When is it OK for a coach to yell?
In the 10th inning of a Sept. 5 game against Toronto, Red Sox right fielder Allen Craig catches a long fly ball and nonchalantly trots across the warning track, his back to the infield. Meanwhile, Toronto’s John Mayberry tags up and scores from second base.
Fans from Presque Isle to Pawtucket scream bloody murder because there are only two outs. Red Sox manager John Farrell keeps his cool.
“He’s 380 feet from the dugout,” Farrell says. “You know he has no chance of hearing you and yet your reaction is, like, ‘Throw the ball in.’ ”
Why didn’t the manager remove Craig from the field, the way Yankees manager Billy Martin did to a loafing Reggie Jackson at Fenway Park in 1977?
“It wasn’t a lack of hustle,” said Farrell. “It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was a mental lapse. There’s a difference to that.
“His reaction told me and everyone in the ballpark that was paying attention that he lost the number of outs. It was acknowledged, but it wasn’t acknowledged [by yelling]. He knew he erred.”
Can you not yell at major leaguers because they are mostly millionaires, some with long-term contracts?
“Oh no, you can,” says Farrell. “It happens.”
If he does yell, it won’t be in public or under the unblinking eye of television.
“Don’t humiliate the guy,” says Farrell. “If it’s done in a corrective way or a really demonstrative way, then I do that behind closed doors.”
Yelling is a surprisingly touchy subject.
Of the coaches/managers of the four major pro sports teams in Boston, only Farrell and Celtics coach Brad Stevens would talk about it. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Bruins coach Claude Julien respectfully declined to be interviewed on the subject.
But the King of Yelling, former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, appearing at an autograph show in Wilmington earlier this year, was happy to discuss decibels.
“My thinking is, it gets their attention,” says the volatile three-time national champion coach.
“I don’t think that a coach can just sit there with a monotone. I think that would be the worst thing for a coach to have. A coach has to have different decibels, and he calls on them as he needs them.”
So then, nice guys finish last?
“What’s a nice guy?” says Knight. “That’s a dumb reference. I was a coach. I worked their ass off because I worked my ass off. And I expected them to react the best way possible for us to win.
“So if you’re screwing something up, you’re hurting the other guys. So I would let you know about that.’’
Told that Red Auerbach would instruct young coaches to make basketball practices fun, Knight, an Auerbach fan, agrees, but only to a point.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, but you don’t think Red got on their ass?” he says. “You’ve got to be able to — and this is not an easy thing — to say, ‘Goddamn it, get your head in the game.’ ”
Knight, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, is forever famous for his chair-throwing tirade during a game against Purdue in 1985. He was eventually fired for his mistreatment of players, including being caught on tape choking one. But Knight contends that his relationships with former players are solid.
“I always kind of feel that I have a better personal relationship with kids after they graduate,” he says. “I have a great relationship with almost all of them.”
But there never was any question about who was running the show.
“We can win on two things,” he told his teams. “Your ability and my coaching — and those two have to be put together.”
Stevens: ‘Never demean them’
A teenage basketball coach shakes Knight’s hand and asks for some coaching advice.
“If you’re the man in charge, then be in charge,” says Knight, staring the lad in the eye. “Don’t let the sailors run the ship, because you’re the admiral. You got that? Be well.”
The teenager walks away wide-eyed. Knight goes back to signing autographed basketballs. He also signs photos of himself poised to throw that red plastic chair halfway across the court.
Young Brad Stevens, then 9, was seated in the upper tier at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., that day in February 1985.
“My Dad tells me I was jacked up,” says the second-year Celtics coach. “I was excited about it. My Dad tells me I was on the official after he threw the chair, like it was OK to throw the chair. Obviously I was more of a diehard fan running on emotions at that time.”
Initially, Stevens gingerly dodges the do-you-yell question.
“Depends what yelling means,” he says. “Do you yell at players? You know what I would say? Very, very, very rarely.
“Hopefully never in a demeaning way. More in a constructively critical way would I raise my voice. But I hope that they say I never demean them.”
