The motivation aspect of being a head coach has to be one of the more intricate and also incredibly silly aspects of trying to get young people to perform incredible athletic feats on a regular basis. Athletes in general don't seem to have an on/off switch; you have to find the right combination of anger and pride and passion that allows someone to go above and beyond what they might normally do if they're fat and happy and full of burgers.
It's a difficult balance, and because everyone has something different that gets them ready to hit a critical second half three with a minute left or run back a punt for a touchdown or deke five dudes out of their pads to score the game winning goal. Still, there are some constants. Anger is good, and righteous indignation combined with anger is even better.
So when Chris Holtmann revealed that he pulled out the ol' "us against the united haters of the world" card to help get his guys going, not only was I about as Not Shocked as anyone ever could be, I was also extremely supportive of this ancient and also very good tactic. From Chip Patterson at CBSSports.com:
"I just want to thank all the fine, smart, clever journalists that didn't pick us," Holtmann said during his postgame interview, before turning his attention to the camera and adding, "and trust me, our guys were aware of that, so I appreciate that."
In addition to the fine, smart and clever journalists who incorrectly picked South Dakota State was 19.9 percent of CBS Sports Bracket Game participants, all now lacking valuable points after siding against Ohio State.
And who were those journalists, these disgusting primordial slime-creatures who dared pick up pen and paper and impugn the name of the Ohio State men's basketball team? Well: three CBSSports.com writers picked the Jackrabbits to pull off the upset. Four SI.com guys did too, and picked Ohio State as the 4th most likely team to suffer an upset at the hands of a Cinderella in a separate piece they ran. Two USA Today writers picked against Ohio State, et cetera, and so on, forever and ever, amen.
Not everyone was a skeptic. Ken Pomeroy gave the Buckeyes a roughly 75% chance to advance out of the first round. 538.com had them around 77%, and Vegas gave them eight points. Plus all those other experts from the sites I mentioned that picked Ohio State (the majority of them).
Point is, Holtmann created a bit of a fiction to help motivate his team, because while the Ohio State/South Dakota State matchup was a sexy 12-5 upset pick, that honestly says more about our collective propensity to try and solve the 12-5 riddle for 2018 than any honest-to-goodness disenchantment with the Buckeyes. The Ohio State men's basketball coach went looking for a little bit of motivation for his team, and find some, decided to blow it up to epic-ish proportions.
But who cares?! It worked! And Holtmann's efforts are simply a part of a fine heritage of head coaches exaggerating disparagement to help get their team pumped for games. I know this, because the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team has admitted to as much way back when he was still the head coach at Florida and was preparing to face Ohio State in the national championship:
Only adding to the Gators' rage was literally 10 feet worth of bulletin board material that was prominently placed in the Florida team hotel—or as Meyer later admitted, "10 feet of nonsense."
"Half of it was real and half of it was made up. And the half that was made up, I signed 'Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN,'" Meyer said in the 2009 book, Urban's Way. "I wanted it where they were so disgusted with the team they were playing."
This was also cool and good. Any effort that allows Ohio State to win games in any sport, as long as it is within the confines of the law, NCAA bylaws, and general human decency, is a good effort. If Chris Holtmann wants to exaggerate just a tad while blasting an all-time great rap song, then more power to him. All he's doing is carrying on a fine legacy passed down to him by one of the greatest football coaches of all time, who also happens to be a colleague of his. Go kick Gonzaga's ass.
Well, okay. I'll be honest. It's a little funny that this...
never has a coach been so smug about beating a 12 seed pic.twitter.com/pEGTqloiEr— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) March 15, 2018
...is coming from the same guy who a month ago said "No way I could I have expected this," and "It's unrealistic to expect this kind of start in league play," and "We were concerned about our guard depth even with Braxon Beverly in the fold at the very start."
In other words, if you win enough games, people are going to wise up to the fact that you should be taken seriously. The Buckeyes could be forgiven for being good and pissed off that they were tabbed for an early upset (especially given all that they've accomplished in the 2017-2018 season) but now that that they've proved their mettle after a long Big Ten season and won a game in March Madness, they're going to find that there's a lot fewer soundbites and articles to use as bulletin board material to pass around the locker room.
So that's where I come in. I don't actually believe any of the following, but if it helps Keita Bates-Diop hit just one extra free throw, than I give the entire Ohio State men's basketball staff permission to use these sick burns as often as is necessary before the Buckeyes take on Gonzaga.
- "Kam Williams is slow off the dribble. I don't exactly know what that means, but it feels right, and he should probably prove me wrong somehow."
- "Collectively, the Buckeyes are weak defensively and will allow Gonzaga to score 40, maybe 50 points. I just don't have any confidence that they'll be able to hold their opponent to a season-low in scoring coupled with shooting like 33% from the field. Absolutely no way that'll happen."
- "Keita definitely can't score 40 points in a game. Try it, you bum. I bet you'll only put up like 35 or something lame like that."
- "Call me a hater if you must, but I simply don't believe that Ohio State can use a victory on Saturday to build momentum, make a Final Four run, win a national championship, and then build toward a basketball dynasty that lasts for the next three decades. Maybe I'm just a pessimist. Would love to be proven wrong."
If those don't work, I recommend just yelling the phrase "revenge game" over and over until the words lose all meaning.
Either way, Ohio State has already accomplished far more than anyone dared to think was possible Everything past this point is pure gravy, and making it even better is the knowledge that the Buckeyes aren't satisfied. Others might've been skeptical, but they have been living up to their own expectations all season.
With maybe just a little push from their head coach.