A more recent study, from 2011, asked college athletes which type of coach they preferred. The researchers concluded that athletes who were highly self-motivated, or had anxiety about pain, preferred coaches who led democratically. But the athletes with less self-motivation wanted "autocratic" coaches "who provided high amounts of punishment-oriented feedback." That doesn't mean they wanted a basketball thrown at their heads. But it could help explain Luka Pajkovic's feelings about Coach Woods — that he ranted and raved because he cared, and "he expected a lot from me."
In her new memoir, legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt says that she rode her players less as she matured. She came to understand that there was such a thing as too tough, for the team's sake and for the individual development of her players, as athletes and as human beings. But Summitt doesn't say she turned gentle and soft-spoken. It sounds like she remained a hard ass. She just made sure not to be a bully, not to push or manipulate beyond a particular player's limits. That's the right line to draw. Mike Rice was obviously on the wrong side of that line, and his firing helps mark it.
Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her new book is "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character." Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.