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The Man for the Job

Douglass Leaves Cal State Bakersfield to Prove UC Irvine Isn't a Dry Hole

November 05, 1997|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — There is nothing more revealing about Pat Douglass than the practice story. Nothing better shows his focus, his competitiveness and, yes, his obsessive nature when it comes to basketball.

That the story comes from his days as a student at Barstow Kennedy High--long before he was asked to give mouth-to-mouth to the UC Irvine men's program--demonstrates how long he has been on this road.

"Practice was over and everyone except Pat had left the gym," said Bill Ervin, then the Kennedy coach. "He was working on his shooting. I turned out the lights and hollered, 'It's time to go.' I waited outside, and waited and waited. Pat didn't come out. I went back inside and there he was, doing a defensive slide drill in the dark."

Focused, competitive and, yes, a bit obsessed. Now, 29 years later, with a trail of success behind him, Douglass, 47, is in a spot that requires all three traits.

Douglass, who won three NCAA Division II titles at Cal State Bakersfield, isn't in the dark on this one. He knew going in, and is constantly reminded, that Irvine finished 1-25 last season. But those who know Douglass are certain about the Anteaters' future. Behind that somewhat bashful public face lurks a man who can stress for success.

This might not be the job Douglass envisioned when he chose to become a coach as a junior high school kid in Knoxville, Tenn. He could have no idea that decision would lead to what many considered, with justification, the worst college basketball team in the nation a year ago. But it is just where the road led.

"I know this is a difficult situation," Douglass said. "I do think that when we get this turned around, everyone is going to say we did a great job. If I didn't feel that was possible, I wouldn't have come here. I'm just a firm believer that this is a workable situation."

That's mainly because Douglass is a firm believer in himself.

"More than anything else, Pat is a builder of programs," said Henry Clark, a Douglass assistant for 11 seasons. "Coaches and players around the Big West [Conference] think they will beat Irvine because they have been beating Irvine. They are going to find they are now in a competitive situation. It's going to be a little more difficult to get that victory."

At a recent practice, Douglass stopped a drill to chastise a player. The player wasn't involved in the drill, he was watching it. He just wasn't watching with enough enthusiasm.

"There is no such thing as an off-day with Pat," said Beau Redstone, who played at Bakersfield from 1989-92. "If a player isn't giving everything, he'll be gone. He'll say, 'Take it in, you're done for the day.'

"It's tough mentally to be prepared every day for the type of practice he establishes. But you are prepared come game time."

Douglass doesn't present that image off the court. He is quiet in conversation, almost shy, like a junior high kid at a dance. After being told he failed to get the Long Beach State job last year partly because of a lackluster interview, he sought advice from friends and professional speakers on how to become more outgoing.

"I've known Pat 13 years, but I'm not sure I know him," Clark said. "If you ask him a question, he will think about it, sometimes a long time. There are times you want to say, 'Pat, I just asked you something.' But he is not going to answer until he has thought it completely through."

Some wonder, now, if Douglass thought this one through. "So, do you want the Irvine job?"

But he had interviewed or was rumored to be considered for jobs throughout the west, including Nevada Las Vegas in 1995 and Long Beach in '96. Irvine, with its rock-bottom program and sky-high academic standards, was the only school to make the offer. Douglass snatched it.

After 24 years of wandering in the wilderness, from Manteca High School to Columbia Community College to Eastern Montana (now Montana State Billings), and, finally Bakersfield, he had taken the next step.

"If Pat wanted to test himself, he picked the right spot," said Bakersfield Community College Coach Mark Arce, a former Douglass assistant. "You can't have a zoo without the animals."

Right now, it's little more than a petting zoo. That, Douglass is certain, will change.

This wasn't an act of desperation, Douglass insists. There are too many up sides. The location is great and the Big West Conference is not exactly Tobacco Road.

"I was looking for a new challenge," Douglass said. "I was comfortable in Bakersfield. On the other hand, I think the expectation level had gotten so high, I may have lost track of why I was a coach. I like developing a team.

"I felt Irvine was a situation where I would be comfortable. It would also be challenging because the program was at a low ebb."

So success, for now, will not be measured in victories. That's a drastic change for a coach with 24 winning seasons behind him.

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