the ultimate point is that college coaches are forever overstepping normal societal bounds under the guise of passion, in the name of sport, covered in the cloak of competition. It gives them a god complex that makes them foul out more than their big men that keep going for up-fakes.

My thinking on this Woods/Atkinson situation? Woods heart was in the right place. That is a complete and utter assumption, but any evidence/reports of a Woods history of spazzing on the reg’ has yet to surface.

There will be people claiming that Woods has anger management issues, but he didn’t have that reputation as a player at Kentucky (shouout to Woods for that crazy floater/banker he hit, right before Christian Laetner hit The Shot in The Game). His coaching career hasn’t been littered with constant ejections, player defections or foul accusations. The man is passionate and passion can make you do stupid things.

Here’s an unpopular sentiment: both parties were culpable in the escalation of that incident. Woods overstepped his bounds, but, Atkinson didn’t necessarily react in the optimum manner to deescalate or avoid a confrontation. The thing is, Atkinson’s reaction was justified. Why? Well, Woods biggest mistake was allowing his passion to blind him from one very real fact: he doesn’t really know his players, yet. Atkinson’s reaction throughout that entire ordeal was one of, “You don’t know me like that, man.” Atkinson is sophomore, recruited by departed coach Donnie Tyndall. Woods was hired in May. He and Atkinson have known each other – truly, intimately – for less than six months.

Fathers, and men that play paternal roles, can take a good amount of liberties with their disciplinary interaction with young men. I always say that perhaps the chief reason I stayed out of juvie as a teen was because I had a healthy fear of the repercussions from my Pops. That healthy fear comes from respect, familiarity and an abiding sense that the father—or father figure – has earned the right to be disappointed, upset, angry and whatever that entails. You bristle less under their authority and reprimanding.

Atkinson and many of his teammates don’t know Woods – not really. Woods should keep this in mind as he tries to set up shop and make the Morehead State program his and institute his personal culture. That initial passion might be misconstrued as disrespect and escalate to confrontations by the Woods-uninitiated. Woods is recruiting high school players right now and by the time one of those players becomes a sophomore (like Atkinson), Woods could probably get away with a Bobby Knight shove or a KG “close face” flip-out; because he will have built up respect-equity. Two years from now, that player might just walk away without the “Stop talking to me like you know me” vibe. And then, what? Then the television announcers will be lauding Woods’ passion. That’s how these things work.

Woods needs to manage that passion, however. Indiana fired Bobby Knight. 

Back to top