Archive for the ‘Jerry Tarkanian’ Category

Players Just Need to Understand Their Roles

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Briefly checked the Clippers-Rockets game last night. Would have stayed longer but there were some comedies on ABC that I like. That, and the game was so bad. There are people who say the NBA isn’t worth watching because the players coast until the playoffs. Houston’s performance last night did nothing to dispel that notion.

Dwight Howard, who had a monster game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, showed signs of sulking early when the game plan didn’t feature him. The Clips’ DeAndre Jordan thoroughly outplayed Howard, if for no other reason, than he was thoroughly engaged in the game. I’m not sure why, but Howard’s performance reminded me of a conversation I had with one of our guys at Fresno State.

We had a really talented team, one which would play in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, five of the guys would become NBA players. Our power forward, Larry Abney, was a real workhorse, defending and rebounding at a high level. Larry was appreciated by everyone in Fresno – coaches, players, administrators, fellow students and fans. In one game (actually a loss to SMU in Fresno), Larry had 35 rebounds, the most in a college game since 1960.

One day Larry came up to me and said, “Jack, we have plays for Melvin (Ely, our center). We have plays for Courtney (Alexander, our #2 guard). We have plays for Chris (Herren, our point guard). We have plays for Terrance (Roberson, our small forward).

“I know I’m not the offensive player those guys are,” he continued, “but, I mean, can’t we have one play for me?”

Obviously, Larry was a proud guy and even though he didn’t have anywhere near the talent of Dwight Howard, he would never consider giving anything less than a maximum effort every game. Or every practice. But I also knew Jerry (Tarkanian, who didn’t like “plays”) would never run one for Larry. As hard as he worked, though, Larry deserved an answer.

I said to him, “Larry, we shoot 43% as a team.

“57% of the plays are run for you.”

He and I still joke about that conversation – and he’ll admit he got the point.


What to Do When It’s Hard to Follow the NCAA Rules

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

At one of the nine colleges where I worked, there was a preliminary NCAA investigation into football and basketball which, not surprisingly, discovered some minor violations (for the record, the school was not Fresno State and Tark). One involving basketball was a prospect we had signed who showed up at his post season high school all-star game practice decked out from head to toe in our practice gear (reversible practice jersey, practice shorts and even a pair of our shoes while another kid who was playing on the opposing team, e.g. east-west or north-south) didn’t have anything from us. The former player was recruited by another assistant on our staff, while I had recruited the “naked” kid. In fact, not to make me sound like a goody two-shoes, but the results of the NCAA findings found no violations committed by me. In one of my previous stops, the former staff lost their jobs because they committed some (very minor) violations. (The fact they also had a losing record made it that much simpler to show them the door). Maybe I was frightened when told that story but, whatever the reason, I decided adhering to the rules was the better strategy.

Actually, when I interviewed for the job (at the school that had the all-star clothing irregularities), the athletics director warned me, “Always remember this: We’ll stand by you if you lose – a little – but we won’t stand by you if you cheat.” I had absolutely no problem with this because, call me naïve, but I felt the NCAA rules were meant to be followed since (even though from time to time they seemed petty, or even downright absurd) they were the same for everybody.

By the time of the investigation, we had a different AD. After being questioned about the infractions, he pulled me aside and said, “Jack, what do you think of the NCAA rules?” I told him I thought they ought to be followed since the NCAA was our governing body. “What about so-called ‘gray areas’?” he asked.

I told him my policy regarding gray areas was to call the NCAA enforcement staff and ask about it. I got to know the head of enforcement pretty well and when I’d ask about such a situation, he would give me one of two answers. Either: “I have no problem with that,” which meant, technically, it broke the letter of the rule but not the spirit, or “No, that’s an end run,” which meant that while it isn’t technically a violation as far as the letter of the rule, it does break the spirit of the rule and, although you skirted that one, you could be looking at the NCAA to launch a full-blown investigation – something no school ever wanted, nor could withstand.

