Monday, March 09, 2009

Al McGuire: a street smart guy from the Big Apple

Last week Stiles Points remembered the life of Jimmy Valvano...this week, we look back at former Marquette basketball coach and college basketball analyst Al McGuire...McGuire was a different bird...he was eccentric...but he was "real"...he was streetsmart fella from New York City who got his first break at little Belmont Abbey College...

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly wrote this wonderful piece about McGuire just before he died...this appeared in the September 18, 2000 edition of Sports Illustrated...."Al McGuire never liked funerals. "Why wait until the guy's dead?" he'd ask. "Buy him a drink while he's alive!" So with McGuire lying in a hospice outside Milwaukee—leukemia whittling him to 115 pounds and dropping—let's raise our glasses: Here's to Alfred Emanuel McGuire of Rockaway Beach, N.Y. There never was, never could be, never will be anybody else like him."...

  • Rick Reilly

  • Below is the obit that appeared in Sports Illustrated after McGuire died on January 26, 2001...

    WE COULD recite the details of the life of Al McGuire, the former college basketball coach and TV commentator who died of a blood disorder last Friday at age 72, but he wouldn't want us to. McGuire didn't believe in details. He blithely forgot names, of players in games he telecast and of those on his own team. Jerome Whitehead, a star of McGuire's 1977 NCAA champion Marquette team, was forever Whitehorse. So was Whitehead's father, a minister who must have frowned upon realizing that White Horse is a brand of scotch.

    But both Whiteheads surely knew the futility of correcting the man whose rules for life and basketball had been formed in the taverns and playgrounds of Rockaway Beach, N.Y. Forever fuzzy on the particulars, McGuire never erred in the broad strokes. When he said, "Just show me the numbers," he didn't mean that literally, only that what interested him was the metaphorical bottom line.

    "He had a gift for seeing the wonder and the goodness of God's creation, sometimes in the most unlikely places, and for sharing his delight in that discovery with those around him," Robert Wild, the Jesuit priest who is Marquette's president, said last week. Wild was no doubt referring to the coach's habit of telling lunch companions, "If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili's terrific."

    McGuire quit right after he and Whitehorse won that NCAA title 24 years ago, so his basketball legacy requires some brushing up on. He'll be remembered for his sensibility, including that picturesque urban argot of which Dick Vitale's is wincingly derivative. He was without peer as a game coach. "I don't know basketball," he said. "I feel basketball. Drop me in the middle of a game, and I could manage it by the ebb and flow."

    He won his title because the button-down guy on the other bench, North Carolina's Dean Smith—who lost a lead after ordering his Tar Heels into a four-corners delay—didn't understand what McGuire did: that basketball resists excessive organization. He had the cojones and self-possession to walk away from the summit of the clipboard racket in midlife.

    McGuire didn't let details encumber him. He didn't let basketball do so, either.

    Below are some of the great quotes from McGuire...

    "When I was losing, they called me nuts. When I was winning they called me eccentric.”

    "If the waitress has dirty ankles, the chili should be good.”

    "When a guy takes off his coat, he's not going to fight. When a guy takes off his wristwatch, watch out!”

    "Winning is overrated. The only time it is really important is in surgery and war.”

    "I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.”

    Finally, I can't leave you without the famous dance that Al McGuire did with the Syracuse basketball team after they won the regional finals to head to the Final Four...this is great 1:30 clip!!!

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