They come into town like it's an IRS audit. They look like they just found out their shoe contract hasn't been renewed. They haven't seen the sun in six months. They haven't swung a golf club in seven. They know the war with Iraq ended, but they're not sure when.

Being a college basketball coach in March isn't easy. Not from the looks of it. Here at the WAC NCAA-qualifying tournament it's easy to tell the coaches. They're the ones mumbling to themselves.They're the ones who won't take their seat. They're the ones who talk like Marlon Brando. One hundred and forty days into the season and it shows.

Here they are, still depending on 19-year-olds with white sidewall haircuts to save their jobs, hoping to at the very least walk out of Laramie with an NCAA berth and the $200,000 or so that goes along with it. In a world where there are few guarantees, here's one: Give your athletic director $200,000 and he'll give you another year.

They'll tell you that the ultimate cruelty is that no matter what, 50 percent of the coaches in attendance on any given night are going to lose.

Genuine agony is wading through a 40-minute game wondering if it's going to be you.

Does it show? Could you tell what was going on in the desert by Schwarzkopf's face?

If the WAC's coaches were walking through a mall where they were holding blood pressure checks, they'd tackle them and make them take the test.

Winning seems to help, but only for a few seconds.

After getting a 13-point win over Colorado State in Thursday's opening round, BYU Coach Roger Reid barely made it to the interview room before he was worrying again.

The coach was asked if he preferred playing Hawaii instead of New Mexico after Hawaii's opening-round upset win over the Lobos created a BYU-Hawaii semifinal game tonight. Would the Rainbow Warriors be less of a worry?

"Let me tell you something," Reid answered. "When you're a coach you worry about everything and everybody. You never stop. Every team scares me to death."

This, from a coach who has won nine of his last 11.

By contrast, there was Colorado State Coach Boyd Grant. His team had just lost to BYU for the third time, and had effectively ended the year since few teams with 15-14 records and seventh place league finishes are invited to postseason tournaments.

Would the NIT be interested in his Rams, the coach was asked.

"Not if they saw us play," said Grant.

He smiled when he said it. But that soon disappeared, and then he was asked if he'll be back next year.

"The last two losses have been tough," he said, sounding defeated. "Sometimes I get tired of waking up and feeling bad."

He said he'd have to talk to his wife about next season. Right now he didn't know.

There will be no pressure for Grant to leave CSU. He hasn't had a losing season since he came to Ft. Collins four years ago, and his teams won two straight championships before this year.

But he has been a head coach for 17 years, and even though he has won 65 percent of the time, he knows the time to get out is when the lows are lower than the highs are high.

After Wyoming Coach Benny Dees suffered - quite visibly - through a 71-67 win over UTEP, Dees, whose Cowboys own a 19-10 record, was asked to put the season-to-date in perspective.

"It's been a nightmare," he said. "We started 15-3 and hit a stone-cold wall. We have started to play better, but the problem is now, you can't lose one. Lose one now and you're out."

This is that paradoxical time of year when getting it over with is a worse prospect than continuing the agony.

And so they go on, playing musical chairs to end the season, and worrying a lot.

"I hope Wyoming wasn't watching our game," said Utah Coach Rick Majerus after his eighth-ranked, 27-2 Utes beat San Diego State by 11 to earn a semifinal berth against Wyoming tonight. "We didn't strike fear in anyone's heart. The only person we scared tonight was me."

Spoken like a true coach in springtime, when your big fear is waking up in the morning and feeling bad, and not being able to do anything about it - like play again that night.