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Saturday, March 1, 2008
Wild rant shouldn't define Michigan's Borseth

By Graham Hays
ESPN.com

Emotion got the best of University of Michigan women's basketball coach Kevin Borseth after a tough loss. What followed brought out the worst in a lot of us.

Kevin Borseth
In Kevin Borseth's first season, Michigan is an NCAA Tournament bubble team and off to a 16-11 start. The Wolverines were 10-20 last season.

In the rush to find the next national punch line, one of the good guys got trampled.

Getting a chuckle out of Borseth's whirlwind entrance at the postgame news conference after his team squandered an 18-point lead against Wisconsin -- a flurry of arms and torso some bloggers compared to Kramer from "Seinfeld" -- isn't the problem.

Given a few weeks, Borseth might laugh at himself. He'd definitely be able to come up with a few one-liners better than anything that hit the airwaves or Internet on Friday.

What's rather more profoundly saddening is the latest example of how quickly fans and media -- including ESPN, which exploited the video clip to full effect -- jumped to judgment about someone they knew only from about four minutes of footage.

They completely missed the kind of coach many complain is a dying breed.

Addressing the media after a loss that ultimately might cost his team an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, Borseth slammed the lectern with his fist. He railed about his team's inability to control the offensive glass. He hinted that the officials let the game play out as if it were rugby instead of basketball. He rambled and he ranted.

Borseth's Rant

Michigan women's basketball coach Kevin Borseth's rant has become the stuff of Internet legend. UMHoops.com

He didn't demean anyone. He didn't belittle anyone. And that's more than can be said for many of those who latched on to the video as a way to fill segments or boost hits.

Borseth isn't Mike Gundy, the Oklahoma State football coach who achieved infamy with a postgame tirade directed at a local writer he felt had unfairly criticized one of his players. For one thing, Borseth's rant was directed at the basketball gods as much as at any individual. At worst, an anonymous group of officials bore the brunt of his words.

But for another thing, all Gundy has to do to get back on "SportsCenter" is win enough games to compete for the Big 12 title and a BCS bid -- or win enough games to get a big-money offer from another program.

When we're through with Borseth, we'll toss him back into anonymity. Few of those now laughing at his expense will pay attention if his Wolverines rally in the Big Ten tournament and earn their way into the NCAA Tournament. In his first year at a program that has been a perennial underachiever in women's basketball, Borseth won't be applauded for taking a team that went 10-20 overall last season to 16-11, including the Wisconsin loss.

Not that public acclaim is something that has motivated Borseth in 25 years of coaching.

If fame were something he wanted, even fame by the relative standards of the women's basketball community, he wouldn't have stayed at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for nine seasons. He wouldn't have built one of the few sustained mid-major success stories in women's basketball, losing a total of 13 conference games in nine seasons, winning at least a share of nine consecutive conference titles and reaching seven NCAA Tournaments.

He certainly had chances to bolt for programs with more money, better athletes and a chance to reach a Final Four, including a high-profile flirtation with Colorado a few years ago. But each time he decided not to leave, it had nothing to do with big-pocketed boosters or a big-school ego.

"It's not frustrating when you prepare your team because success is relative," Borseth said last year. "I really believe that; success is relative. Quality of life is everything to me. Would it be nice to hoist a Division I championship trophy over my head? Absolutely. At the price of my family? Absolutely not. I would never consider that; it's not worth it. The success we have here -- I'm glad we do -- is relative and we enjoy it. And to watch the kids develop is really important."

If not for the Michigan job's opening up immediately after one of Borseth's best coaching performances -- his team led Connecticut at halftime of a second-round NCAA Tournament game in Hartford last season -- he probably would still be in the shadow of Lambeau Field. But as a Michigan native who got his start coaching Gogebic Community College and Michigan Tech, he couldn't pass up an opportunity to go home.

The irony is that what everyone saw in the tirade is what you get with Borseth in a basketball setting. He's a volatile guy who screams and yells and stomps around on the sideline. He coaches with a passion those closest to it appreciate because they realize it's authentic.

"I think he'd admit to anyone that he's a very pessimistic guy, but he's just really passionate about the game," UW-Green Bay senior Natalie Berglin said last year. "It's really fun to play for him. I think he just cares so much, and he's so competitive, even when you practice, he just makes it a fun environment to play under."

Wisconsin-Green Bay was never going to win a national championship. The vast majority of Borseth's players were never going to make even a few years' worth of a career out of professional basketball in the WNBA or overseas. The prospects are marginally brighter at Michigan, but it's a long road to reach even the territory occupied by conference heavyweights like Ohio State and Purdue.

Yet Borseth puts all the emotion that was on display in that news conference into every year and every team. He said last year that he was never going to be able to recruit a Candace Parker or a Monique Currie at Green Bay. But he holds all his teams to the same standards as any championship program.

Whether it's coaching basketball, teaching economics or managing a Starbucks, if you treat people as though what they're doing doesn't really matter, what result do you expect?

How is any of that laughable?

The first thing I thought of when watching the clip was something Borseth said about his undersized UW-Green Bay teams that won despite perennially losing the battle of the boards.

"I've been doing this for 25 years, and we've been getting outrebounded for 25 years," Borseth said last year. "So I don't know that that's the most important statistic in basketball. It's a big one -- it has the potential to be a big one -- but I've found other stats. I've found probably the fouls statistics to be the most consistent statistic with the best teams I've had. Assist-to-turnover ratio and least amount of fouls."

Too bad rebounding might turn out to be the most important stat in defining Kevin Borseth.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.