Al McGuire is the Fonz of college coaches, publicly irreverent and yet highly sensitive to anyone who bothers to crack that hard veneer. Monday night his act closes after 20 years and, as he might put it, there will be no reruns, no spinoffs.
"Al's closest to being a union leader, if there's such a thing in coaching," said Dean Smith, whose North Carolina team meets McGuire's Marquette for the NCAA title. "He keeps saying, 'Let's love each other.' I could say the same thing, but it comes better from Al."
McGuire elaborated: "There used to be this tournament in Charlotte that I'd go to, for the freebies, while I was at Belmont Abbey and each of the four coaches, (Frank) McGuire, (Vic) Bubas, (Bones) McKinney and (Everett) Case, would be in each of the corners of the hospitality suite.
"You'd go to each coach in his corner. None of them would cross over. Now you see a closeness of coaches. If there's such a thing as a legacy for me, it would be that coaches are showing more of an outward love for each other."
Except in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where that social four-corners still is in fashion.
"Coaching in the ACC," McGuire said, "is the first sign of insanity. It ranks up there with ice fishing. To put yourself through the wringer time and time again is awful. There's nowhere like that in the world, thank God."
If McGuire's one-liners and his special vocabulary, his motorcycle and on-the-court tantrums are what excite most of the public - and infuriate many basketball purists - his colleagues will remember him most for caring about them.
"He's one of the few people with success that dared speak out against the establishment," said Georgetown's John Thompson. "He's humorous (See DENLINGER, D4, Col. 5> and carefree, sure, but at the same time he's dealing with issues, like a coach's union and pension, and officials. He was years ahead of his time. His will be a big, big loss."
You listen to McGuire because he makes sense in such an entertaining way. He's what an athletic Will Rogers might have been like had his roots been in New York's Rockaway Beach. The establishment listens because he has won 250 games in the last 10 years.
He gets another chance to loosen his tongue here today. About adding a third official to basketball, which many believe cannot happen too soon:
"A third official is like when you hire a bouncer at a bar.You go three weeks, and you pay him a yard and a half a week, and there's no fights. Well, the bouncer starts one, because he's got to earn his money.
"I'm afraid that's what'll happen if we go to three officials, that the extra guy will blow his whistle not because there are that many fouls but because he thinks he has to.
"But I do think there should be someone on the sideline to count. Sounds dumb, right? But look at it: you've got 10 seconds, and five seconds, and three seconds, and officials are counting so much it takes away from what they see."
About the pro-college-high school system:
"There has got to be two hours two days each week for the high schools to book their games. Right now the high schools are drying up, and if we kill the high schools, we have no feeder system."
"Don't let the colleges say who they'll offer scholarships to. Let the kids decide where they want to go and let them. The NCAA has helped tighten the system, but it needs a few more twists."
About colleges in general:
"I believe colleges always should graduate incompetents, like a doctor who only gives shots or a dentist who only fills left molars. That way they'll make a good living, and also help assure that their children will get the chance to become lawyers and orthodontists."
As he did so quickly with Marquette, McGuire plans to lift his business "uptown." He said he hopes that will provide sufficient, though different, stimulation.
Significantly, for all his success in recruiting exquisite talent, McGuire is the coach least seen in all the familiar hustling havens.
"I remember having dinner with him and Dean once," Thompson said, "and Al just said, 'I'll get Bo Ellis.' Casually. And of course he did. I wish I could do it like that."
McGuire compares all the fuss about his retirement to a bad act on the Gong Show. In his own words, though, McGuire has been "a blue-plate special." And those who appreciate him most wish him what he so often privately wishes them: "sea shells and balloons."