Our new athletics department leader (who had a distinguished career in intercollegiate athletics) looked at me and said, “Jack, the way I look at the rules is those suckers should be bent as far as they will bend.” Evidently, his philosophy was, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” – a philosophy employed by many successful (and unsuccessful) coaches.

Apparently, without a memo of any sort, our department paradigm had changed. My response to him was probably not the best, considering it seemed like the guy was mentoring me:

“What happens when you’ve bent it as far as it can bend and the prospect asks for just a little more. You’ve invested so much time with the kid and you’ve established such a close relationship with him – what do you do then? It would seem to be too tempting to bend it a little more – even if it meant breaking it – and, that’s a decision I’d rather not make.”

Double Blog: Why I’m Back AND Another Way of Putting the Warriors’ Season in Perspective

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Back home a little sooner than we’d hoped. Younger son Alex’s Cal State Monterey Bay basketball team won their regular season finale on the road at Cal State East Bay but lost in the opening round of their conference tournament at Humboldt State. The following explanation is not meant to serve as an excuse, rather to show how the Otters were victims of an unlucky break in scheduling.

In the past the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) was composed of 12 member (California) institutions. It’s regarded as one of the best Division II leagues in the country (at one time, five of the schools were ranked in the nation’s top 25). The teams’ schedules were a round robin, i.e. each school played 22 conference games (only in D-II). This year, however, the conference schedule was cut back to 20 games with the addition of Cal State San Marcos (a decision made without my input). Therefore, each team played four opponents only once, two at home, two on the road. Except for one weekend, teams play twice/week, usually on Friday and Saturday (so as to miss less class time).

One of the teams CSUMB played on the road only was Humboldt State. It was to be the second game that week, the first being at Cal Poly Pomona on a Thursday (why those two are paired is a mystery – actually, more like a travesty considering where each is located). For those readers who aren’t up to snuff on their California geography, here’s a lesson. Pomona is located in Southern California, east of Los Angeles. The team flew from Oakland to Ontario (about 20 minutes from Pomona) on Wednesday, Feb. 10 and played CPP the next day. Down one, the ball was passed to Alex at the top of the circle. He took a three-pointer. Just after the ball left his hand, the buzzer sounded. His shot hit the front rim, bounced up, hit the front rim once more, before dropping through the net for the game-winner.

The team was naturally wired and had a tough time sleeping, only to get a 6:45 am wake up call for a 9:00 am flight to Oakland. There, they de-planed, got onto a bus – for a 5 hour drive to Arcata (stopping for lunch), close to the Oregon border. A brief practice to get the blood flowing, if nothing else, then dinner and bed. The game was on Saturday. It was apparent to those watching the guys simply ran out of gas near the end of it.

Wouldn’t you know it, Monterey and Humboldt tied for fourth place in the league standings. The tie-breaker? Yup, head-to-head results – only in this case, there was only one game played between the teams. Why was this such a big deal? The first round of the conference tourney was at the site of the higher seeded team. Rather than Humboldt making the trek down the coast, it was CSUMB who had to return two-and-a-half weeks later. The Pioneers prevailed over Monterey Bay, 64-61. The Otters’ players, coaches and fans were left wondering, what if? What if the single game were at Monterey? What if they’d played twice – as they had since the Otters joined the league – and split (had that been the case, Monterey would have held the tie-breaker). 

After the game, which ended the season as well as Alex’s career, I relayed to him a fact of college basketball life (in all but a few instances) I learned 45 years ago:

“For all but one team, the season ends with a loss.”

And, now, for the main event (even if it’s considerably shorter than the previous diatribe):

A cliche is a word or group of words that are so apropos to a situation that it or they become waaaaaay overused. One such term that’s become especially popular recently is “to put it in perspective, . . .” And, now, I’m adding one additional to the number of times it’s been used, which now is approaching infinity.

The Golden State Warriors, after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, ran their record to 55-5. Their pursuit of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls best-ever record of 72-10 has been on the lips of not only everyone who reports on the NBA but anybody who simply follows the league. While it may be true that records are made to be broken (you didn’t think I was done with cliches, did you?), something that took a year to accomplish – by what many feel was the best professional basketball team of all-time – in this case, it’s almost like we’re dealing with perfection. At least, as close to perfection as an NBA team can accomplish.

