— Lawrence, Kan., or Stillwater, Okla.?
For much of Thursday, college hoops held its breath, waiting to learn whether Bill Self would remain a very wealthy man and the head coach of a Big 12 program that before Monday had won two national championships, or whether he would entertain the idea of becoming a very, very wealthy man and the head coach of a Big 12 program that before Monday had won two national championships.
Sophie's Choice this was not.
For nearly three days the Kansas-or-Oklahoma State dilemma played out like one extended version of "Ginger or Mary Ann?" Should Self, the coach of the Jayhawks, remain at Kansas, where approbation, a head start toward coaching immortality (Self already has won as many national championships as any of his KU predecessors and is the winningest coach, in terms of percentage, in Jayhawk history) and a hoops cache that only two or three schools can match, awaited?
Or should Self return to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, whose T. Boone Pickens-funded athletic program (only in America can $165 million be called a "gift") seemed primed to make it rain like something out of the final scene from "Breakfast at Tiffany's"?
There were two potential answers to this dilemma: "both" and "who cares?"
Bill Self did not stand at the foot of a precipice, but rather at the intersection of Yellow Brick Road and Easy Street. It was the inimitable comedian and genius Woody Allen who once said, "More than any time in history, mankind stands at a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."
Allen's example may be the polar opposite in mood of Self's, but you see the point. Who would have the wisdom to choose besides Self himself? Or the man who happened to be standing next to the Kansas coach, who would, by definition, be beside him, Self?
As I sat there this week keeping vigil, I passed the time by creating a Self-inspired Mad Libs document on the entire quandary. And it goes like this:
Ever since his first days in the profession, the coach at Kansas has been Self- motivated. By exercising Self- discipline and Self- assertiveness, he rose from the ranks of Oral Roberts to Tulsa to Illinois with the efficiency of a Self- cleaning oven. By the time this year's March Madness arrived, he had taken three different schools to the Elite Eight. It seemed a Self- fulfilling prophecy that he would lead Kansas to a Final Four and perhaps the national title.
Which he did. Afterward, when it appeared that Oklahoma State wanted to lend new meaning to the term Self- employed, this wise man exercised Self- restraint. No bold statements did he make in favor of either campus, expressing instead that he was just seeking Self- assurance from his bosses in Lawrence. Perhaps, too, he realizes that accepting such an outrageously large sum of money from another school will render him the object of much Self- loathing.
Will the Self- perpetuating tale written by Larry Brown and Roy Williams, that of a Kansas coach taking his school to the NCAA championship game and then departing immediately afterward, come to an end? What is more Self- righteous, to be loyal to your alma mater or to your current employer?
The answer is neither. The answer is that you must do right by you and your family. It all comes down to Self- preservation. One must know thy Self.
A Hobson's Choice, in literary parlance, is a choice between accepting one option or nothing at all. Basketball fans may think of it as a Sean Sutton's Choice.
Bill Self had the exact opposite of that. He could remain at Kansas, where he is certainly beloved for having brought the school its first national championship since 1988. Certainly athletic director Lew Perkins would raise his salary and likely give him even more control over his program — think Coach K at Duke — as well as a multiyear extension (Self is already signed through 2011).
Or, he could return to his native Oklahoma as a favorite son. The Cowboys, after all, have won a couple of national championships of their own, though not since the 1940s. If Self, an excellent coach and a truly decent man, could return his alma mater to annual top 10 prominence, then an eight-figure payday (bonus included) would not be out of the question. And how many of us ever would sneeze at that?
For three days Bill Self stood in the midst of a psychedelic rendering of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." He was like the gas-station attendant in "No Country For Old Men," except that Anton Sigur was giving him the option of canonization or eternal life. Self will never have a week like this again the rest of his days. Two opportunities he could only have dreamed about when he was in the midst of that 18-game losing streak during his salad days at Oral Roberts were presented to him.
"And sorry I could not travel both…"
What a bizarre feeling that must have been for Self. To have to choose between either of two things you never could have imagined having. How many of us ever get a choice like that in life? And I just wondered, while Self was pondering his decision, how many times the names Jason Richards and Mario Chalmers entered Bill Self's mind?