Behind the Lines – A question of time

It was a lesson I learned from my late friends Chuck Wells and Dick Cotton. You might call it the art of the timeout. Every team sport has its version of a timeout, something you won’t find in a 110-meter high hurdle race, a 100-meter freestyle, or when you’re on your back desperately trying to make it to the end of the period before the ref slaps the mat and you’re pinned.

Some sports lend themselves better to timeouts than others. In football, you can call it whether you’re on offense or defense, the same is true in volleyball.

In basketball, it gets a little tricky, you have to signal for one when you have the ball or when the ball is out-of-bounds before being put back into play.


Timeouts are often the difference between winning and losing a close game, but occasionally a coach will jinx his or her team by calling one at the wrong moment.

How many times have you seen a coach ask a basketball official for a timeout just as a 3-point shot rips the net for his or her team? I’ve seen it plenty, and it’s always exasperating for the coach.

In the old days, only kids on the floor could call a timeout, so that situation, including the 3-point shot, which arrived in the 1980s was never an issue.

Chuck and Dick reiterated to me many times that you should always use your timeouts when they help your team the most, including early in a game.

One year we didn’t have a stellar team in Shoshoni, winning only five games that season. As we played Lovell at home, the Dogs rocked us in the opening minutes. I took my first timeout just 30 seconds into the game, the second 45 seconds later, and the third before two minutes had elapsed.


I didn’t usually engage the “helpful” fan behind the bench, but one clueless father started yelling, “You’re using up all your timeouts.”

I turned to him and said, “You use them when the game’s close, and if things don’t change, this isn’t going to be close real soon.” It wasn’t.

What do you do when you don’t have a timeout and need to stop the clock?

In volleyball, you substitute players while changing strategy, which delays the game enough to get your people in the right spot.

In football you run out of bounds, throw an incomplete pass, or with some questionably ethical coaches, you fake an injury or two to stop time on the field. It was an art perfected a few years ago at all levels of football from high school, to college, and the pros as “hurry up” style, no-huddle offenses had plays coming at your defense every few seconds with no chance to substitute for down and distance. The answer was to have a kid limp off the field or roll around for a few seconds before being helped to the sideline. Unethical? Yes, it was, but it worked.

On the question of the line between ethical and creative, I’ve seen and done a few things on the basketball court that infuriate some purists but entertain true fans of the game.

I was the sophomore coach at Riverton High School under head coach Mike Harris a lifetime ago. The junior varsity coach was Jim Kennedy, but Jim who was also the head track coach, was away at a clinic.

We were in Worland, and I coached both the sophomores and the JV that day, a process a young coach loves to do since you’re working with older kids, and more sophisticated play.

We won the sophomore game easily, but nothing was going well in the junior varsity game. We were physically better than Worland but turnovers, missed shots and a lack of intensity had the Warriors up on us entering the fourth quarter.

I used all my timeouts earlier in the game, but we’d battled back to trail by a point with less than a minute to play. I’ve never been a fan of the foul and hope they miss at the free throw line strategy which has as much chance of winning as a Democrat in a Wyoming election, but we needed to stop the clock to set up our press.

A thought came to me as the boys dropped back into a man defense trying to steal the ball. I caught the eye (ha!) of one of our guards. I signaled him to lose his contact, a situation we’d joked about during practice but never tried in a game. The kid was a great actor, he put both hands on his right eye, and Todd played it out at an Academy Award level, looking on the floor, with the officials and a couple of Worland players helping him for the missing contact lens. I called the other four boys over, set up a trap on the ensuing inbound play, and told them to set up in our 1-2-1-1 full-court zone press for after we scored.

Todd “found” the contact on the side of his eye. We stole the inbound pass, went down the floor, and scored with just seconds to play. We stole the inbound pass and won the game by a point. The only problem was the Worland parents sitting behind our bench who knew what I was doing and were not pleased after the game.

That scene pales in comparison to a state semi-final game played at the old Casper Kelly Walsh gym between Little Snake River and Pine Bluffs in the 90s.

Legendary head coach Ed Reed of the Rattlers was trailing, and the Hornets had a great delay game going. He needed a timeout desperately but had used them all up. To say Ed was creative is an understatement.

On a dead ball, he stood up and walked out on the floor with a few of his players off the bench huddling around him. His assistant waved in the five kids on the floor.

The confused officials approached the bench and asked each other if a timeout had been called. Neither of them had seen one signaled. They went to the scorers’ table and Ed went into his schtick, “They call timeout? Who called time?” he said.

His assistant was meanwhile quickly instructing the team.

The exchange lasted about 45 seconds and Ed hiked his pants up with a smile on his face as he walked back to the bench.

The Rattlers came back to win. The officials realized what had happened soon after the play, but there is no statute of limitations on illegal timeouts and Ed got away with one.

Coaching is all about timing, as are most things in life.  

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