By John Feinstein
Sunday, March 7, 2010; D08
About two hours after Brad Greenberg's Radford basketball team lost to Winthrop in the semifinals of the Big South basketball tournament on Thursday night, his phone rang.
"You guys couldn't make a shot," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg told his big brother. "Tough to win -- even if you play good defense -- if you can't shoot."
The two brothers talked for a while about their mom and their families, and then -- inevitably -- more basketball.
"The difference between Brad and me is when he loses I wait a couple hours and call and he's fine," Seth Greenberg said. "When I lose he just texts me. Then he calls me the next day."
Brad and Seth Greenberg have been bonded as brothers and as basketball lifers since they were kids growing up on Long Island. Brad, who is 55, was a star at John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, N.Y. Seth, two years younger, was his back-court mate when he was a sophomore and Brad was a senior.
"I was his inbounder," Seth said. "He did the rest."
"I would give him the ball back to dribble for a while if I got tired," Brad said. "Of course, I never got tired of shooting."
Almost 40 years later, they coach 15 miles down the road from each other: Seth in the Big Time -- the ACC -- Brad in the Big South. Brad has climbed the basketball mountain -- he was the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and drafted Allen Iverson in 1996 -- and is now happy and comfortable coaching in a one-bid conference far from the bright lights of the NBA or, for that matter, the ACC.
Seth has inched his way up, working for years as an assistant coach before getting his first head coaching job at Long Beach State. From there he moved to South Florida and then, in 2003, to Virginia Tech. Right now, for a third straight season, his Hokies are unsure of an NCAA tournament berth as they enter the ACC tournament. Brad has no tournament bubbles to worry about: A year ago, Radford won the Big South title and played North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This year, Thursday's loss meant there would be no repeat performance.
As close as the two brothers are, they are very different. Seth is wound tighter, is more of a worrier, a detail-aholic.
"He takes Ambien to sleep at night," Brad said. "I don't even need a glass of wine."
"I always think you need to come up with three different plays to get your best shooter open on a possession," Seth said. "Brad always says, 'Just tell him to get open.' "
For four years, Brad was Seth's assistant at Virginia Tech. He had been fired by the 76ers and, after a brief sojourn doing TV, wanted to get back into basketball. So when Seth got the Virginia Tech job, Brad went with him.
"I think the hardest time in my life, not Brad's, was after he got fired," Seth said. "I was so happy when he got the 76ers job, I cried. I was so proud of him. I remember a couple of years later I was in Philadelphia on a recruiting trip and I made the mistake of turning on the radio. They were just killing him. I wanted to kill them.
"When he was out of work, it brought back memories of our dad, who lost his business when I was a teenager. I remembered how hard that was for him, and even though Brad seemed okay, I knew it had to hurt. And I knew it was unfair. I was really happy when he came to Tech with me, but it wasn't always easy."
The two brothers often clashed, especially in coaches' meetings. "The rest of the staff would sit there with their mouths open because we'd just scream at each other," Brad said. "He'd want to figure out seven different ways to run a play and I'd say: 'You're making it too complicated. It's not that hard to get a good shot.' He'd start yelling at me, 'You just think that because no one guards in the NBA!' I'd say, 'They guard, but the guys are good enough to get open.' "
Sometimes one brother or the other might storm from the room -- usually Seth. "I'd say there's no head coach in the country who gets talked to this way by an assistant coach," Seth said. "Which was true. Because we didn't talk to each other like coaches, we talked to each other like brothers."
When Brad got the job at Radford three years ago, most of the screaming and yelling stopped, but the talking to each other didn't. Most of the time, they talk once a day unless things get hectic, in which case there are usually a couple of texts back and forth. Brad goes to Virginia Tech games whenever possible and Seth makes the ride down Interstate 81 to Radford whenever he can.
"I was watching a game tape earlier this season and the tape was hooked up to our radio broadcast," Brad said. "I heard a voice right behind where the guys were sitting just screaming at the referees. It sounded very familiar. Then I realized it was Seth."
The brotherly tables were turned a little bit this season. Feeling the pressure of expectations for the first time as a head coach, Brad was doing a lot of shouting at officials, a lot of it relating to fouls committed (in his mind at least) -- but not called -- against his star center, Art Parakhouski. After a loss to Liberty, Seth pulled his brother aside.
"You have to stop getting on the officials so much," he said. "They're human. You ride them like that all the time, it's going to come back and haunt you."
Brad, by his own admission, did not take his little brother's critique very well. "You're telling me not to get on the officials?" he shouted. "Are you kidding me? You're telling me?"
When he thought about it, Brad realized Seth was right. "I never admitted it to him," he said. "I couldn't do that. But I did try to be a little more self-aware. I got teed up five times this season. That's too many."
Meanwhile, in the continuing role reversal, Seth has received only one technical this winter. "And I didn't deserve that one," he insisted. "I said to the guy, 'That's a really bad call,' and he teed me up."
They still live and die watching each other's games. Seth may be louder sitting courtside at Brad's games, but Brad concedes he probably yells at the television set more often.
"Two years ago on the day of the ACC semifinals, I was in Chapel Hill scouting the North Carolina high school tournament," he said. "Tech was playing Carolina and I knew if they won, they'd be in [the NCAA tournament]. I walked out of the game I was watching and found a security guard who was watching on a small TV set. When [Tyler] Hansbrough hit the shot at the buzzer to win the game for Carolina, there were a lot of people watching. Naturally, they were all Carolina fans so they started cheering.
"I turned around and said something like: 'Oh my God, that's just terrible. I can't believe that just happened.' This guy looks at me and says, 'What's your problem, pal?' I said: 'What's my problem? My problem is that's my brother who just got beat. You have a problem with that?' "
All of which just proves that in coaching -- as in life -- the same rules hold true: It is okay for brothers to give each other a hard time, but anyone who gives either brother a hard time better watch out.
Mess with Seth, you better watch out for Brad. Mess with Brad, you can bet Seth will come after you.
A year ago, after Radford won the Big South championship game, Seth, sitting in a hotel room in Florida -- having delayed the start of practice to watch the game -- sent his brother a simple text: "Put on your dancing shoes."
Brad can only hope he gets to send Seth the exact same text sometime this coming weekend.
For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.