So how, exactly, can we put the Dubs’ 55-5 record in perspective? Here’s an angle from my own career. As any loyal reader of this space would know, I enjoyed a 30-year college coaching career. In 16 of those seasons there were post season play (NCAA tournament or NIT). During the seven year span at Fresno State with head coach Jerry Tarkanian, we won a minimum of 20 games every season but one (in which we won 19). Two of the years (one at Fresno State, the other at Tennessee) we made it to the Final Four of the NIT. Another of the UT years we made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tourney. In five of my seasons in Big Orange Country, we won at least one game in post-season play.

Yet, as good as we were at any of the nine schools which I called home for between one-seven years, there’s one stat that “puts the Warriors’ current record in perspective. Although the college hoops season is considerably shorter than the 60 contests the Warriors have played to date – and we had some highly successful teams:

“We never had a record in which we had fewer than six losses.”

Excuse Me While I Brag About My Son

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

This blog will be postponed until after our son’s basketball career concludes. When that will be depends on their performance in the conference tournament. Please keep checking, beginning next Saturday. What follows explains a little more about all that.

Tonight our son, Alex, plays his final regular season game for Cal State Monterey Bay. On Tuesday, the CCAA Conference Tournament begins – Division II’s version of March Madness. Do or die. Win or go home. Survive and advance. Every game is, possibly, the last of his college career.

My friend and mentor, George Raveling, used to tell our players (I worked for him at Washington State and USC), as well as other guys he coached or counseled, that one measure of their career would be: Where was the program when you got there and where was it when you left?

In Alex’s case, the year before he matriculated at Cal State Monterey Bay, the men’s basketball team won all of three games. The win total was tripled his freshman year (he was voted Freshman of the Year in the CCAA conference and was one of 10 selected as National Freshmen All-Americas – the only one from the western half of the country). The Otters’ wins increased in each of the next three years and, for the first time since anybody can remember, they have cracked the Top 25 (22nd in the latest poll, having beaten #3,11 & 23). Another jewel in Alex’s career will occur on May 21 when when his uniform consists of a cap and gown.

He’s currently the school’s all-time leader in points and steals, third in assists and fifth in rebounding. All that is great but, in college hoops, every team but one ends their season with a loss (technically, there are exceptions but in every one of them, the season was unsuccessful). The only way to go out a winner, then, is . . . don’t lose. Because there are so many possessions in a basketball game – and any one of them can determine the outcome – it’s mandatory to be at your best: mentally, physically and emotionally (as the late Jerry Tarkanian preached).

My advice to my son? Three simple words:

“Have no regrets.”

Telling the Truth – Even at the Expense of Your Family

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

When people close to you pass away, you find reminders of them everywhere. And . . . the longer you live, the more of your friends and relatives die. As insensitive as that sounds, it’s better than the alternative.

The reason for the morbid opening is that I recently read an article of a coach and his favorite athlete. The story triggered an amusing anecdote from, who else, but the king of amusing anecdotes – my last college boss, the late Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Tarkanian.

During the last season of The Jerry Tarkanian Show (which I was honored to host), we would end with questions from the audience. One night a friend of Jerry’s handed me a scrap of paper with his question scrawled on it. “Of all the players you coached, who was your favorite?”

I posed the question to Jerry and he immediately brightened up, just thinking of his all-time “fave.” A big smile came across his face. He enthusiastically replied, “That’s easy. My favorite player of all-time is Larry Johnson,” referring to the former NCAA Player of the Year and New York Knicks’ star, nicknamed “Grandmama.”

Jerry would passionately talk about Larry Johnson when he spoke of the most clutch player with the greatest work ethic, the ultimate leader and always would mention what “an absolutely wonderful person” Larry was. Although I knew that was going to be his answer even before I read the question, I thought I’d have a little fun with him.

“Gee, Jerry, I wonder how Danny (his son and former point guard at UNLV) feels about that?” I asked, which brought laughter from the crowd, made up mostly of his friends who would religiously visit the restaurant on the nights we’d broadcast the show.

