All Max Good ever promised his players was a pair of sneakers and a hard time.
He has roused his teams before 5 a.m. for practice and challenged young men one-third his age to fight. The only thing he runs harder than his players is his mouth, which tends to spew words that would have made George Carlin uncomfortable.
When the late Sister Peg Dolan, one of the matriarchs of Loyola Marymount, met the Lions basketball coach, she told him her seat was behind the team bench. Good suggested she move elsewhere because of his colorful language.
"Max," Dolan said, "I grew up in Brooklyn and there's nothing you can say I haven't heard before. You just be yourself."
Good being Good has been magnificent for Loyola Marymount's long-suffering basketball program.
The Lions (9-9) have already won more games than they did the last two seasons combined, going into a West Coast Conference game tonight at Gersten Pavilion against Santa Clara (8-12). With victories over Notre Dame, USC and Long Beach State, LMU might be one of the better teams in Southern California.
Not that Good could ever bring himself to utter that.
"I just want to be the best team in Westchester," said Good, 68, who took over the LMU program last season after Bill Bayno resigned because of depression.
That would be good enough for players tired of walking through airports with LMU gear on only to draw inquiries from people unfamiliar with the Jesuit school near Los Angeles International Airport. Twenty years after the Lions' stirring run to the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight, this team might finally give the school's fans something to be proud of besides Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble.
They committed only eight turnovers during an 87-85 triumph over Notre Dame last month at South Bend, Ind., while using a starting lineup composed of three sophomores, a freshman and a junior. The team does not have a senior on its roster.
That's not to say there are not moments when they still need training wheels. The Lions faltered late in losses against Pepperdine and San Francisco to open conference play, sapping some of the momentum from a recent six-game winning streak.
But there is promise in a group that includes transfers Drew Viney and Larry Davis in addition to a solid freshman class and a core of returners from the team that was 3-28 last season.
If the Lions seem fundamentally sound, it's because Good stresses taking pride in every pass, catch, shot, block-out and screen. But the coach also believes coachability and toughness are as important as physical skills, and those traits are put to the test every day.
Forward Ashley Hamilton compared Good's practices to a war zone. They can be painful just to watch. Phyllis Good once buried her head in her hands and sobbed during one of her eventual husband's practices at Maine Central Institute, a New England prep school.
She felt so bad for the players that she baked cookies for them in the apartment she shared with the coach in the players' dorms. But Good was so miffed when he returned that he raked the cookies off the table.
Caron Butler, the Washington Wizards swingman who played for Good at the time, later confessed that players waited for the coach to slam his door before racing out of their rooms to dust off the cookies and gobble them up.
Good's current players say there is something oddly endearing about his rants.
"It's weird because even though he's yelling and he's cussing, you can still feel that he wants us to get better," said Viney, the Lions' leading scorer. "It's not the yelling where you're like, 'Man, just shut up. I don't want to hear you right now.' You can tell he cares."
Maybe that's why Cuttino Mobley considers Good a friend nearly 20 years after tussling with the coach when he played at MCI.
"Me being from Philadelphia, I thought I was tough," the former Clippers guard said. "I got smart with him and he came up to my face and kind of grabbed me by my shirt."
Was it a moment he'd rather forget? "I wouldn't change a thing," said Mobley, who played in the NBA for 13 seasons. "He made me who I am."
The last thing Good tells his players every Friday before releasing them for the weekend was something his father, a recovered alcoholic who became director of alcohol rehabilitation for the state of Maine, used as a mantra: Prisons and cemeteries are full of people who make bad five-second decisions.
"Kids don't care what you know until they know you care about them," Good said.
The coach traces his stubborn resolve to growing up in Maine, a state where voters are known to prefer independent governors. During one of his many asides about his home state Good joked that he digresses a lot "because I have ADD [attention deficit disorder] and Alzheimer's combined." But he wouldn't have made it through 40 years of coaching and six stops ranging from the high school to major-college level without a sharp basketball mind.
Good doesn't seem to mind that his biggest coaching jobs -- at Nevada Las Vegas and LMU -- were the result of another coach's failures. He took over for Bayno at UNLV in 2000 after Bayno was fired in the wake of NCAA violations, and he again replaced his friend last season when Bayno took a leave of absence associated with the stress of coaching an undermanned team. "I didn't go either place to be the head coach," said Good, who had been an assistant at each school before the promotions.
Maybe Good has softened over the years in his own special way. The coach no longer challenges individual players to fight; he offers to take on the whole team, perhaps realizing that a dozen college-age kids are unlikely to rush someone of his advanced age.
"He might make you feel kind of small sometimes, but anything he says is out of love," said Hamilton, the freshman forward. "He just expects so much from you. That's why he gets so mad."