What not to say in a job interview

While perusing the New York Times yesterday to see what notables had died, I came across a delightfully written obituary on Rock Scully. He managed the Grateful Dead band from 1965 to about 1985, “a long, strange trip that saw the Dead go from a makeshift sort-of-bluegrass band that played for nothing in San Francisco parks to one of the biggest, most remarkable acts in rock ’n’ roll history.”

I was interested to learn that Scully had been introduced to members of the band in 1965 by Owsley Stanley during an Acid Test, one of the drug-drenched, strobe-lit parties the author Ken Kesey staged in the San Francisco area in the mid-1960s. Stanley became famous among Bay Area aficionados for the exceeding pure LSD he produced in rather large quantities. When I was hanging around Berkeley in 1968-69, purple tabs of “Owsley acid,” as it was called, were particularly desirable.

Although it’s said that those who remember the ‘60s weren’t really there, I recall purple Owsley acid partly because it derailed a job opportunity I desperately needed. After a year of post-graduate countercultural life in Berkeley, I was running low of money. The San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley newspapers didn’t think much of applicants with nothing but a B.A. degree and no experience. I spiraled further and further out from the Bay Area without success.

Finally, I put a position-wanted ad in the California Newspaper Publishers Association bulletin and touted my Harvard degree. The boss of the Union Democrat in Sonora, a historic Gold Rush town in the Sierra foothills, called and said he was looking for a reporter for the 5,000-circulation paper.

I doubted the town’s scenic charms would outweigh the cultural isolation I knew I would feel. The jumping frog contest in nearby Angels Camp, made famous by Mark Twain, was the big social event. My girlfriend, who was gainfully employed and loved Berkeley, had no intention of heading for the hills. The proposed $100 a week salary was a blow to my Ivy League ego. Still, it would be a paycheck.

I motorcycled up to Sonora, about 125 miles east of Berkeley, on a hot summer day in 1969. The boss, a tall, husky, bald fellow, eyed my helmet dubiously.

“Berkeley, huh?” he said. “What have you been doing down there?”

From the tone of the question, I figured he didn’t want to hear about the People’s Park protests and demonstrations on Telegraph Avenue.

“Working on a novel,” I said, which had a smidgen of truth. I was thinking about writing one someday.

“You have any clips?”

I produced a short story I had written in college.

“Not much use for fiction on this job,” he said. “We deal in straight news. And I have to tell you, Sonora’s not at all like Berkeley. Folks don’t want it to be, either. They don’t want that drug stuff coming up here.”

The boss gave me a hard look that suggested I might be a radical intent on infiltrating his fine town. He then opened his desk, took out a small envelope and extracted a small pill, purple in color.

“Know what this is?”

Perhaps I should have feigned ignorance, but I thought a correct identification would establish my credentials as an astute young man.

“That looks like LSD,” I said brightly. “In fact, it’s probably Owsley acid.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Deputies nabbed some bikers from Berkeley with this garbage. They want to push that on our young people. And we’re not going to let them.”

I nodded in agreement with that noble cause. The interview ended and I motorcycled back to Berkeley. I actually thought things had gone well and expected to get the job.

The boss never called. I remain puzzled why he had that purple pill in his drawer.

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Euphemism can’t hide Kings’ nasty business

“Philosophical differences” – now there’s a lofty phrase that suggests deep analysis by thoughtful individuals contemplating the nature of truth.

Think of Plato vs. Aristotle,  Augustine vs. Aquinas or 17th century political theorists Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

But “philosophical differences” between Sacramento Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and coach Michael Malone on how to play basketball? Who would have thunk it?

Yet that’s what D’Alessandro said Monday in explaining the firing of Malone the evening before.

“Philosophical differences,” D’Alessandro told the Sacramento Bee. “That’s really what it comes down to.  Who do we want to be? What is our identity? What is the next phase? Where are we going from here? Is this the coach (Malone) to take us to the next level? We felt, no, that at this time, for phase two, we want to go in a different direction.”

The newspaper dutifully picked up the phrase , incorporated it into a headline — Sacramento Kings cite philosophical differences for firing Michael Malone – and bestowed an aura of respectability upon what looks like an all-too-typical nasty corporate power play.  

A coach who had gotten the Kings off to their best start in seven years is axed without so much as the courtesy of a press conference. In fact, he’s fired at the same time word of his demise is being leaked to the media. No one apparently bothered to prepare the players, and star  center DeMarcus Cousins found out about Malone’s ouster via a Twitter posting, according to Sam Amick of USA Today.

Meanwhile, Malone has disappeared from the pages of the Bee as though he has no story to tell.