Times like these were what made Tark the hoops version of Yogi Berra. His response to what I’d just brought up, i.e. he was choosing someone other than his own son as his favorite player ever, he said, without any hesitation whatsoever:

“Oh no, Danny knows it’s Larry Johnson.”

Changing Styles Easier Said Than Done

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

As I read the previews for each of the NBA teams for the upcoming season, occasionally the evaluation will say something to the effect, “They used to be a defense first team but look for Coach _____ to go to an uptempo attack.” Or “They liked to pound it inside last year but Coach _____ will be counting on his guys to make threes this season.” Don’t forget the “Coach _____ needs to give ______ a bigger role.” And the assessment, “Coach _____ has the luxury of playing big or going small.” Then there’s the doling out minutes and exploiting match ups that writers and talking heads print and speak of so intelligently, as if hoops was football or baseball.

Let’s analyze these appraisals, some of which are even plausible. I’ve never been an NBA coach but don’t think for a second that NBA coaches are some sort of creatures who dwell in a divergent profession. There’s no question the NBA is composed of better players than college buckets (heck, NBA players are the best athletes in the world). Plus there are more games, player trades, somewhat different rules and no academic issues. NBA coaches make more money (than nearly all of their college counterparts) but their shelf life is quite a bit shorter (although the buyout sets them up pretty well – until they’re recycled to another club).

All that said, the basketball coaching profession is much more alike then it is different. Most coaches played, even if it was just at the high school level. All of them were “smitten” by coaching. Few of their former coaches or friends are shocked when they decide to enter that particular business. Every coach had a mentor or, most likely, several mentors who instilled in them a certain belief in how the game should be played. The baby boomer generation of college coaches was strongly influenced by coaches like John Wooden, Bob Knight and Dean Smith. Prior to them, Henry Iba was the coach who “young coaches” modeled themselves after. In the NBA it was Red Auerbach, Red Holzman and Jack McKinney who had the clout while Hubie Brown held all coaches in a trance at every clinic in which he spoke.

What all that means is that, as a coach grows in the profession, he or she develops a philosophy of how the game is to be played. Basically, there are two theories about how to play basketball – decide how many points it will take for your team to win and keep your opponent under that number or decide how many points you’ll give up and execute a game plan to score more than that number. Tom Thibodeau is an excellent example of the former while Mike D’Antoni is a perfect illustration of the latter. Imagine Thibodeau deciding to launch threes (and freely substitute to give some guys bigger roles) because his players didn’t have the quickness to defend. When, exactly, do you think it would cross D’Antoni’s mind that, in order to win, the best system would involve “locking people down?”

While most coaches aren’t are so rigid in their beliefs of how the game is supposed to be played as Thibs or Mike D’ are, the truth is coaches just aren’t all that flexible with their approach to the game either. The NBA is a player’s game. When a team has lost because it gives up too many shots close to the basket, they don’t design a defense to solve the problem, nor do they just jack up threes in an effort to play three-for-two. They trade for a shot blocker. Need to score more? Get guys who are hard to guard. Practice time is limited (once the season starts, don’t expect your favorite team’s bench guys to show a marked improvement. Even in the off-season, a small percentage of NBA players are going through rigorous player development programs (don’t for a minute think that the work put in by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is typical). P.S. In college, it’s called recruiting. Deciding when to go with a big lineup or a small one depends either on your team being more talented than the opponent you’re facing that night (so you get to dictate lineups) or whether you need to gamble because the game’s not going your way – and not making a change of some sort would lead to a sure loss. The game goes just too fast to be able to employ all the possible strategies media members and fans discuss.

Now, new coaches will change styles (Chicago Bulls being one example) but a specific coach making what amounts to a 180 degree change in belief (even 90 is a stretch)? Ain’t happening. Same in football. Chip Kelly isn’t going to the “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy any time soon, nor will Pete Carroll become conservative.

