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Still The Coach : George McQuarn, a Man Destined for the Sidelines, Cancels Early Retirement and Gets Down to Business

March 05, 1986|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

Until the afternoon of Jan. 29, the thought of George McQuarn retiring from coaching was like Tommy Lasorda saying he didn't want to manage the Dodgers . . . or was too full for another egg roll.

McQuarn, 44, is in his sixth season as Cal State Fullerton basketball coach, and in every season it has been obvious that he was a coach because he was destined to be. He was drill sergeant, father figure and supreme motivator. He exuded an air of intensity, discipline and dedication.

He loved basketball, but coaching was no game for George McQuarn. It was much more than just his job, too.

McQuarn, or simply "The Coach" as his players refer to him, always gave his all and expected everyone around him to do the same. He was aloof--sometimes even nasty--but fiercely loyal to his players, most of whom juggle a love-hate relationship with The Coach. He was Mr. Work Ethic, Mr. Never-Give-an-Inch.

Until the afternoon of Jan. 29, this was a guy who made Davey Crockett look like a quitter.

But, on that afternoon, Supercoach took off his cape and revealed there was a real-live human being underneath, complete with frustrations, even self doubts.

McQuarn, saying that professional pressures were ruining his personal life, announced he was retiring at season's end. He had no plans and said he was sure of only one thing: "You'll never see me on the bench again."

It was a shock heard round the Division I coaching community. After all, if a guy such as McQuarn couldn't take the heat, who could? When the Titans beat Fresno State Feb. 3, Bulldog Coach Boyd Grant sighed and said: "I looked up at the scoreboard, then I looked down the sideline and said to myself, 'I think the wrong guy is quitting.' "

It just didn't make sense.

Just a couple of weeks before his resignation announcement, McQuarn was sitting in his office discussing a player and outlining the foundation of his coaching philosophy at the same time.

"There's no room for feeling sorry for yourself around here," he said. "What's a kid gonna do after he leaves here, feel sorry for himself every time there's a little bit of adversity? Let's say you're trying for a job and they give it to somebody else. What are you gonna do, feel sorry for yourself? No! (He pounds his desk for emphasis). You say, 'So what.' Hell, bounce back, get yourself ready for your next chance.

"Life isn't fair. You've got to keep going, pushing, believing, striving and try to develop some substance, some character . . . where you're about something . . . when you really are someone. "

So who was this someone saying he was quitting? The going was getting tough and George McQuarn--tenacity personified--was going to quit?

A lot of people didn't--at least, didn't want to--believe it. Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, Cal State Fullerton president, and Athletic Director Ed Carroll begged McQuarn to stay, and every coach he talked with thought he was making a mistake. So, when he changed his mind three weeks later and announced he was staying, a lot of people felt a sort of reassurance that maybe some things are meant to be.

LAS VEGAS--Three persons were killed and 22 others injured when a fire of undetermined origin did about $500,000 damage to the 15-story Mark I apartment building about midnight . . . .

Five residents of the building at 1020 East Desert Inn Road were hospitalized. In satisfactory condition at Sunrise Hospital were Annie Rash, 24 , and George McQuarn, an assistant UNLV basketball coach.

Witnesses said Coach McQuarn was lucky to be alive after swinging from a bed sheet tied to the ledge of his eighth-floor apartment and through a window into an apartment below.

"He kicked out the window below with his feet and went into the seventh-story apartment, Paramedic James Liggett said. "As soon as he got in there, fire came rushing out of his own apartment. People standing across the street started clapping."

--Las Vegas Review Journal, July 12, 1977

McQuarn, who seldom discussed his personal life publicly before the afternoon of Jan. 29, may not want to come across as a character out of the A-Team. He won't elaborate on the events of that night when he nearly died in his Las Vegas apartment.

But he's got scars--physical and emotional--to show for it. And, he used to think, a perspective on life that would keep him from doing anything as a rash as giving up the profession he still admittedly "loves."

So, when No. 2 scorer Richard Morton crashed into the basket support at San Jose State Jan. 11, injuring his knee and severely spraining his ankle, just two weeks after top scorer Kevin Henderson had broken his foot, McQuarn seemed nonplussed.

"I'm always into our kids about accepting responsibility for the things they have direct control over," he said later. "If you don't have control over something, you try not to let it bother you.

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