Before retiring from football, Texas A&I's Gil Steinke used to coach from a 20-yard-line seat rather than the customary sideline location. The unorthodox practice worked for Steinke, who preferred the overview from about 12 rows back. Last Sunday Bill Fitch perhaps added a new wrinkle to long-distance coaching, carrying out his responsibilities from a National Basketball Association locker room.
The Boston coach tried out the new strategy during the Celtics' nationally televised contest against the Philadelphia 76ers. Fitch's in-absentia coaching followed a second technical foul, which led to his automatic banishment to the locker room. Once there, he watched the game's last, tense minutes on TV. What he saw was more than he ever would have witnessed on the Celtic bench. For besides replaying important action on his video recorder, Fitch went right into Philly's huddle during time-outs, thanks to a prying network camera and mike.
So englightened, Fitch would dispatch the team's assistant trainer to the Boston bench with notes for K. C. Jones, the only remaining member of the Celtic coaching staff. Though it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of this messenger service, Boston won 114-107.
Fitch had voluntarily exited the court after his first technical, which came when he argued Boston was not playing an illegal zone defense. Flipping on his video recorder, he checked the call, then returned to the bench to inform referee Jack Madden that he was seeing things. Not exactly the height of diplomacy.
The whole incident seems to raise two questions: (1) Should a coach be allowed to watch replays before a game is over, for whatever reasons? and (2) Should TV crews be given the right to invade the privacy of NBA huddles, or might the league be better off if CBS put a little less of games on the air? Things I'd like to see:
* The elimination of three foul shots to make two in pro basketball. At the game's highest level, a bonus try amounts to basketball welfare.
* Helmets and face masks required in the National Hockey League. Besides offering players more protection from flying pucks, sticks, and elbows, they would discourage fighting. No ones going to throw a punch at a masked face, and it takes too long for a player to drop his gloves and discard his headgear.
* More stability in major league baseball. With free agency, it takes an entire season to find out where everybody's playing. The days when good players stayed put are gone.