Not every deed is noticed, even for an Indiana coach

June 06, 2000|By Billy Reed | Billy Reed,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - I know a college basketball coach who called me after I'd had an acrimonious split with an employer. He said, "I don't know what you plan to do, but if you need to make some money to tide you over, come up here and we'll do a book together or something." Of all the coaches I had covered, he was the only one who was that caring.

I remember being in this same coach's home after a game. I remember him laughing and hugging his mother, who's now deceased. I remember him wrestling around with his two sons, just a normal dad having a good time.

This same coach once had a really good player who was paralyzed in a car accident. He personally went on a crusade to raise the money for the kid's hospital costs. But whenever the kid came around, in his wheelchair, he needled him just as if he were still a player.

"C'mon, dammit, Landon, when are you going to get your butt out of that chair?"

The kid loved it.

This coach once called me to see if I could help one of his former players get a job. That impressed me. I made the calls. The kid got a job.

This same coach has allowed me to get inside his program. I've been to many practices. I've been to pregame meals. I've been in the locker room before games and at halftime. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, I was one of two reporters invited into the U.S. team's locker room after the championship game.

I distinctly remember Michael Jordan smoking a cigar.

I once called this coach before a game with the University of Kentucky. I asked a question he didn't like. He cursed me and slammed down the phone. Five minutes later, my phone rang. It was him. He said, "That SOB you just talked with is gone. This is your friend. Now what was it you wanted?"

At the practices that I've attended, I've seen him put his hands on players. But it's always been a teaching thing. For example, when he's trying to show a center how to position himself in the low post, he might grab the player's shoulders or hips to show him how to establish the angle he needs. Nothing abusive.

I've written about this coach for 25 years. I know many of his former players. Of those who stayed in his program for four years, I'd bet that 99 percent feel that they're better human beings for having played for him. They have their degrees. They have the values about coping with life that he taught them.

I suppose I've had lunch or dinner with this coach, oh, at least 100 times. I've seen him interrupted over and again by fans wanting autographs. Once, when we were having barbecue at a dive in a predominantly black section of Indianapolis, the cooks came out of the kitchen to get him to sign some menus.

Every time, he has been unfailingly polite and kind. If an elderly woman wants a hug, he gives it to her. If a kid wants to shake his hand, he tells him that he hopes he'll be a basketball player, but, more importantly, a good student.

Some people do good deeds and demand credit for it. It's as if they're saying, "Look what I did, and, boy, aren't I a great person?" My coaching friend has done countless good deeds for countless individuals and charities. Yet he doesn't want anybody to know about it. He does it simply because he wants to.

The big-time college coaches make big bucks off shoe contracts. I know of only one who gives the bulk of that money to his assistant coaches and the university's library. My friend.

He is far from perfect. He has done stupid, indefensible things. I've talked with him many times about that. Every time there's a new "incident," the media runs a list of his so-called transgressions. In some cases, he has deserved to be criticized. In others, there has been some unfair reporting.

He was the coach of the U.S. team at the 1979 Pan-American Games in Puerto Rico. The atmosphere was decidedly anti-American. At a practice, he got into an alteration with a belligerent policeman. Witnesses, including Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, swear that the policeman provoked the incident.

In a quarterfinal game, a Cuban player named Carlos Herrera willfully and intentionally broke the jaw of Kyle Macy, a Kentucky player who was the Pan-Am team's point guard. Macy had to return home for treatment.

Soon as he got home, my coaching friend came to Lexington, Ky., to present Macy with his gold medal. It was a touching scene. I know. I was there. But you seldom see that side of him addressed in the media.

He had a press conference last week. He invited seven writers that he trusts and respects. The group included such distinguished journalists as Dave Kindred of the Sporting News, Hubert Mizell of the St. Petersburg Times and William Gildea of the Washington Post.

I liked what I saw. My friend seems genuinely grateful to the university president for setting behavioral guidelines for him, the first time the university has ever done that. He was far less than belligerent, but far more than groveling. He was thoughtful. And when he's in that kind of mood, he's one of the best interviews in sports.

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