'I Can't Change Who I Am'

"You can never tell he's not into basketball," Deron Washington said of Coach Seth Greenberg, above, a two-time ACC coach of the year. (By Nick Wass -- Associated Press)
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By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008

CHARLOTTE, March 13 -- Seth Greenberg clasped his hands behind his back, bit his lip and endured the toughest minute of his coaching career nine days ago. With Virginia Tech's players lined up one side of the court and Wake Forest's on the other, Cassell Coliseum fell silent before the game in tribute to Skip Prosser, the Demon Deacons' coach who died last summer.

A photograph of Prosser flashed on the scoreboard video screen. Greenberg grimaced and stared at the court, the moment almost overwhelming him.

"It's that picture they have," Greenberg said. "That smile on his face. It's like angelic. It's great. I don't think they ever took a picture of me where I look that happy."

Greenberg was a close friend and an admirer of Prosser, and "Skip's passing had a profound effect on me," Greenberg said. While trying, sometimes in vain, to add balance to his life, Greenberg ushered a team fueled by six freshmen to NCAA tournament contention and earned his second ACC coach of the year award in four years. The Hokies can creep closer to an at-large berth Friday with a victory over Miami in the ACC tournament.

Prosser's death, in his office, of an apparent heart attack made Greenberg reevaluate his maniacal work ethic and health habits this season. Greenberg recalled a conversation with Prosser last year, after they had finished working out together, about what Prosser's doctor recommended for exercise. Greenberg still struggles with changing his ways.

"I probably think about it more," Greenberg said. "I'm not sure if I live it more."

Greenberg tried to eat healthier, but his schedule often disallows it. The contents of his office mini-refrigerator one day this winter were roughly 10 Diet Cokes, six bottled waters, a bottle of mustard and an unwrapped chocolate doughnut. He regularly keeps a jar of yogurt-covered pretzels or a box of Girl Scout cookies on his desk.

But he has also worked out more this year than any other, making certain he rides an elliptical machine before 8 a.m. almost every day. "He's religious about what he does," Hokies assistant coach Ryan Odom said.

He made sleep a bigger priority. On Monday night, Greenberg reviewed film of Miami for about 45 minutes, then went to bed shortly after midnight while his wife, Karen, watched the Food Network. Last year, Greenberg would have sat in his study, every light in the house off, in front of "that frickin' DVD player" until 2 a.m. He would rewind the tape over and over, even though he knew exactly what play they would run, "just for my own satisfaction, I guess," he said.

Greenberg struggles to separate his life and his career, even when he manages to carve time for his family during the season. He attends his daughter Jackie's middle school basketball games hoping for a break. Senior forward Deron Washington's girlfriend coaches Jackie's team, so he watched a few games, too. Washington chuckled when he saw Greenberg yelling at the officials.

"You can never tell he's not into basketball," Washington said. "That's his life."

Greenberg once sat down with each of his three daughters, Paige, Ella and Jackie, and asked them about him possibly leaving coaching. He wouldn't be so miserable for four months of the year, wouldn't have to miss their volleyball games or cheerleading competitions.

Each, he said, replied the same way: "Dad, this is all we know."

Greenberg, 51, said he plans to coach until he is 60. Eight or nine more years, he figures, and he'll be more set financially than he ever thought he would be. He can stop recruiting every spring day, stop making the red-eye flights from one AAU tournament in Las Vegas to another in Orlando. But he hasn't ruled out coaching longer.

"If I can get some balance in my life, maybe," Greenberg said. "I'm not sure I can do that. The way I do it now, I don't think I can do it when I'm 65."

Greenberg said he worries most about thinking he could have done more, worked harder. The only other ACC coach to win two coach of the year awards in four years in the past 10 years is Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. But Greenberg still sees himself as an outsider, and he still allows insecurity to drive him.

"Fear of failure," Greenberg said. "I don't know if you can have real great balance and be successful. I think you can get complacent. I think you got to have an edge. You got to have a little chip.

"My mind-set has always been the underdog. I'm the anti-ACC coach. I know it. I can't change who I am. I can't fit into that little box. I'm comfortable with who I am. There's things I'd like to change. I'm not perfect. But I'm not going to reinvent myself."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company