Anthony Grant may not be the SEC’s Coach of the Year in 2011-12, but he’s got this writer’s vote for Man of the Year. Why? Because he could be scuttling this season for the greater good of building a disciplined program at Alabama.
Every sports fan knows that the more talent a player has, the more second- and third-chances he will get following poor off-court behavior. Just as true: Coaches needing wins are averse to disciplining players for key games.
We’ve all seen it. The third-string linebacker gets the boot while the starting quarterback gets a one-half suspension. Key players are disciplined not for a Week Five matchup with LSU, but for a Week Six contest against Appalachian State.
That’s not the case with Grant. At least it doesn’t appear to be.
After Alabama dropped a fourth game in a row back on January 25th, Grant said his team was “playing an entitled brand of basketball, and it’s very frustrating as a coach.” His team responded with two consecutive wins.
Then last week, Grant suspended forward Tony Mitchell for “conduct detrimental to the team.” His Tide won the next night at Auburn. But then came the real bombshell — facing LSU on Saturday, Grant suspended JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele for violations of team rules. The trio was sent home from Baton Rouge before the game… which resulted in an Alabama loss.
These aren’t scrubs. These are key figures. Benched in the middle of an NCAA Tournament push. Mitchell, Green, Releford and Steele account for 45.4 points and 20.4 rebounds per game.
For the moment — and it may be to the chagrin of Tide fans who expected a Top 20 team and a deep NCAA tourney run this year — it appears that Grant is willing to sacrifice the present for the future. That’s not an easy call to make. But if he had allowed important veterans to break rules and get away with it because of their value to the team, his younger players would have seen it. Instead, he’s sent a message that he hopes will resonate as he continues to build his program.
Question is: When will he allow the suspended quartet to return? If he waits too long, the Tide could play itself right out of March Madness. That might eventually land Grant on a warming seat in Tuscaloosa and that could ultimately impact just how long he actually gets to build his program.
The simple way out would have been for Grant to allow all four players to keep hitting the court, regardless of their actions. It’s been done before at many, many programs. Grant instead chose the more controversial approach. It may work, it may not.
But we applaud him for showing some gumption and making the less popular decision.