Workers in the Sacramento region, who have seen and suffered from widespread layoffs in recent years, are no doubt familiar with the cloak-and-dagger skulduggery of office politics. Some have walked into their workplaces and gotten booted without a word of advance warning.  Others learned through office rumors that longtime co-workers had been laid off. Not even a goodbye cake.  Many have seen ambitious managers plot ways to advance their careers by engineering the ouster of their rivals. Kick them when they’re down is an effective tactic.

Malone was in a precarious position, according to Bee columnist Ailene Voisin, because he wasn’t general manager D’Alessandro’s choice for coach. Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive made an impulsive decision to hire Malone before hiring a general manager.  D’Alessandro had to live with that choice – at least for a while. Despite Malone’s lousy initial season – 28 wins against 54 losses – he got some breathing room when the Kings bolted out to a 5-1 start this season. They were 9-6 when Cousins became ill Nov. 28 with viral meningitis and the team went into a tailspin.  

The Kings’ basketball “think tankers” – D’Alessandro, Chris Mullin, Mike Bratz – began lobbying Ranadive for a coaching change several weeks ago, Voisin said in a column today . “According to the owner, D’Alessandro and Mullin flew to Las Vegas eight days ago, where he was attending a software conference, and persuaded him to change coaches, partly to change the culture but mainly to start scrapping the old offense,” Voisin wrote.

That sounds more like the palace guard launching an attack rather than a reasonable effort to resolve “philosophical differences.”

Sports Illustrated writer Rob Mahoney undercuts the purported benefits of the Kings’  coaching change at this time. For example, the “think tankers” advocate an up-tempo running game, but Cousins, who was having his best NBA season under Malone’s deliberate style, is not known for racing up and down the court.

“Firing the coach who empowered Cousins and demanding an approach less accommodating of his skill set is imprudent if not altogether reckless,” Mahoney said. “A happy Cousins is a monster of a player in all the best ways. An unhappy Cousins is a monster of a player in many of the worst.”

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Firing of Kings coach Malone shows no class

Here’s a bush league move by the Sacramento Kings: they dump the coach who has led the struggling team to its best start in years like a sack of garbage.

If you woke up this morning and were surprised – shocked, stunned – to see the banner headline in the Sacramento Bee that Kings coach Michael Malone had been fired, you’re not alone. The Bee and the rest of the sports media appear to have been blindsided by the sudden move, one that apparently was been leaked to the media at the same time poor Malone was being axed.

 No class, Mr. Vivek Ranadive, no class at all.

From what I can tell via Internet postings,  Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports was the first to get wind of Malone’s firing last night from “league sources.” USA Today sportswriter Sam Amick, formerly with the Bee, tweeted that “Michael Malone is being told he’s been fired as we speak, I’m told. Kings parting ways w/ him, it seems, because of expectations not met.”

Amick went on to write a full story, attributed to two sources who requested anonymity because the firing had not been announced publicly. “The firing was an absolute stunner on its surface, as the Kings have won just 28 games in each of the last two campaigns yet were on pace to win 38 games this season,” Amick said. He noted that the Kings had gone 9-6 and looked every bit like a team that was capable of competing for a playoff spot in the Western Conference until star center DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined with viral meningitis.

The Bee’s Jason Jones quickly confirmed the breaking news and said the Kings would replace Malone, whose one-plus-season record is 39-67, with assistant coach Tyrone Corbin.  Corbin had a 112-146 record as coach of the Utah Jazz for three-and-a- half seasons.

Jones recapped the fact that majority owner Ranadive, who with other investors bought the Kings in 2013, took the unusual step of hiring a coach before naming a general manager, the person who would be Malone’s direct boss. Ranadive declared Malone was the best assistant coach on the market and he had to hire him before another team did.

Eventually, Ranadive hired Pete D’Alessandro as general manager and then brought in former NBA star Chris Mullin as an adviser. As Kings fans know, reports of tension between Malone and D’Alessandro and Mullin soon surfaced, purportedly over the Kings’ playing style.

League sources, according to Jones, indicated there was a chasm between Malone and ownership, specifically over the offense Malone used and the style of play. Malone’s background is defense, while Ranadive would prefer a more exciting offense, sources said.  Ranadive spoke of “positionless” basketball and emulating how the San Antonio Spurs played, Jones said, but the Kings lack the three-point shooting of the Spurs or Warriors, where Ranadive was a minority owner before leading the group to purchase the Kings.

Although Ranadive endeared himself to Kings fans by helping to keep the franchise in Sacramento, he has now revealed himself as an impulsive decision-maker with delusions of technical basketball expertise. Worse, he’s an owner who shows no class at all. It’s hard to imagine a good coach wanting to come to Sacramento to work for a guy like that.

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Should players accept tainted victory?

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bernard Jones this morning rejected a move to put the Oklahoma state high school football playoffs on hold and allow the replaying of a disputed quarterfinal game.

