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John Brannen should never coach again

It turns out that UC had plenty of reason to get rid of their former coach.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Tennessee
Pictured: A guy with man boobs who yells at college students about fitness.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Warning: There is quoted adult language in here. If you usually let children read along, be forewarned.

NCAA Division I coaches are hired to win games and bring in money. Make no mistake, the primary reason that John Brannen was fired was that he didn’t do that. If Brannen had taken UC to the NCAA tournament as a four seed or won the AAC regular season and conference tournament, he’d still be the coach. Tom Izzo can physically assault his players because he wins, and when you win no one cares if you throw around a guy or two or act like a small child with a soiled diaper having a tantrum on national television. When a coach has a bad season, though, he has to make sure that he hasn’t given the program a chance to be rid of him. John Brannen failed that, and did so spectactularly.

“Fuck the heart rate monitors, I know what in-shape is.” Those are the words of John Brannen, former basketball coach. Brannen does not have a doctorate in anything, is not even a sports trainer, and is certainly not a cardiologist. A quick glance at photos of Brannen’s upper body definition might even suggest that knowing what in shape is and applying that standard are two different things. Keyontae Johnson lived in large part because heart monitors caught his problem. Pete Maravich and Hank Gathers did not. In October, with his team gearing up for a season that was already going to be a health strain, Brannen elected to go his own luddite way with conditioning. “All the finger pricks and monitors and they tell me we’re in shape, but we aren’t,” ranted the coach, who has no medical training.

This was just the verbalizing of Brannen’s outmoded and outdated beliefs on conditioning. Already struggling to keep players or retain any sort of relationship with them at all (many players went on record with the belief that Brannen routinely mocked them for a variety of reasons, not least concern about their own health), Brannen had spent the preseason engaging in a conditioning regime that wasn’t proven and was frequently nothing more than cruel for cruelty’s sake. According to a document written by a source inside Brannen’s staff and discovered by Andy Wittry of Out of Bounds, “sports medicine is not behind Coach Brannen and his methodology.”

Not only that, the athletic department alleges that Brannen “seemed disorganized and unsure of what he wanted or expected” when it came to conditioning and practice. “Brannen does not want the guys getting water during rest. Or getting very little. He states that it is a fight with sports medicine, regarding water allowed.” This was because the erstwhile coach believe that water breaks and hydration made players soft. After one player lost consciousness and collapse, Brannen accused him of “tapping out” once the player was revived by medical personnel. After two more players collapsed, “He [Brannen] stated that the athletes shouldn’t be laying on the floor and that we needed to get them in shape.” This after being repeatedly warned by his sports medicine staff that the drills he was running would over exert the players.

In fact, after another player passed out he told members of the staff, “Coach tried to make me feel like shit again for going down.” Brannen believed that days off or days with lower workload were not necessary and that any athletes who were struggling were doing so because of their own moral failings. Allegations from the school include that Brannen repeatedly violated CARA (countable athletically related activities) hours even after being warned via letter and then intimidated his staff in an attempt to keep them from going back to the compliance office again.

Despite running his team into the ground in a violation of NCAA rules, causing multiple players to lose consciousness in an attempt to keep up, and forcing players to ignore the advice of sports medicine doctors (and asking some players to spy on others who did go to the trainer), Brannen still told his team “they are not tough and cites reasons he believes this to be true... if we don’t take ownership, then we should fucking leave.” He followed that early December rant by telling players “a fucking opt-out year...opt the fuck out...we are going to play my [way] or you will be fucking miserable.” Needless to say, players also weren’t thrilled with the constant stream of vulgar invective spewed their way.

Shortly thereafter, multiple players did just that. Come the end of the season, essentially the whole team did. Left with hardly anyone returning from a losing team, UC took the easy road and fired Brannen with cause. The documents leaked from UC this week all but assure he will lose any case against him. For what very little it is worth, Brannen stated through his lawyer that he denies the allegations against him and then, in an almost hilariously tone deaf follow up says, “these guys just encourage each other not to practice if they don’t feel good or something hurts.”

John Brannen got his great chance and wasted it. By using methods from the bad old days and refusing to recognize any sort of medical advancement after bleeding with leeches went out of vogue, Brannen destroyed a program and nearly the health of young men at the very peak of the physical powers. It’s hard to imagine that any program will take a chance on him again. When running players until they pass out becomes de rigeur it is clear that reason has left the building. Tom Izzo gets away with his anachronistic methods because he still wins just enough. John Brannen didn’t, and he may well never get another chance.