Contentment, it's said, is the matching of our desires to our abilities: not wanting more than we can get, and not getting more than we can handle.
When we find a life with an inherent sense of proportion, we halt, as though before some modest living lesson. And when we see a life, even a glamorous one, that seems out of sync, we are also brought up short, but with pity.
This brings us to Morgan Wootten and Lefty Driesell, neighboring basketball coaches on Maryland's Rte. 1 and at opposite ends of that fulcrum of content and discontent.
In order to see Lefty Agonistes more clearly, let's look first at Wootten, the high school coach in whose long shadow Driesell often seems to labor.
On Tuesday, 20 minutes before game time against arch-rival Carroll High, Wootten leaned against his office door in the De Matha High gym and greeted the standing-room-only crown of 1,000 as though each fan were his guest for dinner. The gym is his parish and he works it like a small-town pastor standing at the church door on Sunday morning.
It's tough to be equal parts Sunday School teacher and used car salesman, but Wootten has been treading that tightrope for 24 years. In the thousand little moral decisions of daily life, he never has to think twice. He knows when to go for the hustler's edge and when to take the high road. In short, within his world, he knows where Morgan Wootten stands.
Down to the smallest matters, he is consistent. When one of the nation's best college officials, Jim Howell, shakes Wootten's hand, he says, "(Carroll athletic director) Maus Collins forgot to leave a ticket for me. The guy on the door let me in and said for you to come vouch for me."
"Oh, that's okay, Jimmy. Just stay in. Nobody cares," said Wootten.
"Gee, I don't want the Father to think . . ." says Howell.
Wootten picks up the drift instantly. Howell doesn't like to play the big shot, cut corners. He doesn't want to insult that young priest taking tickets.
"Sure, sure, Jimmy," says Wootten, almost shamefaced. So, they burrow through the crowd so that Father Damien won't think he's been stiffed out of a $1 ticket by some slick gate-crasher.
It's a tiny thing. But important. Like the way the star of the De Matha jayvees, Carolton Valentne, collects all the forgotten sweaty warmup jackets left on the bench. How can you do the big things right if you slough on the small stuff?
If ever a game of basketball was testimony to one man, then it was Carroll's 70-67 victory over De Matha on Tuesday. Wootten never looked better than in losing his fourth game in the last 20 years in his home gym (record: 152-4). The head coach of the other team, Jack Bruen, had been Wootten's Stag assistant for seven years. The Carroll assistant, Carroll Holmes, played for one of the 14 Wootten teams that have been ranked No. 1 in Washington.
Wootten's influence went far beyond strategy, to the entire atmosphere of the game. In the cramped gym. Each school was alloted 400 tickets. Instead of choosing sides, the crowd simply mingled together indiscriminately with almost no attention paid to school affiliation, age, race, or class. The arguments in the crowd -- even a few offcolor chants -- seemed never to go beyond spirited fun. Just minutes befoe the game, Wootten and Bruen, the rival coaches, were chewing the fat in the corner as though someone else's team were playing.
That serenity belied the wonderful madness to follow. No basketball is as intense as great high school basketball in a minuscule gym with the accustics of a telephone booth. The crowd -- all of it athletes, ex-athletes, future athletes or relatives of athletes -- is just one great collective brain and voice. Every nuance of play or strategy brings a simultaneous gasp or protest. Voices in the crowd pierce th noise with marvelously specific instructions -- "Post him up, Adrian". . . "Run the wheel, Wayne."
"That's 11's fourth (foul)."
In the last minute, Wootten and Bruen felt free to try all their best dirty tricks on each other, a sort of gentleman's agreement not to be gentlemenly. All the De Matha coaches delayed the game -- freezing a foul shooter -- by debating some arcane rule. Then, with four seconds left, Bruen made his counterthrust Carroll, leading by a point, switched foul shooters. Too late, Wootten begins screaming, "We fouled No. 34, not 24. You got their best foul shooter at the line, ref. We didn't foul him."
But it was too late.
"I tip my hat to Jack," grinned Wootten. "I couldn't have pulled that switch better. What I really want to know is how Bruen talked the ref out of that technical foul he gave Carroll Holmes at the end of the third period. oI heard him yell, 'Technical' and point at Holmes. But, when the fourth quarter started, there was no tech. That's a new wrinkle."
"I'll have to see the films," retorts Bruen with his lumpy, lovably sad Irish face. "I would never say I outcoached Morgan Wootten. If I'm any kind of a coach at all, it's because of him."
In defeat, Wootten laughed. "It's better to laugh than cry. I told my kids I wasn't sure they could play much better than they did, so hold their heads up."
Wootten and Bruen are standing in a nearly empty high school hallway. Wootten must know how many years Bruen has dreamed about beating him, and he's letting him get full pleasure, letting him soak it up. There's no begrudging, no smallness -- only friends in a world that is just a perfect size for them.
A big man comes up behind Bruen, grabs him in a bear hug and says, "Okay, Jack, let's go get drunk."
"Is that anything for my principal to say?" laughs Bruen.
From this scene in De Matha's ancient gym to the anguish of Cole Field House is only a mile or two. But it seems further.
Wootten has take a full and accurate inventory of his gifts and his tastes; he has repeatedly chosen to stay at De Matha and watch it fill up with his thousand friends.Even when he loses, he wins.
Driesell, on the other hand, is a talented man whose desires have always tantalizingly exceeded his ability to fulfill them. His modus operandi is to make unrealistic demands on himself ("The UCLA of the East"), create an atmosphere in which others accept those standards, then suffer in the public pillory when he doesn't do the impollible.
Thus, Driesell seems perpetually unstisfied. No success satisfies him. Every defeat is some awful self-reproach. Instead of being open and comfortable in their domain, both coach and team seam defensive and drained of pleasure even in their own locker room.
Somewhere, far back down the road, Morgan Wootten did his toughest job of coaching; he looked inside himself and got an accurate scouting report on the guy on there. He puts limits on how much it would take to satisfy him. And now, his reach and him grasp are the same.
Driesell may have made a narrow miscalculation long ago. He dared to be great on a grander scale, and decided to be happy with no less. And, winter after winter, he pays a high price in discontent.