Friday, February 13, 2009

Striking a balance between control and freedom

If you haven't checked the Ivy League standings lately, you might be surprised to see Princeton back on top.

Tigers coach Sydney Johnson, who returned to his alma mater two years ago after working as an assistant under John Thompson III at Georgetown, is rebuilding the program, which has seen its wins drop from 20 in 2003-04, to 15, 12, 11, and, finally, 6, the last four years, respectively.

Former Princeton coach Joe Scott, whom the 34-year-old Coach Johnson replaced following the 2006-07 season, is quick to accept full responsibility for the program's decline.

"I was a bad coach," said Coach Scott, who also played at Princeton and served as an assistant for eight seasons under Pete Carril. "If you want to blame the downfall (on me), then go ahead and do that. That's fine. That's what happens in sports. I did a bad job coaching there for three years. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong person. That's how it goes in life."

Coach Scott, the former head coach at Air Force and now the head coach at Denver, "inherited an Ivy League championship team from John Thompson III, who left for Georgetown, that featured four returning starters in 2004-05. Scott's demanding, militaristic style created friction with players and the team finished with a losing Ivy record for the first time in school history."

According to this article, Coach Johnson's "first order of business was simple: understand his players."

"Some kids respond very well to being pushed hard. Some kids don't. So I don't think you should say across the board, 'I'm going to scream and yell at every guy.' Because some guys are going to pull back. ... So, I took time to figure out who I was coaching and went from there."

The article explains how Coach Johnson "adapted to his players' strengths and struck a balance between control and freedom. He retained the framework of the Princeton offense, but incorporated specific plays to maximize the individual talent of his players."

"All players want some freedom," said junior guard Marcus Schroeder. "Coach Scott wanted the offense to be run more precisely and let the offense get a shot rather than let the players get a shot. Coach Johnson is more improvisational, letting the abilities of the individual players do it."