Bayno Gets His Head Games Under Control
Blazers assistant coach battled his own perfectionism before finding purpose in Portland
Monday, March 14, 2011
It was a closed-door scrimmage. You can’t even Google the score.
It was an unGoogleable scrimmage with no spectators or media and yet, Bill Bayno hadn’t slept in two days.
Bayno is an assistant coach with the Trail Blazers now, but then he was the men’s basketball coach at Loyola Marymount University — anointed the redeemer of a comatose program that hadn’t sniffed the postseason in 17 years.
For two nights, Bayno’s skull avoided his pillow because there was still so much to tidy up. His out-of-bounds plays were flawed. His offensive sets were unrefined. USC was going to annihilate his players and emasculate him.
But Bayno still slogged into the gym that November afternoon in 2008, and after masking his exhaustion with exuberance, watched the Lions deliver the worst possible result. A win.
“I went home and was worse than I’d ever been,” said Bayno, 48. “The game plan was great. We controlled the ball. It was unbelievable, but I didn’t sleep for the next two days. I was thinking ‘I have to live up to this now.’ That’s when I knew I was heading down the wrong path.”
Bill Bayno can break down an hour of game film and discover 30 areas for improvement. He can expose the most gifted players’ faults and morph the rawest players into stars. There is no scenario for which he’s unprepared, no situation for which his teams aren’t ready.
But as a head coach, there was one foe he could never seem to conquer: his own brain.
This wasn’t an issue for him as a player. Yeah, Bayno was competitive — you have to be to play for the University of Massachusetts and later earn All-America honors at Sacred Heart — but he wasn’t paralyzed by perpetual thoughts of failure.
This wasn’t an issue for him as an assistant either. Sure, Bayno was meticulous — you have to be to land gigs at Seton Hall, Kansas and UMass — but he wasn’t suffocated by the incessant pressure to win.
In March of 1995, however, the University of Nevada Las Vegas hired him to be the head coach of the Runnin' Rebels. And that, Bayno said, is when “the toxic cauldron” began to stir.
“If we had a bad practice, it was my fault. If I wasn’t getting through to a player, it was my fault. And winning didn’t solve anything,” Bayno said. “We had some big wins at UNLV, but I’d still wake up the next day and think, ‘I didn’t do enough’.”
Fourteen years later, a psychologist would label Bayno a victim of “maladaptive perfectionism,” a subsidiary of obsessive-compulsive disorder that mutates motivation into debilitation. But Bayno wasn’t seeing a shrink back then. Liquid friends like Jack, Johnnie and Jose were sanctuary enough.
The Newburgh, N.Y., native traces his disabling anxiety back to his family —nail-biting athletes and sleep-deprived coaches who fretted over the most diminutive of details. It’s also the point to which Bayno traces his alcoholism.
When the cauldron came to a boil in Vegas, Bayno would turn to the bottle; bingeing as either a reward for his hard work or an escape from the pending pressures.
Besides, the stress stemmed from beyond mere wins and losses. UNLV was slapped with sanctions in 2000 for recruiting violations that led to four years probation and a one-year suspension from the postseason. Bayno wasn’t implicated in the NCAA report, and would later be cleared of any wrongdoing, but that wasn’t enough to prevent his unceremonious firing in December.
The ouster relegated Bayno to five years in basketball purgatory. A season in the American Basketball Association here, a gig in the Continental Basketball Association there — not to mention a stint with the Talk ‘N Text Phone Pals of the Philippine Basketball Association. And while he did manage to kick his drinking habit along the way, the limelight, by that point, had been whittled down to a flicker.
But in 2005, Blazers interim coach Kevin Pritchard, whom Bayno had coached at Kansas, hired him as an assistant after Maurice Cheeks was let go as Portland’s head coach. Bayno spent the next three years as the Blazers’ player development coach — flying from city to city to train personnel in the offseason, matching them sweat droplet for sweat droplet during the regular season, and bullying them with those massive arm pads that have become his signature.
Turned out the subordinate role triggered an elusive emotion within Bayno: Happiness.
He actually looked forward to coming into work now. As an assistant, his shoulders were burden-free.
But there’s one problem with spending your days as an underling wearing giant arm pads —it becomes darn near impossible to scratch an itch.
A second chance
Bayno still wanted to prove he could succeed as a head coach, even though he admits the pursuit was primarily ego-driven. So when the LMU job opened in the spring of ‘08, he all but rocket-launched his hat into the ring.
It goes without saying that Loyola athletic director William Husak had his concerns.
Husak had already missed on two hires — Steve Aggers and Rodney Tention each failing to restore the Lions’ flagship program to prominence. And now to shove forth his chips on a recovering alcoholic tied to recruiting improprieties? Not without some Marine-like reconnaissance work first.
So Husak called Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who gave Bayno a glowing review. He called Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who echoed Coach K’s sentiments. He called Pritchard. He called former Utah coach Rick Majerus. He called about 20 people total, and all hailed Billy like a pool of personal publicists.
Husak was sold. Contract offered, contract accepted. Bright Bayno smile, brighter LMU future.
And as the recruits piled in, and as the enthusiasm escalated, and as the season-opener closed to within a few weeks, the brooding Bayno couldn’t help but mention to his sister Julie Hoppe .... “I’m starting to feel a little anxious.”
Hoppe assured him that this was normal; that he’d been out of the college game for a while and that jitters were inevitable. A few weeks later, however, Hoppe wasn’t giving her brother pep talks — she was just trying to get him to eat.
