The Coach's Son
The menace of youth sports.
When your dad's Snoop Dogg, it's good to be the coach's son. In 2002, the actor/rapper/pornographer started helping out with his son Spanky's youth football team. The next season Spanky joined a once-humble, four-decades-old squad that soon took to rolling in a snazzy minibus loaded with televisions and carrying around custom trophies from Tiffany honoring their victory in "Snooper Bowl I." Spanky was the star quarterback.
For anyone who's played kiddie sports, this story sounds all too familiar. The exact same thing happened to me. Just without the actor/rapper/pornographer part.
When I was 9, my baseball team stank. As if our hitting and fielding weren't pitiful enough, our baby-blue uniforms carried the name of the local mental hospital. One afternoon, our coach tried to light a fire under us with a post-practice pep talk. If you loaf, he announced, I'm going to put you in center field and bat you ninth. At the next game, I was in center field and batting ninth. Me, Mr. Perfect Attendance. And who got the glory of standing on the pitcher's mound? The coach's son.
I hated the coach's son. Hated, hated, hated the coach's son. This kid, who sucked just as much as the rest of us, got to pitch just because his dad got the afternoons off? It wasn't just that one year. The spoiled coaches' sons got picked for every all-star traveling team. I stayed home, threw the ball against the garage door, and cursed Little League for not having any nepotism laws.
The menace of the coach's son isn't just a quirk of my youth league. Pretty much every team in this week's Little League World Series features a father-son combo. Two kids on the Maitland, Fla., squad had dads—ex-major leaguers Dante Bichette and Mike Stanley—on the coaching staff. Forgive me if my heart isn't warmed.
I don't mean to sucker-punch every coach's son—just the ones who deserve it. When I was a kid, I idolized Pistol Pete Maravich. Pete's dad, college coach Press Maravich, goaded him to perform elaborate drills, supposedly including dribbling out the window of a moving car. Pistol Pete followed his dad to LSU and piled up scoring records that still stand. He might be thought of as a noble coach's son—a bright youngster who learned humbly at his father's knee, a prodigy for whom basketball drills were familial duty, not torture.
Todd Marinovich, on the other hand, is the prodigal coach's son. Marv Marinovich, a former assistant coach for the Raiders, trained his son to play quarterback from birth, drilling him mercilessly until he became a first-round NFL draft pick. All that quality father-son time took its toll. Todd quickly flamed out of the NFL, then got caught in a car with some heroin. He floated on the margins of pro football for years, sadly chasing the NFL job he pissed away because he didn't know how to do anything else.
Coach's sons abound in every sport, but for some reason they seem to pop up regularly in the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness teems with dutiful roundball progeny, usually white, who learned the game by shooting until their hands bled. Some specimens from last season's tourney: Vermont's T.J. Sorrentine, Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, West Virginia's Patrick Beilein, and DePaul's Drake Diener.
Nobody loves a coach's son more than another coach. Then-Kansas coach Roy Williams explained that Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich were so successful because, "They're both sons of coaches. … They understand the game." Arizona State coach Rob Evans on Kevin Kruger, son of former NBA coach Lon Kruger: "He's a coach's son, so he understands the game. He just knows how to play. I feel very comfortable with him out there." (And it's not just coaches' sons. Jenna Huggins' high-school coach said the daughter of recently deposed coach Bob Huggins "definitely knows the game. It's not hard to tell she's the daughter of a coach.")
When the coach's son still plays for dad, though, the shouts of favoritism are usually insurmountable. (That is, unless your dad is Bobby Knight and occasionally kicks you in the leg to keep you in line.) Part of the legend of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is that he had to play wide receiver until his senior year in high school because the coach's son was the quarterback. On the college level, the prototype prodigal coach's son is Kentucky point guard Saul Smith. As Saul (who insisted on calling his dad "Coach Smith") ran the Wildcats offense with minimal competence, fans screamed for Tubby to cut the umbilical cord.