Mike Tranghese met the men’s basketball coaches of the Southeastern Conference en masse for the first time here this week.
Frank Martin almost hugged him. He may still.
“Mike gave us somebody that…” Martin said, searching for the right description. “I don’t know. It was a different voice, a different vision, a different energy…”
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“Yeah, there you go, that’s a good word,” South Carolina’s men’s basketball coach said. “He has a refreshing perspective that, ‘Hey, listen, what we do is good enough. Now we have to go out there and do a better job of making people understand that.’ It felt good as a coach to hear that.”
The SEC men’s coaches need some group therapy these days. Tranghese is the former commissioner of the Big East conference and one of the most respected college basketball voices in the country. He’s a man who commands attention in all the hotel hallways and selection committee meeting rooms where major college sports decisions get made. He is now a paid consultant for the SEC, and he’s in charge of increasing the men’s basketball profile of a conference that has long been linked first, second and third to football.
“I almost stood up in there and gave him a standing ovation at the end of the meeting,” Martin said. “He brings an unbelievable basketball perspective into our conversation. He brings unbelievable credibility. He brings insight. I’m ecstatic.”
This week, Tranghese was doing his best Stuart Smiley impersonation, telling the basketball coaches in so many words: You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it, people may not like you much now but we’re going to work on that.
Martin called Tuesday’s meeting with Tranghese “as productive a meeting as we’ve had as basketball coaches in my five years here” despite the fact that not one rule was changed or adopted or tweaked. It was just a much-needed pep talk.
“He’s brought a perspective into our meeting that we haven’t had before,” Martin said.
That’s a politically correct way of saying, “He doesn’t give a hoot what percentage of times Nick Saban plays a three-man front against third-and-long.”
There was some tough love amidst the group hugs.
“I think (the basketball coaches) get frustrated because they’re in such a great football league and sometimes they feel they are overshadowed, but that goes with the territory,” Tranghese said. “As I told them, no more. We’re going to use it. Use it in recruiting. It’s an advantage to have these types of football programs. They talk about attendance. I said, ‘Don’t you think schools in these other conferences have the same problems? They do.’
“Coaches here talk about TV, too many late games, this and that. It’s the same thing in the Big Ten. It’s the same thing in the ACC. It’s the same thing in the Big East. I said to them, ‘You have two choices. Do you want to be on TV or not on TV?’ You want to be on TV. That’s how you recruit. Everybody’s got the same problems.”
They seem to weigh heavier these days in the SEC, though.
Tranghese “brings a spirit and an intensity that I certainly appreciate,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said.
The spirit, frankly, had begun to wane among the SEC basketball coaches. The low point was Selection Sunday earlier this year. The conference put only three teams into the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks, who won 25 games and finished third in the league, were not one of them.
“I think it’s unanimous from the commissioner on down to the managers on every campus that three teams in the NCAA Tournament is unacceptable,” Martin said.
The basketball coaches discussed changing a handful of esoteric bylaws that might give them a more equal footing with other conferences. And the SEC tweaked its scheduling mandates to require its teams’ opponents to have an average RPI of 175 or higher (a figure that will be raised to 150 in the future), but this is really a public relations fight.
That’s why the league hired Tranghese, and that’s why its upcoming hire of a new associate commissioner for men’s basketball is expected to be a big name in basketball circles.
“Somebody who will be a real advocate,” Tranghese said. “I said to Greg, ‘You hire the right person for that job, you can get rid of me.’ ”
Maybe Tranghese could stick around for morale’s sake, though. Associate Commissioner of Atta Boys maybe.