In 1981, the first time Dale Brown took a team to the Final Four, he was so excited he couldn't stop talking. For Brown, that may not seem like an unusual condition, but this was exceptional.
"I took every call, stood in the lobby and talked to all the fans, anyone who came along," the Louisiana State coach said. "You can't do it. I vowed if I ever came back to one of these things there would be no phone calls put through to my room."
Sure enough, Brown is back. In Philadelphia, he got his team to town early and took his players to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so they could run the same steps Rocky had run. This evening, Brown and the Tigers were the last of the Final Four teams to arrive in Dallas, hitting town a full 24 hours after Kansas did.
"We're here to enjoy it," he said. "We aren't going to be running Stalag 17. But we also have a job to do."
Every coach who brings a team to the Final Four must wrestle with the same dilemma: How much freedom do you give your players? Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the only one of the four who has not been through this before, says he wants his team to savor what it has accomplished.
"I don't want our players to just play in the Final Four," he said. "I want them to be part of the Final Four. They worked awfully hard to be here and I want them to enjoy it. That doesn't mean we don't have a job to do. I think the guys understand that. They've understood it all year. I don't think they'll stop now."
Other coaches who have been through the experience think that Krzyzewski's approach is admirable -- but perhaps not realistic.
"I did it that way when we played in 1978," Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps said today. "We stayed at the assigned hotel, we were around all our fans and all the media. It just didn't work. There were too many distractions and not enough control.
"If, by some chance, I ever got back again, I would do things different. I'd put all our fans in the assigned hotel and stay somewhere else. The players have to understand what's at stake. Sure, it's great to get here. I mean, no one knows that better than me, because I haven't been able to get back. But given that you may not have another chance, you better do everything you can to take advantage of it."
As the Final Four has grown to the point where it is like a mutant gone completely out of control, the participating coaches' obsession with keeping their players away from the hype also has grown.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson took this obsession to a new level in 1982, when his team was playing in New Orleans. Thompson kept his team in Biloxi, Miss., about 90 miles from New Orleans, and brought the players to town only for games, practices or news conferences. The players toured New Orleans after the tournament was over.
Last year, Georgetown and St. John's stayed in Louisville, 75 miles from Lexington, the Final Four site. The NCAA decided to put at least a damper on that trend this year, passing a rule that no team may stay more than 20 miles from a tournament site for all rounds. Among coaches, as one might expect, this is known as "The Thompson Rule."
This year, all four teams are staying at their assigned hotels. That puts them within easy reach of fans, groupies and the media. The media are what worry coaches more than anything.
"The younger kids just aren't prepared to deal with all this," said Louisville Coach Denny Crum, who is in his sixth Final Four, behind only John Wooden and Dean Smith. "The seniors have seen it all, but the younger ones have never seen that many people with cameras, microphones and notebooks in their lives. It can get to them."
For that reason, Crum put all his non-seniors off-limits to the media this week. Seniors Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson and Jeff Hall were available, but that was it.
"I think there has to be some control," said Kansas Coach Larry Brown, who took UCLA to the Final Four in 1980 and is back with the Jayhawks this weekend. "The best thing is for everything to be as close to normal as is possible. Don't change practice, don't change preparation. It's impossible for everything to be the same, but the closer you can get to that I think the better your chances are."
Realistically, though, all coaches, whether they have been here six times or once, know there is no way for this to be a normal week in their lives. In addition to preparing their teams, coaches become ticket managers for a week. Especially this week, when each school has only 1,700 tickets to sell.
"One thing Coach [Bob] Knight told me was not to let the distractions ruin your week," said Krzyzewski, who played and coached under Knight. "They can if you let it. There are certain things I have to do and it's not going to be an easy week -- no way. But once the team hits Dallas, I want to be thinking only about Kansas."
Krzyzewski is not the only coach here with a famous mentor. Crum played and coached at UCLA under Wooden, the man who built and broke the mold on how to handle Final Four week. Ironically, the first time Crum reached the Final Four in 1972, his semifinal opponent was UCLA -- coached by Wooden. And, when he finally won the championship in 1980, the team he beat was UCLA -- coached by Larry Brown.
Brown's mentor is Dean Smith. He played for Smith and coached under him at North Carolina. Today, when the Jayhawks practiced, Smith was there watching. "Actually," he cracked, "I did want to watch Duke practice."
You can bet serious money that Smith won't be anywhere near one of Krzyzewski's practices this week -- except for Friday when all four teams hold open workouts at Reunion Arena. Actually, those practices have changed over the years and, once again, Thompson was a major innovator.
Once, the open Friday practices were true practices. The coaches performed for the fans, the media and their assembled colleagues, who come to town for the annual coaches convention every year. But Thompson, when he first reached the Final Four in 1982, had no interest in having 15,000 people in the Superdome watch his workout. So his team practiced in Biloxi, then shot foul shots during its designated time on the floor.
Since then, other coaches have followed this example and now the open workouts are little more than a chance for the players to clown around, perhaps perform a few dunks for the crowd and for coaches and players to look around and say, "Wow, I'm in the Final Four."
"That may have been the most exciting thing for me the first time, the Friday practice," Larry Brown said. "To walk out on the floor and see Dean Smith watching me and Ray Meyer and Mr. [Henry] Iba. All those great coaches and there I am, coaching a Final Four team."
That feeling is the reason it is so hard for a coach, especially the first time, to make this a week full of discipline. Knight might be able to do it because he is so discipline-oriented all the time. But even a Knight product such as Krzyzewski can't bring himself to cut his team off from the world this week.
"The real pressure is getting to the Final Four," the Duke coach said. "I expect all the teams here to be loose and play their best basketball of the year. Our job is to prepare them to play, and I know we'll do that.
"But one way or the other, this is going to be a week we'll all remember the rest of our lives. It's something I've dreamed of and something my players have dreamed of. I don't want their memories of this week to be of tape machines and hotel rooms.
"I want my players to look back some day and smile when they think of this week, regardless of the outcome. I want the memory to be special. They've earned that."