Grantland Contributor Mark Titus Talks Final Four, Irreverent Memoir 'Don’t Put Me in, Coach' (Q&A)
The former Ohio State player reveals why he wrote the book, a possible movie, the one prank he almost regrets, and offers his Final Four predictions.
Mark Titus has become the most famous scrub in college basketball history.
Grantland.com contributor Titus, the Ohio State University basketball benchwarmer whose blog Club Trillion became an internet sensation when ESPN’s Bill Simmons featured it on his podcast, has written Don’t Put Me in, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench (Doubleday, 257 pages), a memoir about his playing days—or more accurately his lack thereof.
A good, but not great, high school basketball player, Titus followed his superstar AAU club teammates Daequan Cook, Mike Conley and Greg Oden to Ohio State University in 2006, where he became the team manager thanks to Oden–the top recruit in the country—throwing his weight around. A few weeks later, when the team lost several players to injuries, Titus moved from manager to walk-on player. Four years later he had set the record for most individual wins by a Buckeye basketball player and made it to the Final Four, all while scoring a total of nine points.
Two years into his career as a seldom-used substitute, Titus channeled his boredom into a blog and that blog made him famous. He called it “Club Trillion” in honor of his typical line on a stat sheet (in the rare moments he got to play): A "1" (for minutes played) followed by twelve zeroes (for everything else—points, rebounds, shots, etc.). The blog provided an inside—and irreverent—look at elite college basketball—the practices, the games, the locker room, the travel, the friendships, and the pranks.
Titus has turned the basic material of the blog into a book. Don’t Put Me in, Coach features all the irreverence and humor fans of the blog loved, but adds an extra layer of detail and an emotional depth. Sports writing legend Leigh Montville compared it to the classic baseball tell-all Ball Four—the book that changed athlete memoirs from bland pabulum to raunchy romps. The comparison is apt. For like Ball Four, while the humor gets the headlines, the book is a really a deeper meditation on a great athlete confronting the limitations of his ability.
On the eve of the Final Four, with his beloved OSU team playing Kansas in one Saturday semi-final, Titus talked with The Hollywood Reporter about the book, a possible movie, the one prank that crossed the line, and his Final Four predictions.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you decide to write a book?
Mark Titus: The goal of the book was if you watch the game, you see the two-hour game for that particular day, but you don't see what's going on for the other twenty-two hours of the day. My book focuses on the other twenty-two hours. My goal is to, I want to make it as honest as possible of what a division one player goes through—at least what one division one player goes through. I wanted to make it as honest as possible, both good and bad. So I talk about all the fun we had and flying across the country and all that. Then there are other stories about my teammates starting fights with me and kind of how the camaraderie sucked sometimes and all that kind of stuff. I think once you read it you kind of understand the workings of college basketball teams a little bit better. The other goal was just to make it funny and entertaining and not take it too seriously. It's not really a basketball book, it's more of a book about a group of 18-22 year olds and all the shenanigans we—I mostly—but some of the other guys too, partook in.
THR: So despite not playing much, you still had fun?
Titus: It was definitely the most fun. College for most people anyways just by itself is fun and then when you're on a team like that and when you're on a team as good as mine was you get like special perks that other people probably don't get. It was definitely the best time of my life and I have no problem admitting that. I probably peaked at 22.
THR: You sorta stumbled into being a writer through the blog. Did you ever imagine your life would take that turn when you set off for college with the dream of being a surgeon?
Titus: I hated writing my entire life. I hated writing for school and all that stuff. It was just miserable to me. And I started my blog with no aspirations of it becoming anything. I didn't think anybody was going to read it. I didn't want to turn a career out of it, I just wanted to tell funny stories for my parents and friends to be able to read and even as it became popular I didn't really think of myself as becoming a writer. Then it just kind of got to the point where I was like "this isn't that hard to do for me and people seem to care about what I say for some reason, so I guess I should do it." I still don't really know if it's what I want to do, but I definitely don't want to be a surgeon anymore and writing has taken me places that I never could have imagined it would take me, so I'm just going to keep writing away and see where else it can take me I guess.
THR: Will we see a Don’t Put Me in, Coach movie?
Titus: I want to write scripts actually at some point. I've actually had conversations with people out there about the possibility maybe of making a TV show or movie out of the book. It sounds crazy to me because my life is not very interesting and the fact that somebody is kind of interested in making a movie or TV show out of my life just seems ridiculous to me, but we could exaggerate my character al little bit and make it pretty wild.
THR: The cover photo makes you look a bit like Jake Gyllenhaal. How would you feel about him playing you in the movie?
Titus: He’s pretty handsome, right? That’s all that matters.
THR: In this weekend’s Final Four, Louisville plays Kentucky and in the other game your alma mater Ohio State plays Kansas. What’s your prediction?
Titus: I'm gonna say Kentucky over Ohio State, because if I was betting on those games I would say that Kentucky would beat Louisville and Ohio State would beat Kansas. Then Kentucky would beat Ohio State in the title game.
THR: You’re a great prankster in the book. Did any ever go awry?
Titus: The only time I got reprimanded in any way was when I signed our meal money sheet for when we travel on the road. You know we get fifty bucks or something to eat. We had to sign our names and I saw all my teammates were like scribbling their names and so I thought if they were scribbling it then I would just sign a fake name. I was inspired by Michael Scott of The Office. I think in one there's a bit where he signs Daffy Duck or something. So I started signing Daffy Duck. I got in trouble for that by the NCAA rules compliance office at OSU. I met with the head of compliance and he goes "You have to start signing your real name or else we're going to call you back in here and you're going to be in big trouble." So the next time they pass out the sheet, the name I signed in perfect legible cursive was the name of the head of compliance, the guy that I met. I signed his name so he could clearly read that it was his name. I get a call the very next day and they were pissed. They called me in they were pissed when they saw me. I spent like two hours resigning every single form that I'd sign in my four years at Ohio State, so that was probably the one time that I got in trouble. I didn't put that on the blog. I told Coach Motta about it. He acted mad. He was like "Mark, you're in trouble, you gotta go do this" and then after the fact he was like "that was pretty funny."
Read an excerpt from Don’t Put me in, Coach about playing in the Final Four at Grantland.