Some coaches always say the right thing. They choose each word with care, making sure to never so much as hint at anything negative about another program or coach or a player.
Then there's Bill Mulligan. The UC Irvine basketball coach, who jokingly refers to himself as "the man without an opinion," seldom fails to say exactly what's on his mind.
This week, most of his comments can be categorized under "Knocking the Big Guys Down to Size," or "The Shots Heard 'Round the Conference."
Here are just a few examples:
- On his relationship with San Jose State Coach Bill Berry: "You ever see a Bill Berry-Bill Mulligan handshake? It's like this (holding out his hand while looking away). We don't talk to each other and that's fine with me. In fact, I like it that way."
-On San Jose's dismal showing (5-10 in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.) and the likelihood that the Spartans--picked in preseason to finish second--will end up in the bottom four and will have to play Wednesday night in the opening round of the PCAA tournament while the top six teams get byes: "Berry's always crying because they don't get a night game in the first round. Well, now he's gonna get one."
- On the defensive prowess of 6-foot 8-inch, 250-pound senior center Wayne Engelstad: "You ever watch Wayne play defense? All he does is lean on his guy. He's not playing defense, he's resting. That's why we give up so many layups. He's too be busy resting to see the ball."
- On the play of backup center Ed Johansen: "They've got this sign up there (in the Bren Center stands) that says 'We Want Easy Ed.' But I told Johansen in practice Sunday that they don't really like him. Two minutes after I put him in Saturday night, they put down the sign and were screaming, 'We want Wayne.' "
- On the Anteaters' new deliberate half-court offense: "I don't like the way we're playing offensively. I want to play like Loyola, but we can't play that way and win. I finally smartened up and realized we've got too many slow guys and it's better to win than average 100 points. I told my assistants that if they could just recruit three or four guys I want. . . . Nah, it's stupid to be at UCI and say we're gonna press and run all the time. We can't get the athletes we need in school."
-On the decision to move the PCAA tournament to the Long Beach Arena next year: "They were thinking about holding the tournament in Las Vegas when we leave the Forum after this year, but they didn't want (Nevada Las Vegas Coach Jerry) Tarkanian to have an advantage. Now we're going to the Long Beach Arena and Long Beach State is moving a bunch of their games there. I say, let's go to Vegas. Tark's gonna win the damn tournament anyway."
Engelstad was benched at the start of the second half during Saturday night's 85-81 victory over the University of the Pacific. He sat out the first four minutes of the half after he failed to answer what he termed a "stupid" question from Mulligan during the team's halftime meeting.
"He asked me if I had pride," Engelstad said, after a postgame ceremony to honor the seniors playing their final game in the Bren Center. "After four years, he should know that."
Mulligan: "You want to know what's stupid? He can say anything he wants, or nothing at all, if I ask him a question one-on-one. But if he doesn't answer me in front of the whole team . . . well, now, that's stupid.
"If the game wasn't so close, he wouldn't have played at all in the second half of seniors' night."
Greg Patton, the men's tennis coach, is still suffering from dizziness caused by an undiagnosed ear problem, but he's able to smile anyway these days.
He underwent a brain scan last week that showed no irregularities and then flew to Louisville, Ky., in time to see his team beat sixth-ranked UCLA in the first round of the International Tennis Coaches Assn. National Indoor Championships.
The Anteaters, ranked No. 10 in the latest ITCA poll, have victories this season over teams that are currently ranked sixth, 11th (Georgia Tech), 17th (Tennessee) and 22nd (University of San Diego). They have lost only to third-ranked USC and fifth-ranked Pepperdine.
Irvine is 6-2, and the team's depth has had a lot to do with its success. The Anteaters are 8-0 at the No. 6 singles spot. Mike Cadigan and Shige Kanroji are both 3-0 playing at No. 6. Four players have combined for a 5-3 record at No. 5. Mike Briggs is 5-2 at No. 4 and Richard Lubner is 6-2 at No. 3.
Patton, the master of the metaphor, on his team's performance this season: "We've transcended a great barrier, like the Great Barrier Reef. We don't fear the great white sharks anymore. In fact, sometimes we think we're a great white.
"If we don't get caught up on coral, I really think we could win the NCAA title this year."