While Louisville coach Rick Pitino can't predict the outcome of his team's March Madness match-ups, he has found a way to indirectly influence the games.
"It comes down to the old cliche 'dress for success'," he says of his choice to wear a suit courtside. "It won't alter the outcome of the game but it does create an image of a significant business, and it teaches the players how to create the look of success for themselves."
He's not alone. U.T. Coach Rick Barnes sports dark blue and gray Canali suits and U.N.C. coach Roy Williams favors Hickey Freeman suits with pocket squares or ties in Carolina light blue. Memphis Coach John Calipari wore a blue Zegna tie to the Conference U.S.A. game against Tulane last week.
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Dressing up "gives them more authority," says Memphis-based Oak Hall owner Bob Levy, who helps dress Calipari. "If they are too casual, they don't command the same kind of respect from the players."
Not all sports embrace the tradition that started in the 1930s. The National Football League insists coaches leave their designer suits and ties in the locker room in favor of marketing the N.F.L.-brand sweaters and jackets while on the field. Out on the diamond, managers and coaches wear team uniforms because they are often running out to the pitching mound, and first and third base coaches remain there through all innings.
Basketball coaches, on the other hand, have maintained the custom, and professional players especially are following their cue.
That's primarily due to a 2005 dress code enforced by N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern. The push followed adverse press related to sexual assault charges against Kobe Bryant in 2003 and a November 2004 brawl between Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons fans. Collared dress shirts or turtlenecks, dress slacks and shoes with socks (no sneakers or flip-flops) became the new uniform for all team or league functions. Knicks players were even asked to wear suits to and from all games.
Why such sartorial splendor? College basketball coaches are important role models for the young men they lead, and for aspiring high school players. With games nationally televised, coaches are in the spotlight and act as a representative for their schools.
"When a coach is well groomed and looks put together, he sends a message to the players and to the opposing team that he takes this business seriously," says Hill Stockton, owner of Norman Stockton Menswear in Chapel Hill, and frequented by U.N.C. coach Roy Williams. "He always wears a pocket square in his jacket pocket and that shows that he pays attention to details, something that translates to his basketball program and how he treats his players."
Chic coaches like Williams have even prompted CollegeInsider.com to run a version of March Madness--"Runway to the Fashionable 4"--in which coaches are judged on their courtside looks before making it to the next round. The 2007 tied winners were Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and Villanova's Jay Wright.
Sadly, while the suit might look savvy, it's not necessarily the most functional courtside attire. But sometimes the image you project is often more important than function.
"Hey, I wear a coat and tie in the store every day while I wrestle with boxes and deliveries," says George Newton, manager of Patrick James in Palo Alto, who frequently sells Hickey Freeman suits to Stanford coach Trent Johnson. "And I do just fine."