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Tricky Dick

April 8, 2002 Columns No Comments



Tricky Dick

by David Mosse

Over the past three weeks, college basketball’s most famous cheerleader
showed himself to be more than just the obnoxious, overbearing voice we
hear seemingly every five minutes during ESPN’s coverage. Dick Vitale
proved to be a hypocrite in his assessment of the different coaches in the
NCAA tournament.

Vitale was the first to run to the defense of embattled UCLA coach
Steve Lavin after the eight-seeded Bruins knocked off Cincinnati in the
second round of the West Regional. He wondered aloud when fans in Westwood
would finally get off the back of a man who had reached the sweet sixteen
in five of the past six season.

Lest we forget UCLA opened the season ranked in the top-10 and the
consensus pick to capture the conference crown. Despite a starting line-up
featuring three potential NBA Players (Jason Kapono, Dan Gadzuric, and Matt
Barnes) as well as highly touted freshman point guard Cedric Bozeman,
the Bruins finished 6th in the Pac 10 and a modest 19-11 overall.

Lavin did such a terrible job of meshing four returning starters
with a talented freshman class the Bruins ended the regular season
unranked and forced to sweat out selection Sunday. Following a victory
over lower seeded Mississippi came the rousing upset of the Bearcats, a
bright spot in an otherwise mediocre season.

Yet, Vitale somehow saw fit to shower Lavin with praise and treat the
victory over Cincinnati as a validation of UCLA’s entire season. He
proceeded to condemn all Lavin critics as ignorant fans with no
understanding of the game of basketball. Is it possible for one tournament
game to so greatly impact our view of a teams year? Apparently so, for
Vitale seemed willing to dismiss four months of underachieving after one
glorious performance.

Such an attitude was certainly bizarre coming from a man who has always
preached the opposite. Sure enough when the conversation turned to the
coach on the opposite sideline, Vitale sang a different tune. Dickey V came
to the rescue of Bob Huggins, who has come under
fire for yet another March flameout. Vitale quickly pointed out that
Huggins did a masterful job in leading the Bearcats to an improbable 30-3
season and the Conference-USA title. He reiterated his view that a great
regular season should not be forgotten after losing one game and also
expressed the belief that fans place way too much emphasis on the
postseason.

Ironically, this was the same Dick Vitale, who that very day spoke
about how NC State’s first round victory over Michigan State should relieve
the pressure from Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek. Sendek was the recipient of
harsh criticism throughout the season for what many local supporters felt
was a suspect coaching job. Vitale seemed to bounce around more than a
bobble doll during the opening rounds.

Unfortunately, his hypocrisy carried all the way into the Final Four. No
analyst was more outspoken regarding the remarkable job done by Indiana
coach Mike Davis in leading the Cinderella Hoosiers to Atlanta. Vitale
turned downright angry in chastising the faction of Indiana fans who
refuse to accept Davis as a worthy successor to Bob Knight. He also
claimed Davis had proven beyond a doubt what a great coach he was with the
job he did during the tournament.

Interestingly enough, at the conclusion of the big dance, which ended for
the fourteenth consecutive season with someone other than Kansas cutting
down the nets, Vitale launched his annual dissertation aimed at critics of
Jayhawks coach Roy Williams. He pointed out Williams’ impressive
credentials, including an average of 28 wins a season and 7 conference
championships. In Vitale’s eyes, Williams is not required to do anything in
the NCAA Tournament to prove himself as a coach.

The topic of Williams got Vitale especially agitated for he offered up one
of the most utterly ridiculous comparisons ever when he wondered if nobody
gets on Rick Majerus for not winning a national championship, why do they
get on Roy Williams? To draw any parallel between the incredible
reclamation job Majerus has done in transforming Utah into a major
program, and the success Roy Williams has enjoyed at one of the most
storied basketball schools in history is simply ludicrous.

It has become painfully evident over the years the exuberant Dick Vitale
is nothing more than a spokesman for the many college basketball coaches
around the country. It is easy to forget but Dickey V was once a member of
such a fraternity spending a few discrete seasons at the University of Detroit before
being banished from the profession. Yet, he apparently developed enough
reverence for the job in that he is incapable of criticizing any of his
brethren.

Vitale is willing to alter his opinions at the drop of a hat in order to
stay in the good graces of the many coaches he comes in contact with. Any
objective fan of the sport realizes Steve Lavin did a poor job with the
talent he had at his disposal. Likewise, Roy Williams needs to win a
national championship in order to join the elite class of coaches that
includes Bob Knight, Dean Smith, and Mike Krzyzewski.

Had Vitale offered either of those observations, he would merely be
stating the obvious and no person in their right mind would criticize him.
Yet, the remote risk of alienating either of those men proved enough of a
deterrent for ESPN’s top college basketball analyst to bite his tongue.

The reality is Dick Vitale has become the preeminent voice of college
basketball. Between ESPN, ESPN 2, and weekend duties on ABC, the
rambunctious color man can be found almost every day of the week either as
part of a broadcast crew or anchoring the studio coverage of a game.
Consequently, no other man is afforded more opportunities to share his
views on the sport. That he chooses to devalue such a position by
offering transparent, timid analysis is truly a shame. Just imagine if Billy
Packer, never one to mince words, had the same kind of airtime as Dickey
V?

Perhaps no other analyst involves himself in the action of a game
as much as Vitale. His passion for the sport is genuine and the many
clever euphemisms he has unveiled such as Diaper Dandy are now part of
college basketball lore. In the future he will undoubtedly continue to
excite audiences with his unmitigated passion, but when the time comes for
hard-hitting, uncompromising analysis, you are best to switch the channel
because Vitale is certainly no PTPer.

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