Everyone was wrong about Dennis Gates
You never really know when a hire is going to pop
The only true on-air disaster of my career happened because of Dennis Gates.
Or, to be fair, it happened because I was exhausted, because I had flown from San Diego to Philadelphia to New Orleans covering the tournament, and because I had spent most of the time not on airplanes writing and reporting a feature story about Hubert Davis, about how he had infused his personality into that suddenly unstoppable 2012-22 North Carolina team. It was the day before the national semifinals. I was doing a semi-regular spot on Bernie Miklasz’s Saint Louis radio show; I was pacing around the Superdome tunnel with my AirPods on, trying to find a semi-quiet nook. The first 97 percent of the radio hit went fine. Then, after we discussed the Final Four and the national college basketball picture, Bernie tossed me a simple question about Missouri’s newly hired head coach. What did I make of Dennis Gates?
I paused. I hadn’t expected this question — but, then again, that’s not unusual. You get random topics all the time on the radio. You take pride in knowing your stuff so well you can roll with anything. It’s never a big deal.
Except this time, for whatever reason, away from my computer, my fried brain stopped working altogether. I knew Gates, knew he had been an FSU assistant, knew he had a couple of good-ish years with Cleveland State. But in my late-tournament delirium, obsessed by this epic Final Four, having not paid attention to which coach doldrums-era Missouri had plucked from relative mid-major obscurity, feeling suddenly unsure of the specifics of Gates’ career, I instead mumbled something like:
“Um, sorry, Bernie, but I don’t have much on that for you right now.”
What? It was a very strange response. I explained that I’d been locked in on my Final Four preview work, which was true, but I immediately regretted it, and have ever since. Bernie, a very nice human, immediately moved on. I’m definitely the only person who still thinks about this random five seconds of dead radio, or even cared at the time, but it has always bothered me. Clearly, it still does. You always study for the pop quiz! The national college basketball “expert” unable to handle a question about the new Missouri coach. Pfft. Embarrassing.
And yet, funnily enough, also kind of fitting. After all, I was hardly the only person who didn’t see Dennis Gates coming.
Eighteen months in, Gates — who, as of this week, has the No. 1 rated recruiting group in the class of 2024 — continues to prove everybody wrong. The lesson, as ever: You never know how these things will go.
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