Sunday, February 5, 2006

Green’s return will be ‘weird’


Jerry Green, who spent four successful seasons sitting next to best buddy Roy Williams on Kansas University's basketball bench in tradition-rich Allen Fieldhouse, today will experience the other side.

"It's going to be weird," said Green, Oklahoma's first-year director of basketball operations who served as a member of Williams' original KU staff.

Green helped the Jayhawks to a 103-30 record and spot in the 1991 national-title game in his stint from 1988-89 through 1991-92.

"It's one of those things I haven't experienced. I've not played at a place I worked at before ... never," Green said.

The 61-year-old Green, head coach at Oregon for five seasons and Tennessee for four after leaving KU, halted a four-year retirement with wife Nancy to join OU coach Kelvin Sampson's staff.

"I didn't realize how much I missed campus life until we came to Norman," Green said.

He'll never forget campus life at KU.

"There are so many great memories," Green said. "I remember when we lost to Duke in the championship game (72-65 in Indianapolis) ... our charter got to Topeka, and there were so many people to greet us.

"Getting on the buses ... people stopped all along the interstate to wave at us, say hello to us. They almost lined the highways coming back into Lawrence. That was memorable, and the games against Indiana and Arkansas in Charlotte (Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins to get to Final Four) ... those are the highlights."

There was one lowlight.

"The announcement we were not allowed to go to the (NCAA) Tournament our first year after Kansas won it the year before. That was a tough time for everybody -- guys like Milt Newton couldn't go back to the tournament," Green said.

Williams and assistants Green, Kevin Stallings and Steve Robinson inherited an NCAA probation their first season at KU, the announcement coming on Halloween, 1988.

Green, who still has many friends in Lawrence, including former KU baseball coach Floyd Temple, athletic director Bob Frederick and broadcaster Max Falkenstien, stays in close contact with Williams, now North Carolina's third-year coach.

Williams was instrumental in Green's taking the OU job.

"I was trying to live the retired life at our beach house (in native North Carolina). One day, Roy and I were playing golf at Pinehurst when the (U.S.) Open was up there," Green related in his thick Carolina accent.

"He asked how I was doing. I said, 'I'm bored stiff.' He said, 'It's funny. Kelvin just called me the other day. He has a position open and wants a more veteran person to fill it rather than somebody ready to hop to a job at Kentucky Wesleyan after a year.'

"It worked out we just finished building a brand-new house at the beach and had been in it one month. We boarded that sucker up (and moved to Norman). It's been great."

The only negative about his job, which includes work in compliance, scheduling and travel, is the fact he can't coach the players, though he can sit on the bench and assist the coaches during games.

"I miss working with the players. I felt that was my strongest suit, coaching, especially on the defensive end," Green said.

"You can have input with coaches, but it's about as far as it goes. You don't have that orchestration you have as head coach, but I sleep better as an assistant than I did as a head coach."

Still, he does talk to the players as they come and go from the basketball office on a daily basis.

"Coach Green is a great guy. He brings a lot to the table being a head coach," senior Kevin Bookout said.

"Coach Green? That's my boy, my man," OU senior Taj Gray said. "He's a laid-back guy but gets on you when he needs to. He's told us a lot of stories already."

None of the stories have to do with the negative reaction of some KU fans toward his buddy Williams leaving Mount Oread for Chapel Hill, N.C. Green is not surprised ill feelings exist.

"No," Green said, "because when I left Oregon (for Tennessee) I went back (to Oregon) one time and was out at a restaurant. One kid came up to me, he had to be a fifth-grader, and said, 'My entire class hates you for leaving.'

"I looked at him and I started thinking, 'Is that a good thing for somebody to tell me or a bad thing?' I think the job Roy did at KU ... a lot of people would have loved to have him stay for eternity. It wasn't to be.

"I don't know how much the athletic director there (Al Bohl) had in the decision of Roy Williams to leave. I've thought about that many times. In my own opinion it wasn't Kansas, and it wasn't the fans. If I say anything it would have been the athletic director in that time."

Green, who was fired at Tennessee despite compiling an 89-36 record in Knoxville -- all four of his squads won at least 20 games -- realizes the harsh reality of sports: Coaches come, and coaches go.

"I learned this a long time ago: Fans love you 'win or tie.' The other time they don't love you (besides when losing) is if you leave. They feel deserted. You get a new athletic director or president, what you have is a new job," Green said.

Green, who knows KU coaches Bill Self and assistants Joe Dooley and Tim Jankovich, says KU is in "great hands. Bill has done a great job wherever he's been. He's at a great place. I was there just four years, but four years is a long time in a coach's world. There's good quality people in Lawrence who remain friends."

He didn't want to discuss today's matchup in depth -- "I'd rather let Kelvin talk about the Sooners rather than me opening my big mouth," he quipped -- but did say, "We'll be working our rear ends off trying to win the game.

"Like all coaches, when it's time to play you do everything you can legally do to win the game ... put my feelings about the setting of Allen Fieldhouse on the back burner a bit."

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