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Beavers believe in change.

Byline: JILL PAINTER

Craig Robinson isn't on the campaign trail.

The Oregon State coach has done a masterful job resurrecting a pitiful program that went winless in the Pacific-10 Conference last year.

The Beavers have nearly the same roster as Jay John's team that went 0-18 in conference play in 2007-08 and 6-25 overall. But under Robinson, they have seven conference victories and 13 overall.

Unlike his brother-in-law, president Barack Obama, Robinson isn't campaigning to win anything. He doesn't need to promote himself to win the Pac-10's Coach of the Year award.

The results speak for themselves.

"I would be hypocritical if I said to my players not to start worry about individual accolades and then I start worrying about them," Robinson said on a conference call earlier this week. "I think (Washington's) Lorenzo (Romar) has done a terrific job. I think he's got a terrific team.

"Having said that, I think we've had great season. We've played really well with the guys we sort of inherited and no freshman class. I'm really happy with that, but it really would be wrong for me to lobby for the award."

If Obama's strategists were in charge of Robinson's speeches, they would've gasped and cringed in horror. Not only did Robinson talk about an opponent before himself and his accomplishments, he actually mentioned Romar by name.

Wins at Oregon State are more important than awards and life lessons are more important to Robinson anyway.

Robinson is a cool customer, preferring a sports jacket and shirt with no tie. His humble nature has resonated with players. How many coaches can get their players to buy into 5:30 a.m. practices?

And when a reporter asked him about the need to improve facilities in Corvallis, Ore., Robinson made sure no one thought he was demanding anything, even though he could easily do as much and no one could argue.

"When my counterparts are out there using facilities as a negative, we need to combat that," Robinson said. "We need to combat that with, 'This is what we're planning or what we'd like to do or this is what we're doing."'

Robinson could be a little more forceful, but that's not his nature. He's an easy-going but disciplined coach. He's funny and unassuming, but he's in a rare spotlight, being the older brother of the First Lady and all. He introduced his sister, Michelle Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year. He was there on Inauguration Day as well, but he's not always recognizable.

On that day, NBC anchor Brian Williams mistook Robinson for Obama's personal assistant. Williams apologized for the error, sending e-mails to Robinson, Obama's assistant Reggie Love and the Oregon State community.

In the e-mail, Williams called Robinson "the great coach."

The question is, will Pac-10 coaches - who vote for the award - go with Romar because his Washington team has captured at least a share of the regular-season title, or Robinson's turnaround story?

A coach with a losing record hasn't won the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award since 1976, when Stanford's Dick DiBiaso won it, and that's when it was the Pac-8. The Cardinal went 5-9 in conference play that season.

Obama already made history this year. Why not Robinson, too?

Ben Howland has seen the Beavers get better and better as the season has progressed.

"They've improved a lot," Howland said. "They're much more confident and sure of themselves."

Robinson's defense wilted against UCLA on Thursday in a 79-54 defeat. The Bruins made three consecutive 3-pointers, prompting Robinson to clap in disgust, then punch the air and take a seat.

Not much went right for Oregon State in Pauley Pavilion, but much went right the rest of the season for Oregon State. And the Beavers could still be a dangerous team in the Pac-10 tournament next week.

Robinson's team has succeeded with Princeton offense principles because Robinson played at there under legendary coach Pete Carril. The Beavers run 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones defensively, which causes problems for many teams.

Oregon State could have a distinct advantage in the tournament format in which teams have just 24 hours to prepare for such a unique system in the Pac-10.

But the Beavers' biggest advantage is their coach.

"We're feeling fine. We're having a terrific year," Robinson said. "The year's not over."

jill.painter@dailynews.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 6, 2009
Words:727
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