You've heard the cliche: those who can do; those who can't teach. The basketball equivalent is: those who can't play become college coaches. Most of the best coaches, in fact, are men who absolutely would not recruit themselves as players.
Take a glance at the undergraduate Dean Smith and know that he was almost riveted to the bench when Kansas won the NCAA championship in 1952, that for his career he commited twice as many fouls as he made free throws.
Or look at ol' 75, Norman Sloan, and realize that he didn't even play his senior year at N.C. State. Or that Carl Tracy was not a regular at Davis and Elkins and that Carson-Newman does not even have a picture of Bill Foster, the Clemson coach. And the lefthander himself averaged all of four points during his career at Duke.
"But I sand the winning basket that beat State at State once," said Lefty Driesell. "Guess that about the biggest thing I ever did there. I remember I shot it from near where (State coach) Everett Case was sitting and he kicked a chair about eight rows.
"I imagine he was thinking: 'One of those stupid subs comes in and beats me.' And just as I was taking the shot, one of my teammates was yelling: 'No, Charlie, No.'"
Case is the coach who brought big-time basketball to Dixie, one of the major reasons the ACC is as rabid and fine a conference as any in the country. As a player, however Case was a zero.
"Actually, I'm almost positive Case never played a basketball game in his life," said Sloan, one of his first recruits at State in the mid-40s. "I know he coached in high-school team back in Indiana when he was in high school himself.
"You know how even though you're often in awe of a coach, like we were coach Case, you still like to show him up now and then? Well, the man simply could not handle a basketball, so every now and then somebody would go near him and flip him a ball, and we'd all watch and laugh to ourselves while he's fumble around trying to catch it."
At Carson-Newman, Clemson's Bill Foster was hampered by more than simply a lack of talent.
"I had a separated shoulder a lot of the time," he said, "and played with one of those leather harnesses with chains on it to keep everything together. Fact is, I coached the freshmen my senior year.
"But some things happened that later helped me. In four years, I played for four different coaches. I played for a screamer and a quiet guy, a zoner and a man-for-maner. And I can appreciate it when my guys get upset when they don't play more. I was the same way."
In truth, Driesell was rather heavily recruited by the Driesells of his day.
"I wanted to go to Tennessee," he said. "I even had a plane ticket to go there, and my best friend and I had arranged to be roommates. At the last minute, thought, my mother talked me into going to Duke."
Sloan has the best reasons for why less-than-sensational players often suceed spectacularly as coaches.
"Most important, there is an appetite that wasn't satisfied while he was playing," he said, "a hunger for recognition. Also, you take a great player and ask him how he made a particular move and he can't do it. It was natural.
"But a player with less talent had to learn it all, and he's better able to pass it along to someone else."
Smith, who went to Kansas on a academic scholarship, disagrees.
"I think the only thing that might help by siting on the bench all the time is that you appreciate talent all the more," he said. "Also, you have to realize that a lot of us who went to major schools probably could have been fine players at smaller schools."
Smith is convinced he might well have never coached in the ACC if the Kansas teams he played on had not been so technically ahead of much of the country. That was the major reason Frank McGuire hired him at North Carolina, Smith said.
"And Adolph Rupp always jokes about us both playing for the same coach." said Smith. "He graduated from Kansas in '23, I graduated in '53 and we both played for coach (Phog) Allen."
Clearly, there are exceptions to the mediocre-players-make-superior-coaches theory. The clearest is the Wizard, John Wooden, who was an excellent player at Purdue before dominating his sport for more than a decade as UCLA coach.
In the ACC, the exceptions is Terry Holland, a fact that becomes evident with one anecdote. During practice once at Davidson, Holland suffered a nasty nose injury driving for a layup.
"I was on the floor but didn't realize anything serious was wrong with my face," Holland said. "Or at least not until the coaches looked at me and said: 'Oh, no'."
When the coach realizes you are hurt before you do, you're a player.