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Lavin Sets a Positive Course

November 28, 2003|LARRY STEWART

Steve Lavin, criticized, humiliated and eventually fired as UCLA's basketball coach March 17, is feeling pretty good these days. In fact, he said he has a lot to be thankful for as he embarks on a career in sports broadcasting.

But his new job with ESPN is not the only reason he is feeling gratitude during this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. He looks back on his time at UCLA as a positive experience.

"I had the opportunity to spend 12 years at UCLA, seven as the head coach," he said. "I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. Yet it has been refreshing to step back and see the world and basketball through a wider angle lens."

Lavin, 39, takes positive thinking to a new level.

"After I was fired, people would come up to me and ask, 'You doing OK?' " he said, "I told them I was fine, that I was doing great."

Lavin at first wasn't sure what he was going to do, but it wasn't long before ESPN expressed interest in him. Through former UCLA quarterback David Norrie, a college football commentator for ABC, Lavin found a sports broadcast agent, Bob Rosen.

After that, only details had to be worked out. After the first of the year, when his schedule will be more set, Lavin will generally work as a studio analyst Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and as a game commentator on weekends.

For now, Lavin will be doing a little more game commentating. He will work Illinois at Temple on ESPN2 on Saturday, North Carolina State at Michigan on ESPN2 on Tuesday and Georgia Tech at Ohio State on ESPN on Wednesday.

It's not all that surprising that Lavin ended up in television. As a kid growing up in Marin County, he would take his tape recorder to Candlestick Park and announce San Francisco Giant games while sitting high up in the stands.

When he went on vacations with his family, he and older sister Suzanne would do mock interviews in the back seat. In high school, he took journalism classes and wrote for the school paper.

A career in sports broadcast journalism seemed to be beckoning. But there was basketball too. Lavin played in a highly successful program at Drake High in San Anselmo, where his teams in 1981 and '82 won two state titles and went 65-1.

Lavin went off to San Francisco State to play basketball and study broadcast journalism. He transferred to Chapman after his sophomore year.

It was during his sophomore year at San Francisco State that Lavin's love for basketball won out over his love for broadcasting. He told his father, Cap, that he wanted to be a coach.

Cap Lavin knew something about basketball and coaching. He had been a star in the early 1950s at the University of San Francisco, where he had played for coaching legends Pete Newell and Phil Woolpert.

He had coached high school basketball for four years before deciding to devote all of his energy to a teaching career that would span 43 years.

"Steve and I sat down to talk," Cap said in a telephone interview. "I told Steve about all the negatives of coaching, the pressures, the disappointments and the lack of job security.

"At first, I think, he felt that I was telling him not to go into coaching. But that wasn't what I was telling him. I was just preparing him for that profession."

But did he want his son to pursue broadcasting rather than coaching?

"Yes, I think I did," Cap said.

Lavin's mother, Mary, says her son will do well in broadcasting.

"He always had original thoughts and a unique perspective on things," she said.

Lavin can already see the advantages of his new career.

"You sleep better at night, you wake up with more energy and the only concern after a game is where you're going to get something to eat," he said.

So is broadcasting his future, or does he still want to go back into coaching?

Reciting something he learned from John Wooden, Lavin said, "Don't focus on the future. Focus on today and how to get to tomorrow. You have no control over yesterday, and no control over tomorrow. You can only control today."

A Second Strike

Part-time radio sports talk show host Dave Smith for the last two years has run a Web site,, that caters to gamblers. It was reported in this space last week that a column appearing on the Web site under the name, the Mole, read exactly like a TV sports column that had appeared in New York Newsday.

Smith said he called the Newsday TV columnist, Steve Zipay, to apologize for the plagiarism and also said he had fired the Mole. But he declined to name him.

Over the weekend, an e-mail arrived from David Barron, TV sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle, saying he too had a column plagiarized by the Mole on Smith's Web site. It happened in June.

Barron said Smith called to apologize and said it wouldn't happen again.

A former partner with Smith on the Web site, Ronnie Ortiz, said Smith is the Mole. Tony Tellez, the site's Webmaster, and Tomm Looney, who used to write for the Web site, said they don't know who the Mole is. Smith denied he is the Mole.

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