For the record, the only coach I ever knew who would totally change his strategy was my last college boss, Jerry Tarkanian. He won playing 1-2-2 zone at Long Beach State (and his final year at UNLV), full court pressure, half court pressure and amoeba zone at UNLV and half court, with a little amoeba, at Fresno State. Yet, even Tark was unyielding in his offensive outlook. When it came to running set plays, continuity or even using passing game rules, his favorite phrase was:

“The more a player thinks, the slower his feet get.”



Staying Put Has Its Benefits

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Quick trip to see some friends. This blog will return on Thursday, October 22.

Three years ago – to the day – I blogged about a friend of mine, Peter Sharkey. The only reason I mention that post is because it’s such a strange coincidence. Actually, the one I produced on Peter on June 15, 2010 would be more apropos to today’s entry. That one was done following his induction into the Fresno City-County Hall of Fame.

In the past two years I’ve been present at my last two college bosses’ enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Mass – 2013 for Jerry Tarkanian, for whom I worked at Fresno State (1995-2002) and this past September for George Raveling, for whom I worked at USC (1991-95) and also at Washington State (1973-75). I’ve posted so many times about the Naismith inductions, during which it’s almost a surreal experience mingling among the superstars from yesteryear.

Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, I missed my GA counterpart at WSU, Mark Edwards (see past blogs from 12/15/09 & 2/9/14), receive his enshrinement honor into the St. Louis Hall of Fame (along with, among others, the NFL’s Jim Bakken – a hero of mine, a straight-on placekicker, like yours truly – the NHL Curtis Joseph, boxing’s Leon Spinks and MLB’s Scott Rolen). Mark is a graduate of Washington University which, a couple years after he graduated, dropped basketball. After serving with Rave for nine years, his alma mater called and asked him to revive the men’s hoops program. He’s been the head coach at Wash U since 1981 and has led the Bears to three NCAA Division III Final Fours and two National Championships. He found a home and remained. In Springfield he told me he plans on coaching at least two more years.

My man, Peter Sharkey, has done on the high school level what Mark did in St. Louis. A native of New York, Peter moved to California eons ago and, just recently, retired from Hoover High School in Fresno after teaching and coaching (girls and boys basketball) for 32 years. He was a highly successful (why else would someone be in an athletics Hall of Fame?) and highly authoritarian coach with the utmost integrity. This past Saturday night a few of his former players organized a retirement party and over 250 of his former players, teachers, administrators, as well as his family and friends, gathered to honor him at a place called The Clovis Castle. This is our 21st year in Fresno and I’d never heard of the place. It happens to be an extravagant setting up a winding road, ending at a – for lack of a better word, castle. This affair was outdoors but there are a couple beautiful structures, complete with living rooms, bedrooms and, thankfully, bathroom facilities.

There was a cocktail hour, dinner and speeches (12 speakers in all, me being the last – and probably longest – although a friend of mine told me he lost a bet because I only went 12 minutes). As with most such events, it turned into a bit of a roast, all in fun, and Peter was a good sport about it. When he spoke, he was so overwhelmed, he barely stung any of the roasters back. This, after he’d told me, “Remember, I get the microphone last.”

Most of the crowd stayed well after the festivities ended just to catch up with folks they hadn’t seen in years. We didn’t leave until 11:30 and enjoyed every minute of it (although my back could have used a rocking chair for a little relief). What I took from it was a different perspective on a career choice. Once I graduated from college, I returned to my roots, teaching and coaching at the same high school I attended. There was a veteran teacher there who, although he didn’t teach me, taught my mother. I just couldn’t see staying somewhere that long. Two years later I began my coaching odyssey, living in nine states in 21 years – the East, New England, the Pacific Northwest, the South, the Midwest and California. And loving it. Meeting different people, living in different cultures (it’s remarkable how varied lifestyles and even language “dialects” are in various parts of the country) and making so many friends has been a wonderful experience.

The closing line of my “speech” summed up the feeling of everyone who attended :

“Peter Sharkey is a genuine person and if you were coached by him, taught by him or simply know him, you’re a better person because of it.”

