Stallings’ words are hollow

Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings preaches sportsmanship, but fails to back up his words

I hate this stuff, but the taunting clap didn’t bother me that much.

The profanity from the coach didn’t bother me.

Even the use of the word “kill” didn’t bother me that much, relatively speaking.

The hypocrisy? That bugged the hell out of me.

Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings put himself in the spotlight on Thursday night, going nuclear on the court when a Tennessee assistant coach informed him that one of Stallings’ players, Wade Baldwin, had trash-talked Vol Armani Moore in the closing seconds of Vandy’s 73-65 win in Knoxville.

Enraged by his own player’s behavior, which he had not seen himself, Stallings bolted like an ICBM from the handshake line to seek Baldwin out and engaged in a very public dressing-down.

OK, there isn’t a coach on the planet who doesn’t hate taunting.

To a large extent, that’s because they’re genuinely not in favor of lousy sportsmanship, but there is a degree of selfishness, too, because that stupid stuff can come back to haunt you.

Cut to the sideline shot of any NFL coach “discussing” that 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty his guy just got. The only part of that phrase the coach sees is “15-yard penalty.”

Baldwin’s offense started as some simple celebration, clapping as the final buzzer sounded, but turning toward Moore as he walked by to clap, kind of, sort of, in his face.

OK, that’s just dumb, unnecessary and childish.

But not the end of the world.

Once informed by Mr. Tattletale in the Tennessee side of the handshake line, Stallings pulled Baldwin out of the line and directed him toward Moore to apologize, all the while yelling at him.

It started with “You don’t do that”, followed by “I’ll [expletive] kill you” and finished with “I told you a hundred times” as Baldwin followed his coach toward the tunnel. Sprinkle a few bleeped-out f-bombs in there, and you get the picture.

It was an ugly scene, captured for posterity by a camera that followed Stallings and Baldwin the whole way.

The part I hated came later, though, during Stallings’ postgame presser. Still riled up, he played the self-righteousness card, saying, “Wade’s got some things to learn, some growing up to do if he’s going to play in this program.

“We believe in sportsmanship. That’s not part of who we are and who we’re going to be. He better understand that. That’s his one [chance]. It better never happen again.”

If you’ve ever been to a college basketball game, the odds are astronomical that you’ll hear certain words not meant for the confessional booth. The vast majority of these words are coming out of a coach’s mouth.

In fact, I covered Vanderbilt’s NCAA tournament loss to Siena in 2008 and would be willing to wager that more profanity came out of Fran McCaffery’s mouth than Stallings’, even though McCaffery’s team won. It’s a thread in the fabric of sports.

And the “I’ll kill you” may sound awful out of context, but the first time I saw Thursday’s clip, I may have winced a bit because of the obvious inappropriateness of it, but at no point did I believe that Wade Baldwin’s life would be in jeopardy at the hands of his coach.

“Kill”, in this case, had about as much to do with actual murder as it did when I uttered that verb to my last plate of chicken wings.

It was the part where Stallings spoke out of the other corner of his mouth that rankled.

Those were pretty empty words about sportsmanship and growing up, right after he had made a public spectacle of himself on TV.

Baldwin took it in stride, posting on Twitter that “Coach Stallings is the best coach in America. I felt no offense to anything. We are both fiery people and that’s why I chose Vandy.” That’s certainly consistent with most players, who view verbal abuse from the coach as anywhere from a nuisance to an effective motivational tactic.

Stallings (who won’t be suspended, nor should he be) reiterated his points about sportsmanship in a written statement later, in which he also apologized for his inappropriate remarks toward Baldwin.

It’s tougher to believe what these coaches are selling, though, when their own actions don’t back it up.

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