By Kevin Braig
The QuantCoach (@QuantCoach)
Former Marquette basketball coach-turned-TV commentator Al McGuire must be turning over in his grave after Bobby Petrino sullied the image of the biker-coach that he worked so hard to build in the 1970s.
Back then, when McGuire (pictured) was coaching Marquette to its customary 25 wins per year, he was, in the splendid words of the 1976 profile by Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford
, a “for real” biker.
“McGuire adores motorcycling,” Deford wrote. “Most mornings at home in Milwaukee, he rises at seven and tools around for a couple of hours on his Kawasaki. Before the [1976 Mideast] regionals in Louisiana … he rented a bike and went to a leper hospital.”
A leper hospital is exactly what Petrino needed
after he crashed his motorcycle on, appropriately enough, April Fool’s Day.
In the King’s English, at the time of the accident, the 51-year old Petrino was the head football coach of the highly regarded Arkansas Razorbacks and his passenger, the 25-year old Jessica Dorrell, was his employee, but neither his wife nor the mother of his four children.
When Petrino’s boss, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, discovered as a result of the crash that Petrino and Dorrell secretly were having an affair and Petrino had falsely claimed he was the only person on the bike at the time of the crash in order to try to cover up the relationship, Arkansas abruptly fired Petrino
, which cost the coach at least $18 million.
But the tale is so much more colorful in McGuire-speak.
Of course, every tale is more colorful in McGuire’s unique tongue—which, after winning the 1977 NCAA championship at Marquette, he put to glorious use as the most colorful color analyst in sports television history.
Compared to McGuire, John Madden and every other analyst, before or since, in every sport is “French pastry” (anything showy or extraneous).
In McGuire-speak, Petrino was a “guy who charged up a hill into the machine guns” (an X-and-O coach) for a “keeper” (a good-looking woman). Petrino forgot that “even a whale comes up for a blow sometimes” (advice to players and coaches who can’t get their minds off women), cost himself a bundle of “numbers” (dollars), and ended up in the “minus pool” (the place for losers). He looked like a guy “in a straw hat in a blizzard” (what some people, like Jeff Long, will provide you with).
There will be no more “seashells and balloons” (happiness and victory) for Petrino at Arkansas.
Petrino, who can design “pattuns” (plays) with the very best designers in college football, may have avoided all these consequences if he had simply applied McGuire’s First Rule of Marriage immediately after the crash: when you have something unsettling to tell your wife (or athletic director), advise her (or him) thereof just before you go into the bathroom.
“[W]hen Al decides to take off for Greece or the Yukon or any place where ‘I can get away from credit cards and free tickets,’ he announces the trip to [his wife] Pat as he walks down the hall,” Deford wrote. “‘Yes?’ She answers. ‘I’m going to Greece tomorrow for two weeks,’ he calls out. ‘What?’ she says, afraid she has heard him correctly again. She has. Then he repeats the message and closes the bathroom door. This has worked, more or less, for 26 years.”
Given that Petrino had hired Dorrell over 158 other applicants on a fast-tracked interview process
that Long requested at the behest of Petrino, it may be a bit of an exaggeration to suggest that Petrino could have saved his job simply by telling Long about his relationship with Dorrell and then immediately going to see a man about a horse.
But it is not an exaggeration in the least to suggest that Petrino could learn a lot from McGuire on the two topics that are at the heart of this story: Women and coaching.
The delicious and shockingly charming aspect of comparing to McGuire to Petrino is that Al frequently sought out women who were not
McGuire was “the rare coach who enjoys and appreciates women,” Deford wrote. “This is not telling tales out of school. This has nothing to do with his marriage, which is going on 27 years. This has to do with women generically.”
Deford described McGuire’s “pattuns” when it came to his wife, Pat, which in the aftermath of the Petrino/Dorrell sordidness, come off as disarmingly sweet.
“He and Pat McGuire share a marriage that is not unlike the way he coaches,” Deford wrote. “They do not crowd one another. In the 26 years he has been married, he has never used a house key. When he comes home, Pat must let him in. When it is late, which it often is, she is inclined to say, ‘Where have you been?’ He replies, ‘Pat, were there any calls for me, Pat?’”
But Deford left no doubt about Al’s faithfulness to Pat and their children, which the writer illustrated with an even sweeter story.
“There was a group with McGuire a couple of winters ago after a road game,” Deford recounted. “As always, he wouldn’t countenance any talk about basketball, but soon enough he brought up the subject of the numbers. Typically, it was the woman in the gathering that he turned to, confided in. Speaking softly, as he does on these occasions, he told her he thought he had things worked out O.K. for his three kids, for Pat. They were going to have enough. For a Depression baby, this made him feel good, he said.”
Al would never “token it” (do something just for the sake of appearance) when Pat was involved.
“I’ve always believed that if you get women involved in anything, it will be a success,” McGuire told Deford.
(For the record, it does not appear that McGuire ever suggested to Deford that this philosophy extended to riding dirty on the back roads of Wisconsin.)
In contrast to his view on women, McGuire viewed coaching as a temptress.
“The trouble is every coach thinks he has a new wrinkle and is gonna last forever,” McGuire told Deford. “Coaching is a mistress, is what it is. If a job opened up in Alaska tomorrow, 250 guys from Florida would apply, and they wouldn’t even ask about the numbers, and they wouldn’t ask their wife, like they wouldn’t about any mistress.”
Al McGuire was "credit-card-wise" (street smart) to Petrino more than 35 years ago.
The sports world has changed some, not a lot, but some, since McGuire gave Deford the true dope back in the year of this nation's 200th birthday.
If only somebody had taken Deford's advice and "locked [Al] in a bicentennial time capsule so that generations yet unborn [as well as Petrino] [could] understand what [his] time was really like." But nobody "rumored it out" (what a smart athletic director does when he keeps his ear to the ground; what Long did not do when he granted Petrino's request to fast-track the hiring of Dorrell). Today, rather than rumoring it out, most athletic director's are consumed with the "hot lunch for orphans" (some sort of PR venture).
“Look, if you’re into coaching heavy, into the blackboard, if you’re gonna charge up the hill into the machine guns, then you might as well stay at St. Anne’s in the fifth grade,” McGuire told Deford. “[B]ecause coaching up here [at the college level] is something else. You’re gonna have to deal with the fifth column, the memos and pipes [academia]. And you’re gonna get fired.”
Obviously, Petrino knows the last proclamation is true.
But the first proclamation is false, or, at least, not completely true.
In the 21st century, coaches must “charge up the hill into the machine guns” and the plays that Petrino designs to do so command big numbers.
“In short, coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members of the athletic staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident,” Long told the media
when he announced that Arkansas was giving Petrino the “ziggy” (termination).
What Long told the media about Petrino is true.
[The “ziggy,” on the other hand, is a Dick Vitalism, not McGuire-speak.
The QuantCoach was just checking to see if you are still paying attention.]
But what is a good play-action pass? It is misleading and manipulative behavior that is designed to deceive the defense.
It may be hard for the memos and pipes to accept, but the economic value of Petrino’s clear ability to mislead, manipulate and deceive college defenses is not worth one cent less today than it was on the day before he laid his hog down.
Not … one … cent … less.
If you honestly skip the French pastry and get right to the numbers, as McGuire preferred to do, those are the numbers.
For this reason alone, like other gifted play designers who have stumbled—Mike Price and Mike Leach come to mind—Bobby Petrino almost assuredly will get another chance to design plays, either in Alaska or at some less remote college.
The QuantCoach just hopes that when Petrino gets his next chance to charge up the hill into the machine guns, he chooses to follow some of Al McGuire’s pattuns.