Of all the deposed coaches in the 2012 college hoops firing line, Doc Sadler was, at least for me, the most emotionally engaging.
I say that objectively: I have no real affection for Nebraska basketball generally or Sadler personally, but it was hard to think Sadler maybe didn't get a bit of a bum deal when he was let go in Lincoln. Nebraska brass has never truly supported its basketball team, historically regarding the program with something between flightiness and outright apathy. Now, for the first time, Nebraska is pouring its copious Big Ten resources into hoops, boasting a brand new practice facility and, beginning in 2013, a brand new downtown Lincoln arena, and it was fair to ask whether Sadler -- who had loyally toiled in the unsuccessful Nebraska tradition since 2007 -- deserved a chance to coach a program with something in its back pocket.
Instead, Sadler was let go, replaced by younger and more energetic Colorado State coach Tim Miles, and his farewell news conference -- where athletic director Tom Osborne took as much blame for Sadler's 101-89 NU record as Sadler himself -- was held in a glass case of emotion:
Twice during his five minutes at the podium, Sadler stepped into the hallway in tears to compose himself. The second time, he bumped into Osborne, who offered an arm in comfort. [...]
“I’ve had to do some difficult things over my lifetime,” said [NU athletic director Tom] Osborne, 75. “I’d say this may be as difficult as any of them.” Then Osborne, with his voice cracking, added: “Doc Sadler is a good man. He’s an honorable man. And I consider him to be a good friend.”
“I wanted to be that guy that won the first NCAA tournament game,” Sadler said, brushing aside tears. “It didn’t happen. We can all sit here and talk about this, that and whatever. It all comes down to winning. And that’s what it should come down to.”
Tough as it clearly was, Sadler handled his firing with grace and aplomb. Which is why it was welcome news to see him land so decidedly on his feet Wednesday night, when Kansas coach Bill Self announced he had hired Sadler to replace Barry Hinson as Kansas' new director of basketball operations. The offer seemed to surprise Sadler, who had planned to take a year off -- your mental image of Sadler reading a book on the beach sold separately -- before returning to the sport in some capacity. But when Kansas comes calling, you answer, and Sadler did:
"This is an unbelievable opportunity to have a chance to get back into college basketball," Sadler said. "When making decisions, I really thought I would sit out this year but when this came along I don't think anyone would ever pass it up. I am thankful to Coach Self in giving me this opportunity. To be part of a program such as Kansas is unbelievable."
It has to be especially unbelievable for Sadler. In the matter of a few months, the coach went from one of the nation's most traditionally awful high-major basketball programs (arguably only Northwestern ranks higher in all-time futility) to the sport's traditional birthplace, home of James Naismith and Phog Allen and Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning and all the rest. Nebraska has never won an NCAA tournament game; Kansas hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1983.
I believe we call this "failing upward." Whatever you want to call it, the result of Sadler's tough tenure and emotional farewell from one of Kansas' former whipping boys couldn't have ended more positively.