It has always been my impression that in any gathering of successful head coaches one would be hard-pressed to find a man who could give accurate answers about certain sentimental landmarks of life - like which wedding anniversary was next, or the birthdates of his children.
For most coaches, it seems, the pressures of recruiting, drafting, trading, strategizing, and winning put blinders on their window to nostalgia. It was somewhat reassuring to discover that Washington-area coaches soft-voiced when queried about that most vulnerable of a man's memories - that of his very first coach.
On George Allen's desk is a letter written by 74-year-old Carlton S. Worden thanking Allen for remembering his and his wife Lu's 50th wedding anniversary last month. "I have followed your coaching career," Worden wrote, "and whenever I run into fellows from your class and ask if I have heard from you I'm always proud to say yes." The letter is signed "Your high school coach, Carl."
"He was a good man with patience who taught us the fundamentals," recalled Allen, 53, who lettered three years as an end under Worden at Detroit's Lake Shore High School "I learned a lot from him."
Lefty Driesell's Southern staccato softens to a slow drawl as he recalls the 50-year-old bachelor named Paddy Doran, who introduced a 12-year-old southpaw to basketball back in Norfolk Va.
"I remember him well. It was the first time I was in organized basketball and I wasn't exactly the pride of paddy's gym," he said ruefully. the gym was in downtown Norfolk, over an appliance store on 4th Street. "I remember I had to catch a street car and go down there two or three times a week to practice."
"Paddy made out a schedule of things for us - I think it was the city league - and he'd take all of us in his car to places like South Norfolk. I have a picture of that team at home someplace. You know how that is: It's probably stuck in a book someplace," Driesell said, laughing self-consciously.
The memory of Georgetown's John Thompson needed no prodding; either "I remember him very clearly," Thompson said of Kermit Trigg, the Brown Junior High in Northwest Washington
"The thing about Mr. Trigg was that he never got off the bench to give us instructions. He was a short man, 5-5 and very heavyset. He would sit on the desk part of one of those desk-chairs and he always arrived a broken pool stick with him. He would point with that and tap and instruct," said Thompson, beginning to laugh as the memories began to pile up.
"I was about 6-6 or 6-7 when I was 12 and while the rest of the kids were all shooting the basketball, Mr. Trigg would have me doing drills. I'd be jumping rope for my coordination or tapping the ball of the wall over my head or jumping with on the wall. I'd be just begging to go off with the rest and shoot the ball, but Mr. trigg saw something in me that I didn't know was there myself.
"He'd pick me up on weekends and take me to area and high school games. He'd pay my way to places I would never have gone. He'd show me how older players were doing some technique he wanted me to learn.
"Later when I was in high school I'd look for him again and I hardly ever saw him. That was when I learned he wasn't really a basketball freak about going to games; he just took me because he thought he could help a young kid with promise. He actually gave me my first basketball.
"When I sat down to decide here to go to college - even though I hadn't seen Mr. trigg since junior high - I went back to ask his advice. he was an old-fashioned gym teacher who wasn't afraid to give a licking if it was necessary. But he did a lot of good coaching with that broken pool stick."
"Oh, yeah, I remember him, Lee Bunnell, said the Bullets' feisty coach, Dick Motta. "I was a seventh grader back in Union, Utah, and he was the gym teacher and taught all sports. I wasn't a very good student and if I hadn't had the gym to go I don't know what I'd have done.
"We were in a combined school but you weren't allowed to use the gum until seventh grade and that's my biggest memory, the excitement of going into that gym for the first time and having my own locker and taking that first shower." His voice dropped slightly and he sounded embarrassed.
"It was actually the first shower I ever had in my life. We only had a bath at home and then only when my mother could catch us," and he laughed, sheepishly.
"I remember Lee Bunnel as a father-type; he had a serious side but he still had fun with us. I mean, he used to joke around. But you'd get him on the court and that side would be separated. There are a lot of his drills and techniques I still use. A lot of his things stayed with me, probably subconsciously.
Maryland's Jerry Claiborne named as the major influence in his formative years Oakley Brown, junior varisity football coach at Hopkinsville (Ky.) High School. Clairborne made the squad as a seventh-grade tailback in a double-wing offense.
"I didn't play very much that first year but I remember Brown as a very gentle man who never used profanity on the field. He got along with the players but he had a lot better success with good kids to start with.
Our 1943 team was ranked fourth in the state and it was the only other undefeated deam I've ever been associated with," said claiborne, whose terps posted in 11-0 regular-season record last year.
Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver said his first amateur coach was his father. "I was 12 and he coached me on a team back in St. Louis.
"He was a good coach as far as amateur coaches go," Weaver recalled with some reserve. Then his focus sharpened "But it's the time adults spend with their kids, not the quality of the instruction."