Kentucky's Mitchell knocked it out of the park on the big stage

Kentucky women's basketball coach Matthew Mitchell watches his team play UConn in the NCAA tournament Tuesday night.

No other event captures the deification of coaches better than the NCAA tournament. Coaches, coaches everywhere, on NCAA-approved podiums, yammering on, social commentators all. And it works like this: If you like the coach, you attach scriptural importance to the message. If you don't, you think "liar, liar pants on fire," even when the coach says the words "and" and "the."

Even on this perilous road to canonization, however, we find the occasional coach who doesn't merely have it figured out, but is a beacon to colleagues on higher and lower levels.

Example: When you win, credit the players. When you lose, blame yourself.

I can deal with coaches who pout when they lose. But I lose my sunny disposition over the "I win 'em, they lose 'em" crowd. They say things like "the game plan was great, they just didn't execute it." I encounter them everywhere. High school included.

It's nauseating, if for no other reason than you convey the life lesson that when things start swirling the bowl, blame someone else.

Note to coaches: If you don't want your players to throw each other under the bus, set the proper example by not throwing them underneath first.

This is why I immediately hit the "like" button for Kentucky women's coach Matthew Mitchell the other night.

Mitchell and the Wildcats lost to UConn in the Elite Eight. It's a horrid game to lose. Forget the finality of a season's end one game short of paradise. The enduring pain pulsates through an old line from Seals & Crofts, wondering if we'll ever pass this way again.

And so Mitchell began to answer questions about the 80-65 loss to Connecticut. His tone could have ranged anywhere from pouty to angry to philosophical. His answers suggested that he's a guy for whom you'd want your daughter to play.

Question about UConn's 9-0 lead at the start: "That was a real bad start for us and I feel terrible that I didn't have them more ready to play and I just don't fault the players there. I wish I had done a better job being able to get them out of the gate."

Question about how the game got away after Kentucky closed to within 52-49: "That is not the players, that is my inability over the course of this season to help our players handle big, physical zones. ... It's something that I need to get better on in the offseason to try to help our players a little bit more. But I thought our players gave an awfully good effort. If you want to blame somebody for this one, you can credit Connecticut's good play and you can blame me."

Question about Tiffany Hayes' touchdown pass to Kelly Faris at the end of the first half: "That's coaching. That's a poor, poor job of communicating what needs to happen. The players should not have been in that position and it's my job to get them in a better position."

It's more obvious than a billboard, of course, that Mitchell couldn't possibly bear that much responsibility. He didn't play a minute. And you figure he did a pretty fair job getting a program without much history into the Elite Eight.

But with the cameras rolling and a spotlight that hasn't been on his program much, he issued all the mea culpas. Blame me, not the players. It's only exactly what you're supposed to say. We all know the truth, as it always does, lies in the middle. But a coach who falls on the sword publicly is the coach who ultimately gets his players to run through the apocryphal brick wall.

Now we know why Kastine Evans, the former great at Norwich Free Academy, chose to play for him.

My job is awash in a pleasurable mix of high school and college sports. Here is what I've learned: I'm not sure school systems understand how they'll be judged, in part, by how the coach speaks in front of the cameras or to the papers. I'm not sure if institutions understand the significance of the podium at NCAA tournaments.

They're the backdrop for how reputations are fortified. Someone should alert Penn State coach Coquese Washington, for example, that her decision to chew gum on the podium with the cameras rolling is an embarrassment to her school. Just as someone should salute Mitchell for saying all the right things under unpleasant circumstances.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

UConn players Tiffany Hayes, left, and Caroline Doty hold the regional trophy after beating Kentucky 80-65 Tuesday night in the regional final at Kingston, R.I.
UConn players Tiffany Hayes, left, and Caroline Doty hold the regional trophy after beating Kentucky 80-65 Tuesday night in the regional final at Kingston, R.I.


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