What’s the old saying? “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once.”
That’s what Todd Bozeman heard this time last year when he guided the Morgan State Bears to the MEAC title and a trip to the NCAA tournament in his third season on Hillen Rd.
Do something once…and your critics always say, “Let’s see if you can do it again.”
Bozeman has indeed done it again.
With Morgan State’s 68-61 win over South Carolina State in Saturday’s MEAC Championship, Todd Bozeman has earned a second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Five years ago, that feat would have seemed nearly impossible.
It wouldn’t have seemed that unlikely given Bozeman’s credentials and coaching pedigree. Five years ago, though, Bozeman was without a job, having been banished by the NCAA back in 1996 for paying a player at California $30,000 so his parents could travel to watch their son play for the Golden Bears.
So, to go from unemployed in March of 2005 to making two straight trips to the NCAA tournament by March 2010…at a school that went 4-26 just five seasons ago…I’d consider such a feat almost miracle-like.
But calling Morgan State’s back-to-back MEAC titles “miracle-like” is doing a huge injustice to Todd Bozeman.
He’s the reason why the Bears are going back to The Dance.
He’d never admit it, of course. Bozeman would no doubt give all the credit to his outstanding senior guard and the school’s all-time leading scorer, Reggie Holmes. He’d brag about the dominance of big man Kevin Thompson. And he’d laud the leadership and timely contributions of senior Troy Smith.
Bozeman – like most coaches, actually – would NEVER take the credit for his team’s successful two-year run.
But he’s the man behind their success.
A few years back, Todd joined me on The Comcast Morning Show and told a story about his father. Bozeman was in the hospital visiting his Dad (suffering from lung cancer) when he became agitated that nurses were taking too long retrieving pain medication. As Bozeman’s agitation level increased, his father pulled him close and whispered, “Be Patient”. Those were the last words Todd’s father ever spoke to his son.
When you watch Bozeman coach these days, you see the impact of those words at work. Even during Saturday’s final against South Carolina State, his style and demeanor was no different than it would be if the Bears were playing at Hill Field House against MEAC rival Florida A&M on a Tuesday night in January. He’s animated, like most every coach in college basketball, but he’s almost never out of control. And it always seems like Bozeman knows the right time to push harder and the right time to ease off.
The final words of his halftime speech (aired on ESPN-U) in the MEAC final were proof-positive that Bozeman knows the right buttons to push at the right time. Leading South Carolina State 29-24 at the half, the coach quietly gathered his players in the locker room and sent them out for the final 20 minutes by offering this:
“When practice started last year, you all wanted this. You wanted to be ahead at halftime of the conference final with a chance to go back to the tournament. Well…here you are. What are you going to do about it? That’s the question.”
What are YOU going to do about it?
No one was singled out. No extra pressure put on a senior. Or the leading scorer. Win as a team – lose as a team.
It was a great statement and the perfect thing to say to a group of men who were wearing the bulls-eye on their backs all season long.
“What are you going to do about it?”
His Bears went out and battled a pesky South Carolina State for the first 10 minutes of the final half. It was anyone’s game. With his team ahead by five points and 8 minutes to play, Bozeman gathered his team during a time-out. The TV cameras and microphones zeroed in on the coach as he addressed the Bears. “This is all up to you now. Go out and win this game.”
Part of coaching — doing it well, in particular — is sometimes knowing when NOT to coach. In that time-out, Bozeman didn’t have a clipboard in his hand. He wasn’t sweating like a mad man. He didn’t raise his voice.
“Go out and win this game.”
Sounds to me like someone, somewhere, was telling Bozeman — “be patient”.
It helps to have Reggie Holmes and Kevin Thompson, don’t get me wrong, but this magic ride of the Bears is being captained by Bozeman. No matter who they draw in the opening game of the NCAA tournament, Morgan State will be in for a battle.
But so will their opponent.
And win or lose next week, Todd Bozeman’s career revival is now complete. There were plenty of folks in the NCAA, including people in Baltimore, who hoped Bozeman would fail with the Bears. Some believed he wasn’t worthy of a second chance. A lot of people figured he’d show up at the obscure school in Baltimore and pay the ultimate price for his misgivings at Cal: “He’ll wallow in a sea of mediocrity at that place…they don’t have any money in the athletic department…he can’t get the best kids from the city to play for him.” That’s what they said about Bozeman.
All he wanted was another opportunity. Bozeman was in the “beggars can’t be choosers” club when Butch Beard stepped down and the Bears’ head coaching job was available. One of the pressing negative issues for Bozeman, though, would come once somehow actually DID hire him. He’d have to face the media, and the alumni, and explain what happened at Cal ten years ago.
When he was hired by Morgan State, the new coach handled every question about his ouster from Cal with dignity and honesty.
“I made a bad mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.” Bozeman said in his debut press conference. “I’m coming here to help get this program turned around. I owe them everything because they gave me a second chance.”
Well, the program has been turned around.
And the guy who got a second chance has paid huge dividends for the little school in north Baltimore.
All it took was a little patience.
10 years worth, in fact.