Wednesday, March 17, 2010

At Seton Hall: It's Gonzo, as in "Gone-Zo"

Former Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez got fired at Seton Hall today (Wednesday), and there won't be much surprise if one of the sport's most divisive individuals might be finished as a head coach.

Some might describe Gonzalez as "polarizing," but that would be too complimentary. To call him that would be interpreted that people either liked "Gonzo," or disliked him. By just about all accounts, nearly everyone gravitated toward the "dislike" side of that issue.

Manhattan had him for seven years. Here's what the Jaspers' athletic director Bob Byrnes told the New York Times recently, when asked about his former coach:

Byrnes was recently asked if he'd ever consider bring Gonzalez back if the Manhattan position opened up.

Byrnes quickly answered “no.”

Byrnes said that when he was informed that Gonzalez was leaving for Seton Hall, he said: “Good luck. I had him for seven years. I used to have a lot of hair. I’m almost bald now.”

He said he had seen Gonzalez only once since he left, at a dinner, but did receive a bobblehead of Gonzalez in the mail recently from him.

“I don’t talk to you for four years, and you send me a bobblehead?” Byrnes said. “Save the postage."

Gonzalez was the supreme micro-manager, believing it served him best to stay on top of everything ... maintenance men cleaning the gym, bus drivers, newspaper reporters ... everything.

“The guy who runs the bus company called me and said something to the effect of: ‘I have 131 drivers that drive for us. But we’re down to one guy that will drive for Bobby Gonzalez,’ ” Byrnes said.

Your blogger's time as a college basketball newspaper reporter overlapped Gonzalez's tenure at Manhattan, and required interviewing him at least three or four times annually. After each interview, Gonzalez asked that a copy of the resulting story sent to him. He made that request of every reporter he talked to.

I don't know how other reporters responded, but Gonzalez never received a copy of any of my stories unless he went to the newsstand and paid his 50 cents.

Just about everyone who ever covered Gonzalez has a story. Here's mine:

During Luis Flores' senior season at Manhattan, Siena was part of a double-header of games played at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J. Manhattan played in the other game.

The two teams were scheduled to play each other in the next game on the conference schedule, so three Siena beat writers spoke to Flores, after Manhattan's contest that day, about the upcoming game with Siena.

Manhattan, at that time, was the MAAC's dominant team, but Siena was also near the top of the standings.

One question to Flores was very generic, as in "What are your impressions of Siena?"

Flores responded that he didn't worry about Siena, that his Manhattan team was the best team in the conference and would prove it when it played the Saints in the upcoming game.

So, we all used those quotes from Flores.

Manhattan did indeed beat Siena in the subsequent meeting, but instead of the traditional post-game question-and-answer give-and-take, Gonzalez opted to berate the Siena beat writers for misquoting Flores.

"Luis never said those things," Gonzalez yelled at us.

Yours truly responded that Flores did indeed say those things and that we should call him into the discussion and ask him.

We brought Flores out of the lockerroom into a hallway area at the Times Union Center and asked the Manhattan player if he was quoted properly.

Much to his credit, Flores told us and his coach that he did indeed make the statements that appeared in print.

Gonzalez then dismissed us and retreated to the sanctuary of his lockerroom. Flores quickly became one of my all-time favorite players, and Gonzalez probably my all-time least favorite coach to deal with.

The next day, I sent an e-mail to Gonzalez advising him to worry more about his job responsibilities, and less about mine.

And, I wrote that he owed me, and the other Siena beat writers at the time, a formal apology. I told him I expected it to come at the next time he played at Siena, in the same post-game setting in which he berated us.

That series of incidents happened late in the 2003-04 season. More than six years lagter, we're still waiting for Gonzo's apology.

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