SOUTH JORDAN — Megan Marks loves basketball, but spent nearly every day during her freshman season as a Bingham Miner crying.
"Freshman year was rough," said the senior who will play for BYU next season. "The intensity level is a big adjustment — the demanding atmosphere — you can't get away with anything."
The cause of most of those tears was the program's head coach, Rand Rasmussen. In his 18th season as head coach of the second-ranked Miners, Rasmussen is a coach many love to hate. He can be demanding, abrasive, but said his methods instill discipline, hard work and affection in his players.
He told guard Stephanie Sampson when she was a sophomore that she "was so bad on defense she couldn't guard my shadow."
"It made me want to become the one who guards the best players," Sampson said. "It works."
Some coaches and parents have issues with the way Rasmussen coaches his players. None want to go on the record with their criticism of him, but they say he is verbally abusive to the players and his methods go too far.
He knows about these critics and feels misunderstood by those outside his program. He said he plays the role of bad guy, while surrounding himself with assistants who are the good guys. He said his efforts have one purpose — to make his players tougher, stronger, disciplined and team-minded.
Rasmussen, who owns a 338-71 record, 13 region titles, 10 final-four appearances and three state titles, calls the program old-school and said he does things the way he does because it worked for him as a youngster.
"I don't do things differently because I don't have that kind of personality," he said simply. "I'm outgoing, outspoken, and maybe angry at times. But I love my players and I let them know that. They understand what I'm trying to teach them. I want to get the best out of each one of them. They know I'd do anything for them."
His methods may seem extreme to some, but his players said they wouldn't have it any other way.
For example, he doesn't speak directly to freshmen, asking his assistants and team captains to teach those students. Freshmen have extra duties and restrictions on their behavior, such as boarding the bus last. This creates an atmosphere where players "move up the ladder," he said.
Marks said it also makes it necessary for the younger players to rely on the older players for help and assimilation into the program.
"It makes us closer," she said. "It bothered me when I didn't see the big picture, but the older players helped me and took care of me, and now I do that for our younger players. I look forward to being on the bench and seeing those younger players out there. It's bigger to me than scoring 30 points to have everyone feel like they're an equally important part of the team."
Rasmussen said his expectations are expressed only to his players.
"I don't have parent meetings," he said. "Most parents want an extension of themselves. I'm here for the players."
He has even told players that if their parents don't control themselves at games their daughters won't play. He said dealing with the girls and forcing them to be responsible for themselves is the most effective way to teach them independence and accountability.
"If you want to be successful, you've got to be disciplined," he said. "We teach discipline.... I'm trying to get them ready for how things really are."
To those who say he's verbally abusive, he answers: "I believe in calling a spade a spade. I don't think I'm trying to get under anyone's skin. I'm trying to pick the right button to push."
He gives numerous examples of tough love countered by compliments and praise in other situations. He said that once in a while he may even say something rude, but his players and assistants tell him they know where his heart is.
"It depends on the player and it depends on the situation," he said. "Some kids are harder on themselves, while others need discipline."
Rasmussen said he treats his female athletes the same as he treats the boys he coaches in baseball. And while he doesn't think his methods are outdated, he acknowledges that times have changed significantly and many coaches no longer use the methods he still relies on.
"I treat them as athletes," he said. "They check their problems at the door and they work hard, for the sake of the team. I can't see why it should be any different."
Marks and Sampson said they have less drama because practice times are not negotiable and attention and attendance are never optional.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Sampson said. "He teaches us life lessons.... Basketball isn't even the point as much anymore. The biggest part of it is that I've learned so much about life and about being determined."
Adds Marks, "It took my whole freshman year, but I realized he doesn't hate us. I honestly did think that at times ... The older girls told me he just wants us to play well. He wants the best for us ... It's helped me in all aspects of life. It's taught me to work harder, and I wouldn't change a day. The friendships, life experiences, I'll miss it all very much. He's one of the greatest guys I've ever met. He'd do anything for us, but we have to earn this."
Rasmussen isn't sure why so many other coaches seem to dislike him. While he acknowledges close friendships with some of the coaches he plays against, most keep their distance.
"I don't know," he said. "Everybody's so stand-offish with me.... I really could never hate another coach because they do a tough job for minimum wage. We're all here for the players. I don't think my way is the right way for everybody. It's the right way for me."