Many people, I think, when asked about Al McGuire would say something to the effect that he has been one of the great personalities in the game of basketball.
I would not in any way disagree with this.
Al's unique way of going about and doing things created an aura that I think was quite singular in all the history of basketball.
However, I would go beyond the personality that Al created for himself to say that he quite simply was one of the best coaches ever in college basketball.
He had an understanding of what was important as far as the game was concerned that few coaches have. He had the ability to get kids to play extremely well together at the offensive end of the court without making mistakes and, at the same time, working to get good shots.
It did not seem to make a lot of difference to Al's players who scored points or who took shots, which I think is the true mark of a coach who understands offensive play.
At the defensive end, his players played hard and were always difficult to score against. I don't think Al ever paid much attention to the Xs and Os of the game or different offenses or different defenses, but he had this exceptional ability to get across to his players that on offense it was important that you didn't throw the ball away and that you got good shots and played hard on the boards.
At the same time, at the defensive end, it was always clear to me that Al's emphasis was simply, "Let's not let these other guys score easily against us." In the simplicity of this approach, I think, really lies Al's true greatness as a basketball coach. He went right to the core of what makes a team good and how players have to play together to develop into a good team, and this is not done by using all kinds of different offensive and defensive approaches.
I have always enjoyed Al's many unusual comments and the things he does relative to both basketball and other aspects of his life. Throughout Al's career as both a coach and a broadcaster, the very uniqueness of his personality was a tremendous asset to college basketball.
When basketball was in the developmental stages of becoming as popular as it is today, both during the college season and throughout the NCAA tournament, no one brought more attention to college basketball than Al did. Both Al's style and lack of style have, I think, been central to the great contribution he made over many years as a coach and as a broadcaster to popularize the college game.
From the first time I met Al when I was a young coach at West Point until today, I have been a great admirer of his and have a tremendous respect for what he is and who he is.
It is a great honor to write the foreword to this book about Al McGuire, a coach I greatly respect, a man I admire, a personality I have thoroughly enjoyed, and a friend I treasure.
In 1977, Marquette hanged its hat on the Warriors. A group of guys, by and large, from an urban landscape who catapulted Marquette University onto the national scene.
They did it with a quirky blend of team play and stifling defense, under the direction of an individual, Al McGuire, who not only thought outside the box, but lived there as well.
Al McGuire's '77 Warriors were in some ways the antithesis of what the Jesuits had wanted the Marquette experience to be. These were guys to whom Ignatian discernment was as foreign to their lives as grass growing in front of their homes. Most of them came from neighborhoods where the arrest warrants were sent to "occupants" because everybody was under arrest.
The Maestro McGuire added the occasional Wisconsin suburbanite, such as Bill Neary and Jerry Homan, to his hoops orchestra.
Al always used to talk about taking the left or right turn onto Capitol Drive with his motorcycle when deciding whether to come to practice or not. Thank God the motorcycle went left more often than not, because the team needed McGuire's direction and guidance, perhaps more so off the court than on it. This book by Joe Moran tries to bridge the gap from that turbulent time to one that is more genteel, more materialistic, and to a campus that is more pristine than any of the old Warriors could ever have hoped to imagine.
Tom Crean subscribes to the philosophy that defense does indeed win games. Shot selection and allocation are of paramount concern, and he, like McGuire, still places perhaps the greatest premium on recruiting a quarter century later.
The catalyst was Dwyane Wade, the man who would take them to a place in the basketball stratosphere heretofore unimagined by the old Warriors and new Golden Eagles alike. Wade is profiled, characterized, and a Crean creation not unlike what Butch Lee was to McGuire's march through the tournament madness.
This book does a great job of pointing out similarities as well as contrasts. It shows how divergent routes can lead to success given the promise of team above all else. However, the bus must be driven by a strong personality, and in that way Crean and McGuire gripped the steering wheel in similar fashion. They were dictatorial, authoritarian, and yet savvy and streetwise enough to give their players space to operate both on and off the court.
Each placed an emphasis on receiving a quality education, but because today's academic standards are so much higher, Crean has received more pastoral guidance from the friendly Jesuit enclave on Wisconsin Avenue. Coach Crean's student-athletes were more capable and better able to capitalize on the tremendous academic experience that is at the heart of what Marquette really has to offer, than those disparate "playschoolers" of an era past.
The chaplains on the bench may have been different. It used to be Father Piotrowski. Father Kelly led prayers for the Queen of of Victory on this ride. Nevertheless, the insistence that you behave as a good person and adhere to the core principles of what Catholic education entails was a given in both eras. A genuine concern and compassion for other students is still evident in the conduct of the players, both on and off the court.
The formula for success remains one and the same, and Moran does a fabulous job of handling this parallel. I was fortunate to be the "go-to-guy" for doughnuts, gas, cryptic correspondence to faculty and recruits alike, and even provided some of the players a driving lesson or two as I sat at the feet of two basketball giants, Al McGuire and Hank Raymonds.
In retrospect, these guys were the ideal "husband-and-wife" team. Al would kick their ass, even encouraged at the start of each game by the fans who enjoyed sending out a shout from above - "Give 'em hell, Al!" After the players were often severely reprimanded and egos were laid low, Hank Raymonds would put an arm around them and walk off into the night consoling or massaging the bruised psyches.
Coach Crean's temperament, singleness of purpose, energy, and effort very much parallels that of McGuire's. However, unlike McGuire, who had me on deck as a player confidant and aspiring coach, along with Raymonds as the consummate assistant coach, Crean has vamped with a posse of assistant coaches, one more capable than the next, to minister to the players' needs.
Similarities between Tom and Al are striking. Both are driven and committed, and loved to engage in inspiring and psychological ploys., Crean seems to find highly motivated and committed players who are able to run his many offensive sets. McGuire was a disciple of the K.I.S.S. Theory: Keep It Simple, Stupid, and believed in "Lombardian" execution.
Coach Crean is also a proponent of the fundamentals, but engages much more so in teaching them, unlike McGuire, because times have indeed changed. Coach Crean runs over 200 plays to the wonderment of those from the '77 squad. Hell, there weren't even 200 trees on campus back in '77.
Crean seems to enjoy practice and embraces the day by looking forward to the start of it. Al enjoyed leaving practice, most of all, to go off with buddies like Jerry Savio and Joe DuChateau, former players like Brian Brunkhorst and Jack Burke, or paragons of the press like Curry Kirkpatrick and Pete Axthelm, and have a cocktail as he regaled them with the verbiage from that day's drills and scrimmage.
This book is a must-read for college basketball fans because it does a fine job of comparing and contrasting two coaches, both of whom overextended themselves as they reached for the Hoops Holy Grail at a relatively young age. And they did it with as different and distinctive coaching styles as you could imagine.
You will enjoy this trip taken into the basketball land that time forgot, as well as into the modern era, which, in many ways, is all too antiseptic and unforgiving. It is a time and place where Al McGuire would be hard-pressed to be himself.
So, God speed to the Last Warrior and "Ring Out Ahoya" as Crean caroms off to another Final Four.