Her efforts were rarely successful. The cauldron was steaming now. Bayno was spending up to eight hours a night preparing two-hour practice plans, tinkering with minutiae until it was 6 a.m. and he was due in the office at 8.
The only thing consistently finding its way down his throat was his anti-anxiety medication, Bayno sometimes swallowing eight times the recommended dosage.
He hid the madness from his players, though. Did the mental equivalent of sucking in his gut and continued to mold. But his assistants knew something was wrong. Husak knew something was wrong. This zombie-like creature was anything but the man they’d all grown to admire.
“Coach was struggling. I could see it, I could feel it, I could smell it,” said current LMU head coach Max Good, who was Bayno’s assistant at the time. “Obviously he was in turmoil. The job was really weighing on him and it pained me to see him troubled like that because I like and respect him so much.”
A few days after that USC scrimmage, Bayno took a leave of absence and did little but sleep and receive therapy for the next few weeks. He’d still check the scores whenever the Lions played, and admittedly felt pangs of guilt for disappointing those who’d invested in him.
Nevertheless, after a series of discussions with his doctors, Bayno resigned from Loyola for the sake of his health — meeting with his assistants but never his players.
He’s not so proud of that last part.
“The only thing I regret is not sitting down with my players and explaining it to them. They had no idea what I was going through and they thought I abandoned them. But at the time, I was trying to get healthy, and just being around them put me in a bad place,” Bayno said. “I felt like I had let them down. But if I would have just had them all over at my house and said ‘Here’s the deal — you have no idea what I’m going through. You only see me during the day. I fake it. It’s just not healthy. I can’t do it. I took the job when I really shouldn’t have’... I think, if anything, I just cared too much.”
Some speculated that Bayno had fallen off the wagon, but he insists that if that were true, he’d still be a head coach. The real problem was that he no longer had the outlet alcohol once provided, but that’s hardly a circumstance to which folks are sympathetic.
Husak was, though. He watched first-hand the dramatic effect medication had on his father-in-law’s mental health, and while he continues to take heat for what’s been dubbed the Bayno “debacle,” he never once withdrew his support.
“We always tend to see the casts on people’s legs or the braces people wear or other physical ailments athletes have,” Husak said. “But not enough attention is paid to the emotional side of college sports.”
Husak’s right. But people also know how the casts, braces and physical ailments feel. And when they’ve never experienced a mental disorder, it can be difficult to empathize.
Perhaps that’s why Bayno rejoining the Blazers less than three weeks after resigning caused such an eruption among the LMU student body and alumni.
Message boards lambasted him.
“He officially played us.”
“Wow, I feel pretty pissed off about this one.”
“I’m glad he was able to recover from his serious medical issue in two weeks. He is quite the miracle man.”
A column in the The Loyolan, the university’s newspaper, was equally scornful — the writer implying that Bayno bailed once he realized the Lions were going to struggle, then asking “How were you able to recuperate from your illness in such a timely fashion?”
But talk to Dr. James Hancey, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Sciences University, and he’ll tell you that Bayno acted in textbook perfectionist fashion; that the “recuperation” was not the result of time away from the sport but rather the relinquishing of ultimate responsibility.
Hancey recalled a doctor he once treated who exhibited Bayno-like symptoms in the hospital. When he asked her how she ever made it through medical school, she replied, “Easy. As a resident, I always had a supervisor.”
Bayno has one of these now in McMillan, the coach who immediately rehired him and still hasn’t asked what happened at Loyola.
A lot of people have wondered, though. And Bayno said that if he had read some of the questions on the Web or in The Loyolan, he would have answered them. But maybe he doesn’t have to.
For those who charge him with apathy, there’s former UNLV guard Chance Davis, who credits Bayno with finding him a teaching job after pushing him to get his Masters.
For those who accuse him of callousness, there’s Blazers center Marcus Camby, who’s known Bayno for 20 years and refers to him as “my white dad.”
And for those who deem him a quitter, there’s Max Good, who asserts “Billy’s anything but a quitter. A quitter is someone who would stay on and not do the job.”
But perhaps the most compelling testimony comes from a source Bayno isn’t quite as tight with — Lakers guard Ron Artest —whom he first met on the streets of Queensbridge, N.Y.
Last June, Artest gave the country a collective chuckle when he thanked his psychiatrist on national television after winning the NBA title. But those laughs faded when he auctioned off his championship ring a few months later to raise awareness for mental health.
Told of Bayno’s struggles last month, Artest affirmed “it’s perfectly natural. The mind isn’t built for all this stress and negativity.”
And there seems to be less of each in Bayno’s life these days.
He said since moving back to the Northwest, he’s embraced meditation and finally has a non-alcoholic release. He added that he’s reconciled with most of his LMU recruits, has way more fun as an assistant coach, and no longer concerns himself with wins and losses.
“That has nothing to do with my job,” he said.
Who would have thought? Here we are a day before the commencement of college basketball’s premier event, a stage Bayno longed to reach, and he winds up somewhere better because he walked away.
By the way, two Mondays ago marked the first time Bayno publicly discussed his time at LMU. He didn’t say why he suddenly felt comfortable talking about the matter, but his final words before the tape recorder clicked off may have offered a glimpse.
Reclining on a bench in the Blazers weight room after practice, Bayno lifted a weight off his chest, turned his head and said “Hopefully this will help somebody.”
Matt Calkins can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.