SAN DIEGO — Hank Egan, the University of San Diego basketball coach, emerged from the locker room looking as if he had just walked through a car wash.
His tie askew, his button-down shirt out of place enough to hide the buckles on his belt and his hair strung out, Egan faced the media after the Toreros' second-toughest loss of the season.
The Toreros had fallen to then first-place Loyola, 67-59, and ended their chance of winning the West Coast Athletic Conference.
With this in mind, Egan was supposed to have a reasonable explanation why his team lost.
"Coach, you were badly out-rebounded," volunteered one reporter. "What happened?"
Egan adjusted his tie and pondered the question for a moment. Then he answered with a question.
"I don't know. What do you think?"
The answer was honest, just like Hank Egan. He is the embodiment of a coach who believes hard work and little histrionics will go a long way.
"People think that coaches always have all of the answers," Egan said later. "But, sometimes, they don't. I didn't really know why we had been out-rebounded.
"I subscribe to the theory that truth and honesty is the best way to handle things. Dealing with things in other ways may work in the short haul, but in the long haul, you have to be honest with what your doing."
In Egan's first season at the Alcala Park campus, USD was 16-11 overall and 5-7 in the West Coast Athletic Conference.
This season, USD--with 7-foot center Scott Thompson and 6-4 forward Mark Bostic--was expected to challenge Pepperdine for the WCAC title.
"I don't care what any of the so-called experts say," Egan said before the season opener in late November. "We know what we have to do. We have to work hard and be prepared. The rest of the stuff will take care of itself."
USD did work hard, and was 10-4 in the preseason. The Toreros gained respect around town by easily defeating San Diego State and United States International University.
Egan is an honest man, but sometimes, the truth hurts.
After the Toreros' third game of the season--a victory over Nevada-Reno at the USD Sports Center--Egan and starting guard Kiki Jackson exchanged some words outside the USD locker room. Jackson, apparently displeased, left the locker area moments later saying that he and the coach had only a disagreement. Egan, too, said the situation wasn't serious.
Apparently, it was. Jackson quit the team that week and never returned.
Egan handled the situation in his typical low key manner. He told his other players that there was a problem and told them it had nothing to do with the team.
"I've always been pretty protective with my players," Egan said. "People have to remember that they are much more than basketball players. They are student-athletes, also."
Jackson wasn't the only student-athlete that Egan had problems with. Bostic was another.
Earlier this season, Bostic lost his starting job--and much of his confidence. When he returned to form at midseason, Bostic repeatedly said it was because the coach was showing more confidence in him. That confidence apparently ran out after the loss at Loyola.
After the game, Bostic stormed out of the dressing room, crying, and left the building. The two talked later. Egan said the situation had been resolved, but Bostic did not play the next night at Pepperdine. The Waves won, 61-60. It was USD's toughest loss of the season.
"I really don't want to talk a whole lot about the situation with Mark," Egan said last week.
Bostic, too, hasn't talked much about the disagreement. Some close to the program have said that Bostic's somewhat free-wheeling play has clashed with Egan's disciplined style.
"I decided to keep Mark out the game because I felt it would be better for the whole team," Egan said. "He and I both had our says, and it is strictly a one-game suspension."
Bostic has returned since, starting the last two games.
Egan coached at the Air Force Academy for 13 years before coming to USD. His players had limited talent and not much height. For many years, Air Force wouldn't accept students taller than 6-6. Egan's teams finished over .500 only four times. The most games Egan won in one season was 16 in 1975-76.
Coming from a service academy, Egan had the image of a disciplinarian. It has carried over. His USD teams are most impressive because of their on-court organization.
If there's a mistake made--one of omission--Egan usually will let the player know about it.
"I'd describe him as a disciplinarian," guard Pete Murphy said. "He likes things done his way. But the main thing he wants is for all of us to go hard all of the time. He does a good job of getting the most out of you."
That is Egan's goal. He doesn't see himself as a disciplinarian. He would rather be referred to a counselor.
"What's important to me is the development of the player to his fullest," Egan said. "I don't think I can do that by myself because the player has to develop himself. All I can do is try to recognize his needs and then guide him."