Green Bay Coach Struggled with a Young Team
A basketball coach under investigation described a no-nonsense coaching style in an interview with a radio host. Did he push too hard?
Brian Wardle in 2010, when he rose to head coach. (photos by UW-Green Bay)
Brian Wardle is a young coach with a young team. The UW-Green Bay head coach under investigation for mistreating a player told Wisconsin sports talker Bill Michaels at the beginning of the 2012-13 season that he was faced with a roster flush with underclassmen, players like Ryan Bross, the 7'1" freshman from Menomonee Falls whose parents sent a letter to university officials alleging wrongdoing.
We still only have one senior, Bill, and that's what I've got to keep remembering in practice every day ... And then we've got a good solid group of juniors and sophomores and freshmen, and it's our third year as a staff; so we've kind of built this team to get better as the years go on. This is the most talent we've had, and I feel pretty good about it; but we still only have one senior. Coaching and teaching, you've got to be a little bit more patient in practice, and I've had to work on that.
A former team manager told the Green Bay Press-Gazette this morning that practices were sometimes heated, though she came to regard Wardle's periodic flare-ups as a normal part of college sports.
He would yell pretty loud, and there would be times ... sometimes he would slam the ball down on the ground, and it'd go off somewhere; and he would get kind of in the players' faces, probably too close, if it was me ... He would just kind of stop and have a minor explosion, then the players would understand, and they would work harder. He would cool down, and later in the locker room, he would be like, 'Guys, I'm sorry. I know I exploded, but you've got to focus. You've got to do what you're here to do.' ... The first couple times I was like, 'Oh.' I would be scared to have him in my face, but then the other managers would be like, 'It's normal.'
In the November radio interview, Wardle told Michaels that a recent scrimmage against a formidable Indiana squad gave his players a chance to watch a high-functioning team, not one that, like his, had "peaks and valleys."
They never lose it, and we have moments where sometimes we get a little fatigued; or we go to the bench and the bench doesn't bring enough energy cause we've got a lot of newcomers. And that's what we're trying to correct right now.
Wardle, 33, described singling out players in team meetings who attempted to avoid criticism as the coach reviewed game film.
Film never lies. Anytime you can bust the film out and play it in front of guys, as much as young men nowadays in college want to say, 'That's not me. That's not me.' I usually have to pause it, put the laser on it and say, 'Is that you?' 'Yeah, that's me.' 'Are you sure that's you?' You've got to repeat it and make sure that, 'OK, that's not good enough. We need to get better, and we need to just run the floor a little bit harder on that possession.'
Phoenix players listen during Wardle's introduction speech in 2010.
A former Marquette star, Wardle served as director of basketball operations at the university under Coach Tom Crean between 2003 and 2005. Crean, now Indiana's head coach, is known for his sometimes-volcanic style, though Wardle says his old coach has cut the R-rated language.
If you read the ESPN article, Coach Crean is not swearing anymore, and he's not. I'm close ... I don't cuss a whole lot with our guys. I'm trying to cut back.
Bross, who is one of a handful of players leaving the Green Bay team, plans to transfer to Concordia University in Mequon. The walk-on came to the team with relatively little experience. The Menomonee Falls Patch says he started practicing in earnest only a couple years ago and joined his high school's varsity team as a junior.
Bross' parents have revealed little to reporters about the nature of the family's complaint, though sources have told the Green Bay newspaper that the allegations concern "verbal and emotional mistreatment" but not physical abuse. Bross tweeted on April 1 that "having a terrible migrane and feeling like crap is like the worst feeling in the world." He hasn't tweeted since yesterday, when news of his parents' complaint broke.
In late March, Wardle told the Press-Gazette he had no concerns regarding the program after two freshmen announced plans to leave the university and basketball team.
When it comes down to our program, the way we run things, the way we treat our guys, our relationship with them, I have zero concerns about that.
An outside agency of some sort will conduct the investigation of Wardle, which comes not long after more serious allegations of both physical and verbal abuse by Rutgers head coach Mike Rice lead to his firing.