But he always manages to control his temper.
“Obviously you’re playing a competitive game,” says Stevens. “There are a lot of emotions going into that. There’s going to be times when you’re very disappointed and upset and you still have to balance that and be able to manage that in that moment.
“Have I said things in the last 13 years that I’d have liked to have back? Absolutely. But I try to be measured in how I say what I need to say.’’
Stevens suffered through a tough rookie year in the NBA. The Celtics went 25-57 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Last February, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo angered many fans by staying in Los Angeles to celebrate his birthday rather than accompanying the team to Sacramento. Rondo, recovering from a torn ACL, was not scheduled to play in Sacramento but did not have explicit permission from the team to remain behind.
Did Stevens yell at Rondo?
“No, I talked to him like an adult,” says Stevens. “I talked to him just like I would anybody else. He’s an adult.
“I think that, at the end of the day, I communicate with these guys as adults because they are adults.”
He almost never yells at officials, even if they make horrendous calls.
“The whole idea of ‘working the officials’ is overrated,” he says. “Officials in the NBA are going to make mistakes just like players and coaches make mistakes. I’m not going to get bent out of shape over things I can’t control.”
Stevens has been ejected from only one basketball game in his entire life, in the last minute of a loss to Sacramento last season. The Globe’s Baxter Holmes reported that Stevens didn’t shout and was “measured and direct.” He walked off with a congratulatory wave to the opposing coach.
But wouldn’t he feel better if he just let his emotions out?
“No,” he says. “I don’t ever want to not be on the sidelines at the end of the game.”
“There are things you can control and things you can’t control and your goal as a coach is to maximize what you can control.”
He’s asked why he never yells at Brandon Bass, who has been accused of inconsistent play.
“I think I’ve probably yelled, ‘Hey, get through the screen,’ or ‘Hey, get that ball directed,’ or ‘Hey, you’ve got to set a screen there,’ so my yelling is hopefully constructive in nature.
“I yell, I’m loud, but at the same time my goal is not to be a showman.”
But fans want to see passion.
“Yeah, but that’s not necessarily coaching,” he says.
Farrell takes it one-on-one
In baseball, most of the yelling has been directed at umpires, says Farrell, but “instant replay has taken a lot of the arguing and yelling out of our interactions with umpires.”
Bantering from the dugout about balls and strikes is a dicey proposition, sometimes doing more harm than good.
“It rides a fine line,” says Farrell.
But to go from world champions to cellar dwellers is extremely stressful; would that lead to shorter tempers?
Farrell was visibly annoyed when Daniel Nava got picked off first against the Yankees Sept. 4. Nava looked like he was taking a Sunday stroll.
Farrell says he met with Nava.
“Again, there’s some things that will be taken care of in-house,” says the manager. “He knew, everyone knew, that he didn’t get back in time. He stopped; he didn’t follow through on his return to the bag. So you talk to him, you acknowledge it, and find out what his thought process was.”
Farrell believes that getting in the faces of professional ballplayers just won’t work.
“That’s why you’ve got to deal with them one-on-one,” he says. “That’s the reality of it. I believe too, treat them the way you’d want to be treated. Talk it out. You don’t need to undress them in front of a group.”
Yelling can be counterproductive, in fact.
“Some guys respond better to a pat on the back rather than a kick in the pants,” says Farrell. “Not that you’re trying to sacrifice the message, but the delivery is a little bit different at times.’’
In Boston sports, things can easily get blown out of proportion. In 2012, there was almost a palace revolt when former Sox manager Bobby Valentine made what were perceived as negative comments about Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, and Will Middlebrooks.
Farrell says he looks inward before he speaks outward.
“I think if you’re yelling to correct, then you have to look at yourself, saying we didn’t prepare well enough,” he says.
Farrell also tries to manage the stress without screaming or pulling his hair out.
“I try to work out as regularly as I can,” he says. “As much to clear my head as to get my heart and my body in shape.”