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On Coach Al: Ten Years Gone, But Not Forgotten

(Editor's Note: This post isn't written by AASJ, but by AE reader and Marquette alum Lancheman, who penned our tributes to Glenn "Doc" Rivers and George Thompson last year.)

Ten years ago today, Gesu Catholic Church was filled with mourners gathered to remember Al McGuire.

But how do you remember Al McGuire? As a person, a character, a coach, a motivator, a jokester, a philosopher, a loudmouth, a humanitarian, a street-smart wiseacre? The answer, of course, is all of the above.

McGuire, who told people to drive a cab before they launched their careers, who rode a motorcycle on the backroads of Waukesha County, who frequented antique stores and flea markets, who asked his then new assistant, Hank Raymonds, to buy his house for him, was many things to many people.

Which is just the way it ought to be.

We all know that McGuire was the coach when Marquette won its only national basketball championship in 1977. That he had a 295-80 career record as Marquette’s coach. That twenty-six of his players were drafted into the National Basketball Association. That he had a broadcasting career that was successful if only because he was so different than all the other blow-dried suits who called or commented on a basketball game.

But look deeper into McGuire and you’ll find a complex and fascinating man. He was a man who was comfortable in many worlds, whether he was meeting a politician or a dignitary for the first time, or talking to a wino on Wisconsin Ave. He was interested in what made people tick. He took the measure of a person by the way he acted and spoke, not necessarily whether he could set a pick.

I attended Marquette during the McGuire years. He was perfect for the times: an often-questioning iconoclast who didn’t particularly care what people thought about him.

And on top of that he was a character. When his Warriors beat the University of Wisconsin in the Milwaukee Arena he jumped on the scorer’s table to wave to fans and savor the moment. He’d show up in a grocery store on campus, though I regret to say I never saw him in an MU bar.  I probably missed him at closing time.

It’s interesting that Marquette’s athletic program still chooses to make McGuire part of the program. The main athletic facility is named after him. The floor at the Bradley Center is named for him. McGuire likely would have sniffed at such attention. I highly doubt he would have shown up to many games had he stayed alive.

But most of the students who show up each year on campus, or go to the basketball games, likely have little idea how cool a person McGuire was. They would have adored him for the way he carried himself and the attitude he brought to the conversation. And that’s worth remembering.