McGuire inspired Midnight Madness

October 13, 1994|By BILL TANTON

As excitement mounts for the oncoming college basketball season, beginning with Midnight Madness at 12:01 tomorrow at College Park, it's a good time to reflect on a man who helped lay the groundwork for some of this.

He's Frank McGuire, who died Tuesday at 80.

McGuire probably did more than anyone to popularize basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For a number of years now, there has been no greater basketball conference in the country, no bigger hotbed for the sport than the ACC, in which the University of Maryland plays.

"When I went to coach at North Carolina in 1953," native New Yorker McGuire once said, "there was little or no interest in college basketball there. Everybody was a football fan."

Today that's reversed, even though an ACC school, Florida State, is the defending NCAA football champion.

Football may be No. 1 in Florida, but in the ACC's gut -- along North Carolina's Tobacco Road -- basketball rules.

It rules here, too, with Maryland struggling through another season of football and Terps basketball ready to shoot for a national ranking.

Although North Carolina State coach Everett Case came from Indiana and began the process of growing the ACC beyond regional bounds, McGuire then came along and lifted the conference to new heights.

McGuire's signature accomplishment was his 32-0 North Carolina team's 1957 NCAA championship. His Tar Heels beat )) Kansas with Wilt Chamberlain, 54-53, in triple overtime in the title game.

These guys were some Tar Heels -- Pete Brennan, Tommy Kearns, Joe Quigg, Bob Cunningham and Lennie Rosenbluth, all of them New Yorkers.

"Four Irish Catholics and a Jew in Baptist country," McGuire pointed out -- although people don't talk that way anymore.

McGuire used that so-called underground railroad from New York to Carolina to recruit players and build winning teams at North Carolina and, a decade later, South Carolina. In between, he coached one year, 1961-62, in the NBA for the Philadelphia Warriors, who were led by Chamberlain. That was the year Wilt averaged a record 50.4 points and scored 100 in a game in Hershey, Pa.

Later, when McGuire was coaching South Carolina, I asked him why he had stayed only a year in the pros (the team's record was 49-31; he could have stayed).

"I found out that I prefer the college game," Frank said. "The players in the NBA are different.

"Wilt was the worst foul shooter in the league. He used to shoot fouls two-handed, from on top of his head.

"One day at practice I told him, 'Wilt, you're 7-foot-2 and with your arms you ought to try to shoot underhand with two hands. The ball would be halfway to the basket when you released it.

"And Wilt said to me in a calm voice, 'We need to get something straight, Frank. I'm making $100,000 a year. You're making $25,000. You don't decide things like that. I do.' "

So it was back to college, to Columbia, S.C., and in Lefty Driesell's first year at Maryland, 1969-70, I was covering a Terps-South Carolina game at the Carolina Coliseum when a brawl broke out. It was the worst basketball fight I've ever seen. Even Lefty got punched in the jaw.

I can still see John Roche, one of the South Carolina players (and a New Yorker), running almost the length of the court to punch a Maryland player in the back of the head. Bobby Cremins, now Georgia Tech's coach, was on that McGuire team.

That's another legacy of McGuire's Hall of Fame career -- his coaching tree. It includes Lou Carnesecca, Doug Moe, Donnie Walsh, Dick and Al McGuire, Billy Cunningham and a man who was Frank's assistant at Carolina, Dean Smith.

"I wouldn't have been in North Carolina without Frank," said Smith, who succeeded McGuire at Carolina after the 1961 season. "Frank would have been a great football coach, head of a company, anything of that sort. He was a charismatic leader. The people under him would have done anything to please him."

In fact, said Carnesecca, "Frank McGuire could have been mayor of New York."

McGuire was an original -- always dapper, usually in a double-breasted dark suit and alligator shoes.

Donnie Walsh, now the president of the Indiana Pacers, says McGuire was like a second father to him.

"Frank was a poster guy for what a New York guy was," said Walsh, a New York native himself. "He was charismatic, magnetic -- a legitimate tough guy.

"But he was a tough guy when there were requirements of civility. He really did a lot for the profession of coaching. He legitimized it.

"There are a lot of guys out there today cashing big-time checks who owe it to him."

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