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Building a Legacy : Coach Remy McCarthy Leads Oxnard College to Basketball Respectability

February 02, 1989|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

John Wooden left Pauley's rafters draped with championship banners. Jerry Tarkanian is known for his towel, Bob Knight for his tantrums.

All coaches, says Remy McCarthy, should be remembered for something special.

And himself? "I tell my guys that I want to be remembered as the only coach in America who wears a Jackson Browne T-shirt to practice," McCarthy says.

Perhaps someday. But not now.

What McCarthy currently is known for is helping save the Oxnard College basketball program.

Oxnard started the week with an 18-6 record, 6-2 in Western State Conference play after finishing 7-22 and winning only 1 of 14 conference games last season.

What's the difference? "We've got better players," McCarthy says.

True. But that in itself is an oversimplification.

A good deal of the credit, other WSC coaches say, should go to McCarthy.

"What he's done isn't anything sophisticated," says Al Nordquist, the Moorpark College coach. "He's simply developed what he had there. His kids play hard for him."

McCarthy believes that his players work hard largely because they easily relate to their 32-year-old coach.

"Kids look at me and see a guy who's not a whole lot different than they are," McCarthy says, leaning back on a beach chair outside his office.

"We enjoy a lot of the same things. Hey, the beach is five minutes that way. When my recruiting is done in May, I'm outta here."

Oxnard may be close to the beach, but it has no on-campus gym and little basketball tradition. Still, McCarthy claims his is the job he trained a lifetime to earn.

He is back home, close to his parents and all but 2 of his 9 brothers. Besides, he says, "A basketball coach is all I ever wanted to be."

That, says Nordquist, who coached McCarthy at Moorpark and later hired him as an assistant, was readily apparent at a very early age. McCarthy might not have been the most athletically gifted of players, but he did possess a gift for gab.

"He was always thinking like a coach, reminding me of something or talking to officials about a rule or something he thought they missed," Nordquist says. "I had officials tell me, 'Will you tell that kid to shut up!' "

Often, the coach found it best to listen. Nordquist recalled a game in 1976 in which Moorpark was trailing by a point with only 15 seconds remaining. The opponent, ironically, was Oxnard, which had the ball and needed only to run out the clock.

During a timeout, McCarthy, who had been on the bench, begged Nordquist to let him in the game.

"He said, 'Coach, if you put me in I can get a charge and I'll make the free throws,' " Nordquist said. "He said he had been watching one of their players and the guy never looked before he turned."

So, perhaps out of trust--but most likely out of desperation--Nordquist played along.

McCarthy entered the game and carefully positioned himself alongside the targeted Oxnard player. Within seconds he was lying on the floor, the official's whistle blew, and an offensive foul was called on Oxnard.

"Sure enough," says Nordquist, "Remy made the free throws. They got the ball back, threw it away and we won the game."

McCarthy was not only smart but also competitive, and he wasn't shy about expressing either trait.

As a youth, McCarthy lost 2 front teeth so he wore a bridge. Unless, of course, he was trying to make a point with an opponent.

"Remy had kind of long hair and was a little wild looking anyway," Nordquist says. "But then once in a while he'd get down in his stance, push his teeth down and squint his eyes . . . you could just see the other kid kind of look at him like 'Uh-oh.'

"He looked like a vampire or something, the meanest-looking kid in the world."

McCarthy lost his teeth playing flag football in seventh grade, but that's not what he has led his Oxnard players to believe.

"He told us he lost them taking a charge," says Mike Price, the Condors' point guard.

His bridge now a permanent fixture, McCarthy no longer plays Dracula. He is still animated, however, rarely staying seated for the duration of a 3-second violation.

After his last season as an assistant at Moorpark, McCarthy was presented a folding chair as a gift from the players.

Welded to the chair was a seat belt.

"Quite frankly that was a pretty appropriate gift," McCarthy said. "I was just a raving maniac."

Price, 24, who played on the last Moorpark team that McCarthy helped coach, says McCarthy once became so verbose that another assistant had to carry him out of the gym to quiet him.

McCarthy remembers the teeth gimmick and the seat-belt gag but does not remember being physically removed from a game.

Even so, he admits, "There were times when I was younger when I would lose my temper to the point where it was ridiculous."

This season, McCarthy says he has snapped only once. "I've realized that when you lose your temper you're not thinking or talking rationally," he says. "Doing that doesn't help you or your team."

McCarthy says Nordquist and former Camarillo High Coach John McMullen both made considerable impacts on his coaching career.

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