The Type of Guy Doc Rivers Really Is

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

As promised, what follows is blog #2 on Glenn “Doc” Rivers (for those who are on this site for the first time, or those of you who haven’t been around for a while, yesterday’s post was the first of two blogs on Doc). It explained how he got on my “Fertig Notes” mailing list. If you’re interested, check it out.

My goal had always been to be a head basketball coach at a Division I university. One of several reasons I started the mailing list – which consisted of one book summary each month for about 10 years – was to stay in touch with people who might be helpful in achieving my goal. Doc had been a color commentator when he landed the head coaching gig with the Orlando Magic, one of several commentators-with-no-head-coaching-experience-turned-head coaches (Pat Riley, Tom Heinsohn, Doug Collins). In order to supplement my income, Tark allowed me to be the color commentator for Fresno State’s televised games (the ones that weren’t on network TV or ESPN). While the previously mentioned commentators became NBA coaches, and I wanted to be a college head coach, I felt having somebody from that group would be a great reference – especially to the new breed of athletics directors, i.e. bottom line fund raising types as opposed to former coaches.

Since Doc had asked to be on my mailing list, he knew who I was. I wanted to meet him, chat it up a little and ask if I could use him as a reference. My “in” was the Magic’s first, and only, play-by-play man, David Steele, one of the first four employees of the expansion Orlando franchise. David was the sports anchor at WLOS-TV in Asheville, NC when I was an assistant coach at Western Carolina University in the late ’70s and we connected immediately. After I left for a similar position at the University of Tennessee, David became the “voice of the WCU Catamounts.” A few years later, David also “moved up” in the business, becoming the “voice of the Florida Gators.”

One of the SEC teams I scouted was UF (this was a period when off-campus scouting was permissible by the NCAA). It seemed like at least twice a year I’d be in Gainesville to scout either Florida or their opponent who, coincidentally, happened to be one of my scouting assignments. On each occasion David would have me as a guest on his pregame radio show. I called him and asked if he could set up a meeting with the Magic’s head man. He came through like a champ and I booked a flight from Fresno to Orlando for a dinner engagement with Doc.

After a tour of the Magic’s facility with David (who was treated like royalty because he’d been there from the franchise’s inception – sort of a “founding father” image), I showed up for dinner with Doc. Naturally, I got to the restaurant early. The reservations were in Doc’s name (since it would be easier for me to recognize him than the other way around). Shortly after I arrived, Doc’s wife, Chris, and his agent (whose name I can’t recall) showed up, apologizing that Doc would be a little late because he played in a charity golf tournament. About 15 minutes later, still in golfing attire, Doc walked in and apologized for being late. I got up and walked out!

No I didn’t. I might be crazy but I’m not stupid. I told him no problem, that I’d enjoyed speaking with Chris and his agent and appreciated his taking time to meet with me. The four of us were outdoors at the restaurant, having a pre-dinner cocktail and making small talk, when the maitre d’ came out to let us know our table was ready. As she got up, Chris, unintentionally of course, knocked her drink over. It spilled in Doc’s lap.

She began to apologize profusely when Doc said, “That’s OK. No problem,” as he picked up a napkin wiping his shirt and pants. It was his immediate reaction that absolutely astounded me. Maybe you had to be there to actually witness it, or maybe you run with a different crowd, but the first impulse of nearly everyone I know would have been to say something profane – at the very least, be annoyed – not necessarily at the person who spilled the drink (especially because it was the spouse), just at the situation of having to “wear” an alcoholic drink. Throughout dinner. Yet, his initial response was, no worries, everything’s fine.

This past Monday I watched the Clippers’ training camp. Near the end of the workout, at a break in the action, Doc came over to greet those of us in attendance. When he got to me, I reintroduced myself to him (he remembered the Notes) and told him of that encounter over 15 years ago. The comment I made to him was how shocked I was at his attitude at the moment – that few, if any, other people I know would have reacted in such a manner. He sincerely thanked me after I remarked on my assessment of his chivalry. I said:

“Doc, how you reacted couldn’t have been faked.”

