Boclair: An occasional lie

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 10:05pm

Kevin Stallings needs to tell a lie from time to time.

A product of the heartland — he grew up in Missouri and went to college at Purdue — the Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach is predictably straightforward. It’s a trait that makes him a good interview subject. If a particular player screwed up something during a game, he’s much more likely than most to name that player and point out his mistake. That kind of detail adds depth to the stories of those who cover his team and provides clarity for the fans who cheer him and his players. 

Often, though, it’s not what the players need to hear. Particularly not the players he has right now, who were just stung by their second one-and-done appearance in as many years at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. 

There are programs where players can be told 100 times that they screwed up, and 100 times it has little impact or even spurs them to do better. Vanderbilt players — most of them, anyway — take information along the lines of “You screwed up” and process it. Not only do they think about what exactly they screwed up and why, they start to consider all the other things they can — and possibly do — get wrong.

Given enough input of that sort, it’s easy to imagine that their fertile minds can sprout enough negative thoughts to eventually resemble a lush cornfield at harvest time. 

Everyone, on the other hand, likes to hear how good he or she is. Often, it is the most powerful lie a person can tell because it is the one people want to hear more than any other. More importantly, it can make one perform at a higher level, acting as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe Stallings does it, but there’s nothing to suggest that he ever looks a player in the eye prior to a game and tells him, “They have no one who can defend you. It wouldn’t surprise me if you score 50 tonight.” Never mind whether it’s true. 

Watch the Commodores, and it’s hard to see any real joy. No one looks like he relishes the moment. Moreover, the players seem to exude a sense of dread about what they might get wrong and the reaction such an error will bring from their coach. They play with stern faces. They don’t — or at least this season they didn’t — multiply their good moments with more good moments. Rather than be freed by double-digit leads, they tensed up and too often allowed the opposition to close the gap, as was the case in the NCAA loss to Richmond. 

Stallings knows basketball. Lots of it. There can be no debate on that front. But it’s questionable whether he understands the full range of personalities that exist within a team of 15 or so players, and whether he’s equipped to deal with some of the softer, more sensitive ones. 

Several years ago, his players publicly railed against his hard-edged approach, and he adapted. He vowed to holler less, and he followed through on that promise, which could not have been an easy thing. 

But there’s a difference between not yelling and empowering players with positive reinforcement. Sometimes players actually benefit more from being told what they want to hear as opposed to being told the truth. 

Maybe it’s just not in him. Perhaps Stallings’ Midwestern upbringing simply will not allow him to tell someone who made a mistake, “It’s OK. I know you’ll do better next time.”

Each of the last two years, though, Vanderbilt fans believed their team would “do better this time” in the NCAA Tournament, and that turned out not to be the case. At this point, it seems like an occasional lie might be worth a try.

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7 Comments on this post:

By: fightcrib on 3/31/11 at 12:04


Might I ask what are you doing writing in such a small-time venue as Nashville City Paper. This expose was stellar. I would like to forward you a $10.65 million dollar contract on how to coach a Division I Men's Basketball program.

From your article, you have the answers figured out and don't look like a jerkoff at all.

Email me at



By: richgoose on 3/31/11 at 6:41

DBoclair......I have no idea who you are but I am impressed with your ability to write an article that most astute people have recognized as the truth for a number of years.

Even more impressive was that you were able to diagnose and discuss the shortcomings of Kevin Stallings without the article being personally offensive.

Kevin Stallings has found a job that allows him to be financially successful with a personality that is completely foreign to his profession.

By: eastsidaz on 3/31/11 at 8:07

This article reads like it was written from a bitter fan in 3L. Stallings has said countless times that Taylor is NBA material who needs to take over games and be aggressive, JJ is the best shooter he has ever seen, Festus is the most improved player with the biggest heart he has ever coached. You can go online and find countless game action photos of guys having a great time, Do some real research before blindly blanketing a D1 coach who has the gonads to tell it like it is and not sugar coat his players earning a real education. This is real garbage. Try a little harder. Agenda.

By: on 3/31/11 at 8:23

I've been a season ticket holder for years and I, mostly, agree with Boclair. I don't see anyone having any real fun - I don't think there is another explanation for why a player as gifted as Taylor can miss so many layups except a fear of failure.
However, I think some of this falls on the players that come to Vandy. Other than the current team, when was the last time there was conversation about Vandy having three potential NBA players? My guess is never. Even as great as Foster and Byers were, they're in Europe as is the highly touted Ogilvie.
I think that for the most part, Vandy recruits kids who are good, not great, players who want a good education and have plans other than basketball. So, their education is a means -not college basketball - to an end. For many college atheletes, their performance on the court is the only means. Having said that, a team like this comes to Vanderbilt rarely and I get my hopes up that this is "the" team. However, when you put Stallings in the mix . . . . it's not a good combination.

By: damons on 3/31/11 at 9:15

Great story! I have been thinking along these lines for a long time. Yes he does say some nice things about his players, but he can take them to the woodshed on the bench. I think you have really nailed this story!

By: royt5 on 3/31/11 at 9:19

This article is the biggest bunch of non-sense I have seen in a while. I agree if a player does things the right way, you tell and praise him, but if he does something that could or should have been done better or a different way, a coach would be doing the player a dis-service if he didn't point it out to him. You certainly don't praise him. How else would he learn? And what would keep him from making the same mistakes over and over? Just my thoughts.

By: artsmart on 3/31/11 at 4:21

The article almost describes the difference between good coaches and winners.
Most work a million hours, some are hard some are nice but some just win and most do not. If it was easy to identify the reason it would be done by everyone.