The controversy, as I wrote yesterday, arose when referees misinterpreted a rule and invalidated a go-ahead touchdown with 64 seconds left to play, costing Frederick A. Douglass High School of Oklahoma City a victory over Locust Grove High School.

 The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association rejected an appeal to replay all or part of the game. The Oklahoma City public schools district on behalf of the Douglass football team then took the matter to court.

In issuing his order, Judge Jones said there was no precedent allowing a court to order the replay of a high school football game, and no way to insure that a replay would be fair to both teams because the conditions of the disputed contest could not be replicated, according to a New York Times story.

The judge expressed concern that a “slippery slope of solving athletic contests in court instead of on campus will inevitably usher in a new era of robed referees and meritless litigation due to disagreement with or disdain for decisions of gaming officials.”

Jones wrote that the referees’ error “could be considered by many as a tragedy,” but said the courts should not intervene because both teams agreed to be bound by the rules of the state high school activities association.

Officials of the Oklahoma City public school district said during a hearing Wednesday that they would not appeal the judge’s decision if he declined to order a replay.

Locust Grove is to play the division 3A semifinal game Friday evening against Heritage Hall High School.

The Douglass football team clearly suffered an injustice, while the Locust Grove team carries the burden of a tainted victory. Is there anything to be done now?

 Here’s an option suggested by a friend who suffered the sting of atrocious refereeing in a key high school game: The Locust Valley players should refuse to accept their “victory” and decline to play in the semifinal game. They would win a moral victory for sure.


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Is court the remedy for refs’ blunder in high school game?

Here’s the messy situation: Referees in a quarterfinal game of the Oklahoma state football playoffs misinterpreted a rule and invalidated a go-ahead touchdown with 64 seconds left to play, costing an Oklahoma City high school team its shot at playing in the state championship semifinals. No one disputes that the refs blew the call.

What do you do about it? Tell the players “tough luck”? Advise them that high school sports are not about winning championships but rather building character? Take the issue to court and put the state playoffs on hold?

That’s the dilemma that began Nov. 28 at the conclusion of a quarterfinal game between Locust Grove High School and Frederick A. Douglass High School of Oklahoma City. Locust Grove won the game 20-19. Douglass had scored a touchdown with 64 seconds left, but officials invalidated it because of a sideline infraction by the Douglass coach.

In the ensuing dispute, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association acknowledged that the referees made the wrong ruling, called it “inexcusable” and apologized to Douglass. But the association said that state and national bylaws did not permit protesting the outcome of a game because of an official’s ruling on the field, the New York Times reported.

Oklahoma City public school officials disagreed and are seeking in court to have some or all of the game replayed. They say it is only fair to remedy a correctable mistake.

“Adults in a split second can negate months and years of hard work by kids,” Keith Sinor, the athletic director of Oklahoma City public schools, said Monday. “Our kids shouldn’t be held accountable for those mistakes.”

 Last week, Judge Bernard M. Jones II of District Court in Oklahoma City issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Locust Grove from playing its scheduled semifinal playoff game. The judge is scheduled to decide today what to do next, the Times said. He has expressed some skepticism about courts intervening in the results of athletic contests, noting that a decision to order a replay would be extraordinary.

In an interesting Washington Post opinion piece, Paul Cassell, who teaches criminal law  and crime victims’ rights at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, contended that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would open a Pandora’s box of athletic complaints.

But more broadly, he said, lost in the litigation seems to be the larger point that the reason for high school athletics is not primarily to determine a state champion, but rather to teach students lessons in such things as teamwork, discipline, and overcoming adversity. 

“One of those lessons is that sometimes referee’s mistakes — even injustices — may happen, in an athletic contest no less than elsewhere,” Cassell wrote. “Learning from those bad bounces, and moving beyond them, is what students need to succeed in life. Sadly, those more important lessons are being overshadowed with legal battles over rules interpretations and injunctions.”

Back in March, I wrote a piece about a controversial decision made in an Ohio high school state championship hockey game in which my great-nephew Dylan McKeon was playing. His team, St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, battled Sylvania Northview to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation time. The contest then went through seven overtimes.  

At that point, Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Dan Ross, citing player safety, announced there would be no eighth overtime and that both teams would share the state championship title. In high school hockey there is no shootout procedure.

Given the circumstances and the absence of association rules regarding overtimes, the decision seemed to be a necessary, but dissatisfying, one. I hear that young Dylan has gained some wisdom from the experience.

As for the Oklahoma case, I’m glad I’m not the judge.

Footnote: Even if the judge allows a replay of the game, it might not happen because the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association put the Douglass team on probation after a referee alleged a Douglass fan punched him after the controversial game. Douglass High officials are appealing that decision.



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