Buzz Williams Is His Definitely Own Guy

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

One of the nine collegiate head coaches I worked for used to say that “coaches are a different breed of cat.” Buzz Williams is living proof. Virginia Tech’s head man was one of ten speakers at recently Hall of Fame inductee George Raveling’s coaching clinic in Los Angeles. One aspect that sets him apart from his peers is his dislike for speaking at coaching clinics.

The only reason he agreed to speak at Rav’s clinic is his admiration for his mentor. While George had a solid winning percentage at Washington, Iowa and USC, including leading each to two NCAA Tournament appearances apiece, the reason he was enshrined in the HOF was because of how much he gave back to the game – mainly to so many other coaches at every level of the game (from elementary school to the NBA). Buzz Williams was a major recipient of George’s wisdom.

I first met Buzz at the Hall of Fame induction weekend two years ago when Rav received the John Bunn Leadership Award (and my last boss, Jerry Tarkanian) was enshrined. A few of us had eaten with George (as always, he picked up the check) when he said he was looking for Buzz. I had to attend a function with Tark’s family. As I was leaving the Hall, I saw Buzz coming through the door. Since we’d never met, I introduced myself to him and mentioned Rav was looking for him. He stopped and said to me, incredulously, “You’re Jack Fertig?” Somehow, at no time did I think he was putting me on – even though no one had ever greeted me in such a manner. In a subsequent meeting with him, he explained that George had spoken highly of me when the subject of assistant coaches came up during one of their conversations.

After hearing George tell me he’d been mentoring Williams for years, I wondered how the two of them had gotten together. Apparently, young Buzz, to use the word George did, stalked him. It seemed that there were “too many” chance meetings, e.g. Williams would be where Raveling was – and would always be going up asking for advice. Sometimes the questions would be about coaching, sometimes about recruiting, sometimes about “connecting” with people – be they recruits, players, parents, administrators, whoever. There would be frequent notes, emails and calls from Fort Collins (Williams was an assistant at Colorado State). During recruiting trips of his own, Raveling would hear from recruits and coaches about this young coach from CSU who was an incredible hustler who seemed more sincere than others.

The two coaches just bonded, each with a genuine admiration for the other’s skills. During each of the three occasions I was at George’s house to film the JackAndCoach segments for the website (check them out if you haven’t already), George would get a call from Buzz Williams. One of them was after he’d decided to leave Marquette – without a job. He had his reasons (which will not be shared here) but, suffice to say, it was a move few coaches would make.

At last weekend’s clinic Buzz explained that he intensely dislikes speaking at clinics – not because he doesn’t enjoy sharing information, quite the contrary, but that his distaste for that type of venue has to do with how impersonal it is. His speech was enthusiastic, which will surprise no one who knows him. He’s not the slick recruiter most big-time coaches are but there’s no doubt that if your child (or player) went to VT, he’d be with someone who cared about him as if he was his own son. If you don’t believe he’s a different breed of cat, his final line was something I’ve never heard any other college coach do. He concluded with:

“Here’s my cell phone number.”

And then he actually gave it to the 200 or so coaches in attendance.



A Sobering Experience

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

As readers of this blog know, I recently attended the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Springfield, MA, invited by 2015 honoree George Raveling. Two years ago I made the identical trip when another of my bosses, Jerry Tarkanian, extended an invitation for his enshrinement. The ceremonies cover a span of three days – a press conference on Thursday, a gala reception followed by the TV show on Friday (check out to view it) and an event at the Mohegan Sun when the inductees receive their HOF rings.

The Friday affair, which begins at 4:30 pm, is held at the Mass Mutual Convention Center, a gigantic ballroom with a buffet in the center, bars in a couple corners, a dessert table in another and hors d’oevres constantly being served by strolling waiters. Not only are the new inductees present but every member of the Hall of Fame is invited back to the festivities (a majority of whom make it). Of all the events held HOF weekend, this reception is the one in which the “fan” finds it easiest to mingle with the stars from the past.

