How I Managed Irate Coaches When Refereeing College Basketball

By | October 16, 2014

Kool Derby

Since 1990, I have officiated Div. I men’s collegiate basketball. Because of work commitments, I don’t officiate as many games as before. In fact, today I mostly work small college games in the San Antonio area. However, for more than 20 years, I reffed games in the Big 12, Conference USA, Mountain West, WAC, and several other conferences. Without a bout, this presented an excellent learning experience.

I know of very few professions in which it’s okay for people to call you names. Given that I was one of the few Latinos working at that level, I was usually a target for fans. One crazy fan in Tulsa was almost ejected when he yelled, “Hey! Go back to Mexico!” Today, he would be out the door immediately, but 15 years ago, it was tolerated. I think it caught the game administrator by surprise, and she decided to warn him instead.

In another situation at McNeese State, a fan came up with a creative name for the officiating crew. In that game, the officiating crew consisted of a Black, Mexican (me), and White. This fan, perhaps a bit intoxicated, called us the United Nations crew. In the officiating world, we prefer to call it the BMW Crew. Get it?

Getting back to the topic about how to managed irate coaches. I began working these games in my early 20s, which means that I had limited experience handling volatile situations. Collegiate basketball is extremely competitive, and coaches are constantly looking for an edge.

Billy Tubbs, the former Oklahoma Sooner and TCU coach, constantly used vulgar language, even on simple out-of-bounds calls. About 10 seconds into one game at TCU, he screamed, “Jimmie, that’s f*c#in’ ridiculous! You’re off to terrible start!” Mind you, I had the call right!

Only Respond to Questions

A veteran official taught me that to survive at this level, I needed to respond only to questions. The comments were outrageous, such as:

  • “That’s crazy!”
  • “I can’t believe you made that call!”
  • “Wow! We’re in for a long night with you!”
  • “No way! You missed that call!”
  • “Please do me a favor and help out your partner!”

We can acknowledge responses by nodding our heads, but we must avoid responding  verbally. First, there are far too many of them hurled at us and second, we are busy doing our work.

Keep a Cool and Controlled Attitude

Most people today ask me why I am slow to show emotion. That attitude was learned through officiating for more than two decades. I learned to control my emotions and to avoid showing any frustration or anger.

Some of our games were on television, and nearly all of them can make YouTube today. While working in Hawaii one afternoon, I forget that a mike was hidden under the scorer’s table. My partner and I were having a discussion about the ludicrous behavior shown by one of the coaches. Yikes!

Corporate policy prevents people from calling you “stupid,” an “idiot,” or “blind.” However, learning how to manage irate people is an important leadership trait. You will experience both subtle and overt comments that are far from professional. Instead of overreacting, filter them.  By keeping your cool, you can handle those situations professionally.

Like I learned in officiating, most of the criticism you hear does not warrant a response. Think big picture and focus on completing the requirements you are assigned to do.

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