Here's what you should know: John Shulman cares about what you say. He pays attention, maybe too much attention.
We've all seen him so animated on the sideline, somehow making Bruce Pearl the second-most spastic coach in the state of Tennessee. Well, you know, that part of his personality doesn't just shut off after the game.
So when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was 4-10, 0-3 in the Southern Conference - long before the Mocs were cutting down nets Monday and making NCAA tournament plans - Shulman was experiencing the emotions of every single irate fan. He soaked in their anger. I even got e-mails calling for Shulman's dismissal. The man was hurt.
And that's when he got a text from a friend, Brad McCawley, inviting him to lunch. Shulman declined, saying he was going to stay inside and watch video. That's fine, McCawley wrote back, but we're either eating lunch in your office or dragging you out to eat.
"Everybody was hating him," said McCawley, who works for Coca-Cola and met Shulman soon after he arrived in Chattanooga. "He was hating life."
McCawley and Ryan May, also a Coca-Cola employee and Shulman's friend, dragged Shulman out of the office and into Armando's Restaurant on Main Street in Chattanooga. And boom, just like that, the Armando's Lunch Club was born. Same place every week. Same booth every week.
"John worries so much about everything else and other people and what people are thinking about him, and he puts so much pressure on himself that sometimes you need him to get away," May said. "We had those lunches to make him focus on the positive. We had to get him out. We told him not to be so down on the kids."
How much did those lunch sessions mean to Shulman? He mentioned Brad and Ryan by name following the 80-69 win over Charleston, without any prompting, when talking about how he kept the Mocs together after such a brutal start.
Shulman first thanked his wife, one of probably two women who liked Shulman in early January (we'll get to the other in a bit). And then he thanked Ryan and Brad.
"They changed my coaching that first day they took me to lunch," Shulman said. "I became more positive. I completely changed."
A lady saw Shulman that day and approached the embattled coach. She told him hello. Shulman, knowing him, probably braced for the ridicule. But she simply said, "Coach, you're going a great job." Matt and Brad smiled.
"See?" they told him. "People do actually like you!"
It was the positive reinforcement Shulman, who is just so hard on himself, needed at a critical time in the season, a time when he was going to either keep the team together or lose it.
And everyone likes him now. Shulman and College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins went to the locker rooms to make adjustments at halftime of a 34-34 game. Shulman changed UTC's defensive look. The Mocs went on a 20-0 run.
"We got outcoached," Cremins said.
And the Mocs didn't wilt when College of Charleston cut their lead to five points with 8:30 remaining. What's one blown lead when you've been criticized most of the season? Like the Mocs were going to unravel now.
Shulman didn't panic. He simply, thanks to a lunch two months earlier, remained positive. He joked with Keyron Sheard about making those three big free throws in the second half, saying a Jersey kid shouldn't feel any pressure. Imagine that: Shulman turning into a comic during a crucial situation.
"I want to give Matt and Brad a lot of credit," Shulman said. "People are going to love me now. They didn't love me down 22-2 to Western Carolina. I wasn't hearing a whole lot of good things said about me. After the Davidson game I was stupid. I heard that one. I'm not stupid now."