The invitations go out twice a week, 107 of them for the latest Zoom Sunday night — coaches from all layers of basketball, high school, and AAU to the NBA. Heavily college. Heavily Philly.
“It was basically just to get our network together, so to speak," said Rider University assistant Geoff Arnold. “For lack of a better term, the guys called the Bru Crew.”
That’s Bruiser Flint’s crew, so the whole thing gets lively by definition. Arnold was Flint’s assistant at Massachusetts and Drexel, before moving over to St. Joseph’s. There’s Flint in his little Zoom square.
“He kind of sits back," Arnold said over the phone the day after the most recent Zoom. ”When he starts to lean forward, here he comes.”
Usually about 70 people are on, most on mute. The names and faces are like a 30-year tour of local hoops, from Ashley Howard to Jerome Allen to Rod Baker to Donyell Marshall. From Dwayne Killings to Mike Connors to John Bryant to Bobby Jordan to Jeff Battle to Mark Bass. Young guys sitting back, listening. Scars of the profession discussed. Guests are invited to speak at each session. The questions, legit. (In a media session, Morgan State coach Kevin Broadus: “What is the meaning of ‘off the record?’ ")
Trash-talking? Every time, especially with a bunch of D.C.-area coaches also on the Zoom, sticking up for “The DMV.”
A way to have the conversations they always have at the Final Four or on the recruiting trail, Arnold said. The tone of the whole thing … real. There’s a willingness, even an expectation, to dig down on issues.
Arnold thought of it after being a guest on a couple of academic Zoom calls. To help moderate, Arnold brought in an old friend, Arizona State social sciences professor Scott Brooks, who got his doctorate at Penn.
Sunday’s first guest was Cal-Riverside athletic director Tamica Smith Jones, who talked about her process for hiring coaches. Next was former St. Joseph’s professor and retired University of Dayton president Dan Curran, same topic from his angle. The conversation included how to get your name in front of search firms when search firms won’t even take your call.
Sunday’s final guest was Dawn Staley. Her topic was about the recent For the Culture documentary on her team on the SEC Network but also was about media narratives and how even an exalted figure such as Staley feels she has to combat them.
The talk was about the big business of ESPN programming, but also about race, how Staley — as accomplished as any coach of her generation, male or female — sees the need to push for recognition of her South Carolina program even when it is No. 1 in the country as it was this past season.
And it’s not just her women’s program. She noted that a Philly guy, Joe McKeown, didn’t get the recognition that a 26-4 season at Northwestern deserved, that Adia Barnes at Arizona had a 24-7 season that deserved more publicity.
While some women were on the Zoom — including Kara Lawson, a top ESPN analyst who is now an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics, invited by Allen, a fellow Celtics assistant — the men on it made it clear to Staley that they believed she was a successor to men such as John Thompson and John Chaney and Nolan Richardson and George Raveling as a crucial voice for African American coaches. She told them how she still talks to Chaney all the time, that Perry Clark, now a South Carolina men’s assistant, has been a great sounding board.
The conversation moved toward sideline demeanor. Rider head coach Kevin Baggett said that as an African American coach, he has to think about how he looks to fans and even his own administrators. Does he come off angry? “When I see Tom Izzo get on somebody, that’s passion. ... “
“That perception is real," Flint said Tuesday over the phone, talking about this topic, and his own expertise in it. (Flint has never been shy on the sideline.) He’s on other Zooms, Flint said, that are more into talking about strategy. The greatest value of this one, Flint said, is to reach the younger coaches on it.
“I always go back to the old Sonny Hill mantra, of reaching back to go forward," Flint said, and seeing so many of his own former players and coaches on it, that speaks to him. Without those relationships, Flint said — “No Zoom.”
Arnold noted that when people think of Flint, they see him in the big-time, right now as an Indiana assistant coach, but Flint talked on an early Zoom of getting his start at Coppin State. The salary was supposed to be $12,000 a year, but it turned out they had only $6,000 for him and he had to live in an apartment with players.
All these issues discussed, Flint said, they’re at the heart of the business. “Don’t think it’s just about you being a good coach, X’s and O’s, recruiting," Flint said. “That’s not how it works.”
Come for the straight talk. Stay for the trash talk.
“All you Philly [expletives] that recruit D.C. …”
“When you won your championship, who you got on your team? Philly guys.”
“And they got me fired.”
Arnold said he tries to push the young coaches to speak up, with the understanding they might get shot down. He also knows Staley from way back. But it was another coach on the Zoom who reached out to her, told South Carolina’s coach about this Zoom with all these Philly coaches on it.
Arnold got a text from Staley: “You've got this hoops thing going on and you didn’t call me?”