CHICAGO — About this time every year, a handful of college basketball coaches will tender resignations. They will list as their principal reason for quitting: Coaching burnout.
The most famous resignation due to this factor in the past decade was that of Al McGuire, who left at the top of a career at Marquette after winning the national championship.
McGuire has resisted offers to get back into coaching since he stepped down nearly a decade ago after winning a national title. He understands what other coaches who have finished a rugged season are going through at the present time.
"For me, I just got tired of guys in short pants running around so I got out," McGuire says. "Actually, it isn't something I've regretted. I also got tired of all the meetings at the universities. Constant meetings. I knew that when I walked into a meeting and saw a guy smoking a pipe the meeting would go on an extra 30 minutes."
McGuire understands the demands, the frustrations, the burnout factor. It can happen to anyone. He points to Indiana coach Bob Knight's experiences last year.
"I think that with the Olympics, his own team, he had coached all year round. Even someone as outstanding a coach as Bob Knight can go through it and it showed last season," McGuire says. "Look at this season. He was more 'relaxed' and he showed it and so did the team."
While McGuire may not be an ardent believer in coaching burnout per se, he says careers can only be prolonged by having the ability to stand away from the job once the season is over.
"Sports are played in seasons and when the seasons run into each other, and I'm talking about clinics, recruiting and everything that goes on after the games are played, then you are talking about coaches who face tremendous pressure and that can take its toll," McGuire says.
While Knight and McGuire have probably been victims of burnout, McGuire says many of his brethren go into the business without the principal priority of monetary reward.
"I think first of all a coach is in it for other than the money. But the pressures once you get into it are there. All of a sudden, there are temptations for endorsements and camps and clinics and where you were once a high school coach making a small amount of money you then find yourself on a new level," McGuire says.
All of a sudden, coaches who haven't been used to such financial bonuses on the smaller college or even the high school level are in the world of big bucks. It is part of the added strain coaches have to live with in the 1980s, McGuire says.
"Now these people who lived in duplexes are suddenly living in big houses," he says. "The pressure increases the higher up you go."
Some suggest the pressures of recruiting, landing the blue chipper that can turn a mediocre program into a national championship contender is a leading cause for burnout for major college coaches.
But McGuire disagrees.
"I think recruiting is only a part of the overall thing. Most major Division I schools are actually just selecting players that want to come to their schools," McGuire says. "Take a guy like Gene Sullivan at Loyola. There is a guy who has to pound the pavement looking for players. But the North Carolinas the Illinois and schools like that don't face that same pressure to go out and find the players."
But not every school is a North Carolina, an Illinois, a DePaul or Duke. There are scores of Division I schools who must battle for the prospects for their program. In their cases, McGuire says recruiting can lead to burnout.
"Just beyond that level of play at the top is the mass of other schools below those of the tournament level. The pressures there are the ones that I'm talking about," he says.
Because of burnout, the days when one coach stays at his school for 30 or 40 years is a thing of the past. McGuire says coaches like Marv Harshman of Washington and Ray Meyer of DePaul are instances college basketball may never see again.
"They are the last of the buffalo. You just aren't going to see the same coach at the same school for 30 or 40 years like Coach Meyer," McGuire says. "You aren't likely to see coaches staying in the business that long or well into their 60s like Coach Ray did."
There is also another reason why coaches don't stay around as long as the Meyers and the Harshmans. It is a reason McGuire says reflects our society's belief that as one gets older, he doesn't necessarily get wiser.
"There's one thing about coaching. They figure the older you are and the greyer your hair the less you know," McGuire says. "If you have a perm in your hair you are a genius. But that's not the case in our society and it isn't that way in coaching. If you are lucky enough to stay around, you should know a whole lot more than anyone else."