IRVINE — There will be a ceremony before the game, and a party after it. But between, Bill Mulligan will be shouting and wincing and pacing, trying like the dickens to win one more.
When the horn sounds at the end of UC Irvine's game against Utah State in Bren Center tonight, it will signal the end of Mulligan's 35 years in coaching, and the end of an era at Irvine.
"I've tried not to think about it," said Mulligan, 61, who announced his retirement Feb. 13, saying that three consecutive losing seasons had dimmed his desire to coach. "I'll probably get all emotional, but once the game starts. . . ."
Once the game starts, it will be all reflex.
"Last night was as much pressure as ever," Mulligan said the day after Irvine's overtime victory over San Jose State on Thursday. "I still feel it."
You could still see it, too.
When Dylan Rigdon passed up an open three-pointer, Mulligan yanked him and then berated him on the bench, only to send him back in because he knew Rigdon would hit his free throws down the stretch.
When Irvine called a timeout Mulligan didn't want, Mulligan regretted it, then drew up a play.
And when the game was over, even though Irvine had won, Mulligan chided himself for not instructing his players to foul in the final seconds of regulation, with San Jose State still not in the bonus, in an attempt to prevent the shot that sent the game into overtime.
There will be the same intensity in tonight's game, but only after a pregame ceremony for the three departing Anteaters--Mulligan, and seniors Ricky Butler and Jeff Herdman.
"I just hate to take anything away from Herdman and Butler's night," Mulligan said. "They've had two of the better years any of our players have ever had."
The game tonight is the other bookend to the first of Mulligan's career, a 125-96 victory over Virginia Military Institute on Nov. 29, 1980, in which Irvine set a school scoring record that still stands. Mulligan's team led the nation in scoring that 1980-81 season.
If Irvine wins tonight, defeating a team that beat the Anteaters in January, 111-88, Mulligan's record in 11 seasons at Irvine will be 163-156, and 495-274 in 25 years as a college coach, including his 14 seasons at Riverside City College and Saddleback College.
"I'll be really into the game when the game starts, but the end result will not destroy me, one way or the other," Mulligan said.
But the pressures that dogged Mulligan the past two seasons that he began taking mild prescription sleeping pills, will be over.
"I might take one after the game," Mulligan said. "That'll be the last night."
In the days since he announced his resignation, Mulligan has been visibly relieved, more upbeat and loose than he had been for some time.
And as he coaches his final game, one other worry has slipped away. The cease-fire in the Persian Gulf War has relieved his anxiety for his son, Shawn, a Marine captain based at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station who was awaiting deployment.
As the season ends, the days ahead spread before him. No recruiting, no scheduling, no worries about which players are working out in the off-season and which ones aren't.
"We're going to Palm Springs in a couple of weeks," said Mulligan, who will make the trip with his wife, Dorothy. "Maybe go to New England in the fall. That's something I've never been able to do.
"I've got a lot to do for about a month. Then I've got to figure out something to do. There were just too many minuses and not enough pluses to stay with it."