In order to allow the guests and Hall of Famers as much free flow as possible, the floor has very few tables – some which seat two people and a very limited number of bigger tables. Because I had been present in 2013 – and because standing is one activity my back finds excruciating – I told a couple friends of mine who were also going to the affair that we needed to get there early so we could find a table. They agreed to appease me and we got to the place 15 minutes before the doors opened. As we entered – the first three people to invade the room – Norm Persin (the third winningest high school coach in the state of Ohio) and one of the guys in our party spotted a table for eight which we immediately claimed. The third member of our “George Raveling group” was Mark Edwards whose claims to fame are numerous: 1) 35-year head coach at Washington U in St. Louis who’s won two Division III National Championships, 2) as of this past Thursday night, an inductee of the 2015 class of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and, not to be diminished by those massive accomplishments, 3) the other graduate assistant at Washington State during my two-year stay at Wazzou (1973-75) and 4) the subject of two of my best blogs (12/15/09 and 2/9/14). Both are well worth reading.

Quickly joining us at “our” table were Sam Jankovich (AD at WSU when Mark and I were there, who later moved on to the same job with the U of Miami before accepting the position of president of the New England Patriots) and his lady friend, Margaret, and one of our former managers at USC, now an executive with Time Warner, Dennis Johnson. I was speaking with Mark when I heard Norm, who has a voice that can certainly be heard above most crowds, bellow, “Hey, Bernard, there’s an open chair here.”

Who should sit down in the empty seat next to me but Bernard King, former Tennessee and NBA great who was enshrined two years prior in the same class as Tark. I mentioned I attended his induction, as well as the fact I was an assistant coach at his alma mater shortly after he left for the NBA. He became a little more animated when I told him I was leaving Sunday for Knoxville to meet with a few former players and coaches. My wife, Jane’s 50th high school reunion was the following Saturday and it would have been foolish (and painful) to fly back to California on Sunday, only to turn around a few days later and fly to Nashville. He mentioned he’d been back (although he admitted it took quite a while before he felt comfortable returning) and we tossed around a few names of mutual acquaintances.

Just about that time, a huge man taps Bernard on the shoulder and asks if that last seat was taken. Bernard jumps up and gives his former teammate, Moses Malone, a bear hug. After they chatted for a while, there were introductions made around the table. I asked Moses if he remembered when he visited us at WSU. Mark added, “Moses, I picked you up at the airport.” Shockingly, to Mark and me anyway, he said he didn’t recall the trip. Back then, however, schools were allowed to offer official visits to as many prospects as they wanted and kids could take as many paid visits as they desired. Moses was, literally, gone every weekend of his senior year.

After a while, he got up and went to get something to drink. I told King that I saw Moses, when he was senior in high school, at the Five-Star Camp, which had the best high school players in the country and how he dominated everybody at the camp, like they were junior high kids. “He just toyed with them,” I said.

King turned to me and said, “I was at that camp. Moses and I graduated from high school the same year.” My first thought was “open mouth, insert foot,” until he said, “You’re exactly right. He did what he wanted to all of us. But let me tell you something about him. That guy was the most unselfish teammate I ever played with. I’d tell him to post up and I’d get him the ball. He’d just say, ‘Nah, B, you just shoot it.’ Never played with anybody like that.”

By now, you can see where this story is headed. On Sunday morning I got to the airport and heard a familiar voice. It was Fran Frascilla of ESPN. Franny and I go way back – to the ’80s when we were both assistants, he at Ohio U, then Ohio State and I was at UT. He was on his cell phone and when he got off, he turned to me and said, “Hey, Jack, did you hear? Moses Malone died.”

Talk about a slap in the face. I was stunned, saying something idiotic like, “What, I had dinner with him 36 hours ago!” as if that would render what he told me as untrue. Franny and I sat next to each other on the trip to Washington, DC where he was connecting to a flight to Dallas (his home) while I went to the gate for my flight to Knoxville. We had about 45 more minutes to catch up but no matter what we talked about, the conversation kept coming back to the fact Moses Malone – who, by the way, looked great at the reception – had passed away.

When I read or hear memorable quotes, I write them down or put them in my phone, whichever is more convenient at the time. Earlier that week I had come across a passage by Virginia Satir which seemed rather poignant:

“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”