I don't know how well Mike Montgomery slept Sunday night and Monday morning, but his reputation didn't get a wink.

The Cal basketball coach, whose image is about as wholesome as can be found in the oily business of college hoops, worked up enough fury to shove one of his players during a 76-68 win over USC on Sunday at Haas Pavilion.

It was a sad moment, a shameful episode, a regrettable incident. It put a scar on what has been a remarkable 31-year career as a college head coach.

It also was a no-excuse matter if there ever was one -- even if the victim, junior guard Allen Crabbe, shrugged it off immediately afterward.

Yet there is was, for all to see, Montgomery turning on Crabbe and shoving the star player near the Cal bench. Thousands witnessed it live, and millions more around the globe have seen it or will see it in the coming days.

After initially saying "it worked" and that he'd do it again, if that's what it took to "wake up" Crabbe, Montgomery later issued a statement expressing regret.

"I have great passion for this game and tonight, I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment," the coach said in a statement released around midnight, nearly three hours after the game. "While my intent was to motivate our student-athletes, my behavior was inappropriate and I apologize for my actions."


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Athletic director Sandy Barbour also chimed in with a statement indicating intolerance for Montgomery's behavior while simultaneously expressing her belief that the coach has learned his lesson.

"Sunday's game was an emotional one for everyone who cares deeply about our men's basketball program, and the Bears certainly showed tremendous resolve coming back to earn a win over USC," Barbour said. "However, it is unacceptable for our coaches to have physical contact with student-athletes regardless of the circumstances. The second-half incident was certainly out of character for Mike Montgomery, and I am confident that something like this will not happen again."

I'd like to be confident, too. I like Mike. I think he's a solid guy and an excellent college basketball coach, even if his work in five seasons at Cal is has not been as impressive as it was during his 18 years at Stanford.

Problem is that Montgomery wants consistent intensity, the ultra-talented Crabbe is not wired to deliver it, and this gets under the coach's skin.

The bigger problem for Montgomery and for Cal is that this has happened before, and not so long ago.

Though the Montgomery-Crabbe scene surely stunned those who witnessed it unfold, it only shocked those who missed a similar incident between Montgomery and another player, guard Justin Cobbs, a few weeks ago.

One such incident should raise eyebrows and result in nothing less than a warning. A second incident, however, sounds an alarm and calls for a measure of discipline to be meted out by Barbour or the Pac-12 Conference. The conference already has issued a reprimand.

Neither the school nor the conference can allow this kind of conduct, nor should they accept it. Cal 20 years ago dumped former coach Lou Campanelli for being abusive, though Lou's alleged abuse was verbal and pushed the team to the brink of revolt.

Campanelli never got another head-coaching job -- and that was before society had evolved to the point of organized and potent anti-bullying messages.

Montgomery is nearly 66 years old. He survived a serious health scare in 2011. He's probably working on his last contract, one that runs through 2015.

And, yes, maybe his tantrum spurred Crabbe, who responded with a game-high 23 points.

But does Montgomery really want to ride into the sunset with diminished dignity, as the coach whose temper ran amok near the end? Like, for example, Ohio State's legendary football coach Woody Hayes?

Or worse, does Mike really want to be shoved into retirement because his own actions left his boss with no alternative?

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.

Inside
Coach apologizes, is reprimanded by Cal A.D., Pac-12. page 3

Online extras
Kawakami: Crabbe's response might have bailed out Montgomery.
For a video of the shove, go to www.mercurynews.com/cal