"Calling Off the Dogs" is a story about Chuck DeVenzio, Coach DV, an old-fashioned and colorful coach who I have been lucky enough to have met. The following two stories relate to games and scores. What is a "massacre" vs. a "butt-whippin'"? What is a respectable margin of victory? When should a coach "call off the dogs"? Coach DV's answers may surprise you. The stories are excerpts from the book, "There's Only One Way to Win", written by Dick DeVenzio about his father, Coach DV. Coach DV's philosophy is one that I admire and agree with, but also one that I cannot subscribe to wholly, mostly because of where I am in my coaching career. The stories about Coach DV are at the very least entertaining, and to me are ones that serve to explain to others and myself why I do what I do. I always have instincts to do things that Coach DV has done, but don't know exactly why. I can't explain my reasons to anyone either. Maybe I am just trying to validate my actions. Whatever the case may be, I love reading about Coach DV. Read more about Coach DV in "Blaming the Best".
After playing for his father in high school, where their undefeated Ambridge team has been called the best in Pennsylvania history, the writer of the book, Dick DeVenzio, was a three year starting point guard at Duke University, where he was an Academic All-American. Since then, Dick has played and coached professionally, has written numerous articles on college basketball, has run several basketball camps including the Point Guard Basketball College, and is the author of several books.
Click the stack of books to the left to visit Amazon.com, the internet's largest bookstore, where you can purchase "There's Only One Way to Win". Here you can learn more about his books. This is a great chance for you to find out more and gain an understanding of the cerebral side of the game. This book is not about the X's and O's but rather, it is full of tips and insight into the finer points of the game of basketball.
Imagine it. Coach DV's team is ahead by 40 points. It's the third quarter. All of his starters are in the game playing a killer full court press, swarming over their hapless foes. Three, four, five straight times the other team fails to even cross midcourt before DV's team steals the ball and lays it in for easy baskets. Suddenly, the other team throws a long pass. DV's defender down the court is slow reacting and, instead of intercepting the pass, he runs into the receiver. "Tweet!" The defender is whistled for a foul, and Coach DV is livid. He leaps from the bench and calls a timeout. Before his players can even get to the bench, DV is already chewing them out, particularly the kid who just allowed a fifty foot pass to be caught.
"You clumsy oaf," DV says, so loudly that most of the crowd hears him. "You can't stand back there like a dumb gazook. What if we were playing a REAL team?"
Coach DV didn't intend that to be an insult to the other team or to their fans. He was totally serious. This wasn't a "real" team. They didn't have players who worked hard all summer to improve their skills. They didn't have kids who shot 500 shots a day or went to camps or played together each summer evening. They were "nice boys who were participating in a school activity."
Nevertheless, that wasn't even the point. The point was, regardless of the conditions or the opponent, a basketball player should NEVER allow a fifty foot pass to be caught. Some fans, though, didn't see it that way, and administrators didn't necessarily see it that way either.
"What's wrong with that maniac? They have a 40 point lead and he's chewing out those kids and calling them names . . ."
"Why is he keeping on a full court press? He just wants to rub it in . . ."
"All he cares about is publicity. He thinks if his team rolls up big scores, people will think he's a good coach . . ."
"He always tries to embarrass the other team. I'm not staying for this. This is the poorest example of sportsmanship I have ever witnessed. The principal of that school is going to hear about this. It's terrible to have a man like that working with young kids. No wonder there's problems in the schools with people like that teaching our kids . . ."
Coach DV never quite understood all the fuss about "sports etiquette." In fact, he really didn't know what it was. Consider the kinds of questions Coach DV thought about:
What is a respectable margin of victory? Why would any coaches want to lose by just 20 if they were actually 60 points worse than the other team? What joy or satisfaction would they get from that "respectable" score if it had come as a gift, instead of earned? How would you even know if you had improved, assuming there was a rematch later in the season, if the superior team just chose to win by 20 both times? Wouldn't THAT be more humiliating to a weak team than giving them the opportunity to be proud of getting each point?
Furthermore, what exactly is point-shaving? If a coach or player knowingly controls the margin of victory--to benefit from gambling--this is considered a scandalous crime which destroys the whole meaning and purpose of sports. But how much different is it, when a coach or team controls the margin of victory because of someone's skewed notion of respectability?
The fairness issue doesn't end there, either. Coach DV had a strong sense of the fact that a committed kid spends, in the off-season, about an hour for every minute of game time that exists during a season. If this kid gets taken out of a game and plays only half the time, that means he's getting only a half minute in return for his hour of effort. Is it fair to penalize a kid who has worked hard and to reduce his playing time and his point production, just because some other kids haven't made the same commitment? Coach DV didn't think so. He wanted his players to score as many points as their skills enabled them to score. That seemed appropriate. The score should reflect the ACTUAL difference in the skills of the two teams.
As for "that maniac" yelling at his team when 40 points ahead, and continuing to apply an aggressive full court press . . . People who are not winners by nature don't readily comprehend the concept of "everytime reinforcement." Everytime reinforcement is a hallmark of those few people who truly understand what it takes to be successful in highly competitive environments. DV's one prime quality would have to be his ability--call it incredible energy and commitment--to correct every error he ever saw for forty years. Ahead by 40, down by 40, in games, in practice, with a headache, with a sore throat . . . the environment was NOT a factor.
In the face of an error, the score at the time was absolutely irrelevant to him. An error must be corrected or it will recur. Fail to correct an error, and you will see it again-- and be responsible for it!
Coach DV didn't learn about "insurmountable leads" the hard way. In fact, he learned it in the most enjoyable way possible. Very early in Coach DV's career, his team was playing against Beaver High School, in Pennsylvania. Beaver came out storming. They ran all over DV's team. They came down court, threw up a shot and--SWISH!--it was good. DV's team would go up to the other end, take a good shot, but--THUD!--it missed. Over and over again. Beaver hit, DV's boys missed. DV called a timeout, and another, and another. To no avail. Beaver could do no wrong. At the end of the first quarter, the score was something like 24-6, a drubbing unlike any Coach DV had ever experienced. And the second quarter started out where the first had left off. Beaver, Beaver, Beaver. The score went to 34-8 when the Beaver coach decided to call off the dogs. He put his second team in, presumable to give them some playing time, to rest his stars, and very possibly to take it easy on a fellow coach. Why embarrass anyone, after all? Why?
This game would give a special, career-long meaning to the concept of embarrassment in basketball. Because, once the Beaver starters were out of the game, you can probably guess what happened. DV's team scored, and Beaver missed, DV's team scored, and Beaver missed. After four quick baskets, with the score at 34-16, the Beaver coach realized he needed "the dogs" back in there. By the time they got back in, it was 34-20, and suddenly the score didn't look so insurmountable. Players whose shots began falling perfectly through the rim can't always continue such accuracy indefinitely. The Beaver shots started going awry. At the half, the score was a very surmountable 38-28. Coach DV's team went on to win by a comfortable margin.
After the game, DV was almost apologetic to the Beaver coach. Somehow the game didn't seem quite right. His team had been overwhelmed, until the opposing coach stopped the slaughter himself! It was a mistake Coach DV would never make, not during his entire career. He would get accused of running up the score, of being unmerciful, of enjoying "rubbing it in," but he would never be guilty in forty years of allowing a beaten opponent to rise from the canvas and steal a win. How could he sit there, and keep applying a full-court press, with a huge margin on the scoreboard? The numbers 34-8 had much to do with it. They would linger in his brain for the rest of his career. And his team won that Beaver game easily. In fact, at the end, DV had cleared HIS bench and let HIS reserves play!