Because I retired in June (I still can’t believe it) and my wife will be retiring at the end of the year, we were discussing retirement plans when the topic of speaking to experts in different fields came up. I mentioned we need to be careful because many of these people charge (a lot) by the hour, so we’d better watch the length of the conversations we have. In case you don’t know me, that advice should have been directed at me by me since I tend to be on the chatty side.
That reminded me of a story (that seems to happen quite often) from 1981. I was an assistant basketball coach at Tennessee. We had just lost a close game in the Sweet Sixteen to a Virginia team led by the national player-of-the-year 7′4″ Ralph Sampson. Our game plan worked as we’d hoped on Sampson. He had only six points but they had another guy come through with a career night and they beat us. Making it all the more painful, the game following ours was the one in which Danny Ainge went coast-to-coast against Notre Dame and beat them by one on a layup at the buzzer, meaning that, had we won, we would have played BYU, the winner to go to the Final Four (every coach’s and player’s dream). Earlier in the season, we had beaten BYU by 18 in the finals of our Christmas tournament.
About three weeks later we were hosting one of the best players in the country on a recruiting trip. A couple days earlier, I had some kind of medical problem. I can’t remember the details but after explaining (complaining) my problem to a friend about this incessant itching, he suggested I go to a doctor he’d seen. I made a call Friday morning to see if I could get in to see the doctor - that day. Friday was also the first day of the prospect’s 48 hour official NCAA campus visit.
When they show Tennessee football games on TV and you see all that orange and those 108,000 people (even if the team’s losing), that’s not just a Saturday attitude. Those people love their Big Orange, so understand that in Knoxville, if you’re a coach (especially of a high-profile sport), and you call a doctor’s office and give your name, you get in. That day. At whatever time’s convenient for you.
I thought about it and knew the recruit would be with the players at lunch so I asked for a 1:00 appointment (lunch was 12:30-2:00). After spending a few minutes in a (packed) waiting room, I was called in. The doctor entered, we shook hands and he asked about the problem. He looked at my scalp and immediately diagnosed the problem as psoriasis. He said he’d write a prescription. It was maybe a two-minute conversation.
Then he said how tough a loss that Virginia game was (as if I’d forgotten). He couldn’t believe that we could hold Sampson to only six and asked me about it. I explained that, although he was tall, Sampson didn’t like contact so our 6′7″ center, a burly chested guy named Howard Wood beat him to the block, then bang him off of it by holding his arms up (so as not to get called for a foul) and “chesting” him to about 12′ away from the basket. I even illustrated for him, me being Howard and the doc (who happened to be about six inches taller than I was) acting as big Ralph. He marveled at the strategy and said if only fans knew all that went into preparing for a game. After a couple more hoops queries, he left. I walked out, got my Rx and met back up with our players and the recruit.
About a week later, I received a bill for about $90. At the time, I was single, as in marital status and minded (only basketball knowledge up there). I had no idea how insurance worked - which company I was with, whether the doctor I saw was in or out of network, etc. I tell my wife now that if it wasn’t for her knowledge of “insurance stuff”, I’d have gone broke paying every bill I’d get. She worked for Blue Cross long ago and thoroughly understands everything about EOBs and all that “insurance stuff.” In 1981, I was making, believe it or not, $22,000 (the coaches there now are in a higher bracket and not doing nearly as well). I called the doctor’s office to inquire about the rather high cost when I was only there for about 15 minutes. The receptionist told me to put my complaint in writing which I did.
Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from the doctor, explaining it wasn’t simply about the length of the visit but that I was also paying for his expertise, including all the years he spent in medical school. I shot off a reply, saying that, of the 15 minutes I was in his office, between 12-13 of them were spent talking about the UVA Sweet Sixteen game - and my expertise. I’d spent 11 years in the field of coaching. That response was followed by a brief note which said I needed to better understand how the medical field worked but for this visit, we’d consider it even. A P.S. was added, saying I should never visit his office again.
There are two quotes that apply here:
“Stand by your principles” is one. “Once you enter the working world, take the time to learn how it works” is the other.