By Rick Majerus, Men's Head Basketball Coach, University of Utah
n 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 the 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, that 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, authoritative, 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 differed. It used to be Father Piotrowski. Father Kelly led prayers for the Queen 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 confident 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 combative 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.
Salt Lake City, Utah