BACK ABOARD : Veteran Basketball Coach Bob Boyd Prepares to Ply His Trade at Chapman
The phone rang only once.
“Chapman College basketball. Bob Boyd? No, he’s not here. This is John Wooden.”
A laugh followed.
It was not John Wooden.
“This is Bob Boyd, what can I do for you?”
A lot, for those interested in Chapman basketball.
Boyd was hired as Chapman coach last week. It’s the sixth college or community college that has employed his services in 27 years of coaching. And maybe the most desperate.
Chapman officials are banking that Boyd’s experience can turn around a financially troubled athletic department.
At 58, Boyd still has the desire, the energy and, yes, the sense of humor to coach. He even has a gymnasium to call home--something he points out was visibly lacking during his 13 seasons at USC.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘What are you doing this for, it’s a Division II school?’ ” Boyd said. “They only say that if they’re class conscious or division conscious.”
No matter the division, Boyd is doing what he enjoys the most.
Whether it’s in the sunshine of Starkville, Miss., the cloudy skies of Seattle, or the long shadows cast from Westwood, Boyd is a basketball coach.
Sure, he has dabbled in other professions, a little shoe selling here, a little real estate there. He’s even tried retirement. Twice.
But Boyd always finds his way back to the gymnasium.
“Heck, I would be perfectly happy coaching the boys’ club team in Palm Desert,” he said.
If Boyd had remained Alhambra High School coach, it’s likely he would have been equally happy. As it was, Boyd moved to Santa Ana College (now Rancho Santiago) in 1957 and began his college coaching career that he looks back on with an odd sense of perspective.
“I probably should have been more frustrated,” he said.
Boyd coached at Santa Ana for six seasons, winning two Eastern Conference championships and advancing to the state title game once. “When I graduated from USC (in 1952), I was going to be a high school coach,” Boyd said. “That’s all. I wanted to go back to Alhambra High School, where I had played, and coach the basketball team. All of a sudden I was at Santa Ana. “Then a player of mine goes to Seattle (University) and somehow Seattle gets interested in me.”
Boyd was hired by Seattle in 1963 and the first year the Chieftains finished 22-6 and qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. playoffs. In the first round, Seattle was scheduled to play UCLA.
It was the first time Boyd coached against Wooden and it ended as almost all of their later encounters would, with UCLA winning, 95-90.
“I really thought I was moving in the right direction,” Boyd said. “High school coach, then junior college coach, then Seattle. I started thinking I might, some day, get the USC job.
“Then in my second year, the president (Albert Lemieux) called me into his office. He introduced me to six guys wearing suits and ties. They were from the FBI.”
Dreams of USC quickly faded. The agents informed Boyd that three of his players were under investigation for knowingly failing to report an attempted bribe.
Starters Charlie Williams and Peller Phillips and reserve L.J. Wheeler were suspended from the team with five games left in the season. The Chieftains also were banned from competing in the NCAA tournament.
Although the charges were dropped in July, Boyd already had resigned.
“I probably overreacted, ‘Oh my God. My team. How could this happen,’ ” Boyd said. “But I had to get out. I had a friend in Seattle who worked for Converse, so I called him for a job. I thought I had blown my chance of ever getting the USC job.”
In 1966, Boyd still was a promotion man for Converse. He was driving through Yucca Valley after taking care of some unfinished business.
“Just before we went to Seattle, I had gotten a speeding ticket,” Boyd said. “When they sent me the citation in Seattle, I wrote, ‘Deceased,’ and put it back in the mail. Well, went I went to work for Converse, I applied for a California driver’s license. I got a letter in the mail that there was I warrant for my arrest.
“I went to Twentynine Palms to throw myself on the mercy of the court and the judge charged me accordingly.”
On the return trip, Boyd was listening to the radio and heard the announcement that Forrest Twogood, USC basketball coach, had resigned.
“As I was listening to this, I look off to the side and there’s the radio station,” Boyd said.
Boyd got off the freeway and pulled into the station’s parking lot.
Said Boyd: “I walked in and said to the disc jockey, ‘Hi, I’m Bob Boyd, I just heard you on the radio.’ And he said, ‘What the hell are you doing in here?’ ”
Boyd asked to see the wire story on Twogood resigning and, after a few minutes of searching, they found it. He read the story twice and decided to apply for the job.
“As I was leaving, I gave him one of my Converse cards and he tacked it up on his bulletin board,” Boyd said. “I told him that I was going to apply for that job and that I think I’ll get it. Or something dumb line that.”
Boyd met with USC Athletic Director Jesse Hill that week. They discussed the Seattle situation for two hours.
Hill was satisfied that there was no fault on Boyd’s part and told him he would be considered. Six weeks later, Boyd was hired.
Perhaps if Boyd had been listening to another radio station, he would have been spared 13 years of trying to beat UCLA.
Boyd’s teams had a 216-131 record and finished second to UCLA six times. Boyd was only 2-25 against UCLA and lost 19 consecutive games to the Bruins from 1969-79.
“But it just wasn’t Boyd’s problem, it was a national problem,” said USC assistant athletic director Jim Hefner, who spent 13 years as Boyd’s assistant. “I mean, nobody could beat UCLA. The string Wooden put together will never be duplicated.”
Boyd’s first game as USC coach was against UCLA and was also the debut of Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Trojans lost, 105-90.
Alcindor had 32 points at halftime and 56 for the game.
“He was amazing; blocking shots, dunking the ball and those hook shots. . . .,” Boyd said.
Boyd tried everything imaginable to prepare his teams for Alcindor.
“I remember in practice I was Alcindor,” said Grand Canyon College Coach Bill Westphal, who was an assistant coach for the USC freshman in 1966-67. “I would stand in the key with a tennis racket. Guys would beat their defender and come in and I would simply swat their shots away. It was fun.”
Boyd finally settled on a strategy: Alcindor couldn’t score if he didn’t have the ball.
In 1968-69, Alcindor’s senior year, the ploy worked. Playing at Pauley Pavilion, the Trojans won, 46-44. It was the first loss for the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion, which had opened in 1966.
“The fans at Pauley Pavilion really hated Bob for that,” Hefner said. “They’d throw Coke on him, even spit on him, when we came on the court. For them to do that showed they had a lot of respect for Bob. They knew he had a chance to beat them.”
In 1970-71, the Trojans won their first 16 games and were ranked No. 1 in the nation after the Bruins were upset by Notre Dame. USC led UCLA by nine points with nine minutes left but lost, 64-60.
UCLA clinched the Pacific 8 title with a victory over USC in the season finale, leaving the Trojans with a 24-2 record and no place to go. Only conference champions qualified for the NCAA tournament until 1975.
“Most people believe we would have played again for the NCAA title that year if we could have gone,” Hefner said.
Boyd never beat the Bruins again.
“It didn’t matter how good a coach Bob Boyd was then, he was just in the right place at the wrong time,” said UC Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan, who was an assistant under Twogood from 1964-66. “Wooden wasn’t recruiting in those days, he was selecting.”
Boyd resigned at USC in January of 1979. Two months later, the Trojans qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since he had taken the job.
A number of factors entered into Boyd’s decision. That he was on the last year of a five-year contract and there was still no on-campus arena at USC were at the top of the list.
“As a graduate of USC, I’m embarrassed that there’s still no arena at USC,” Westphal said. “I mean, Boise State has one.”
Said Boyd: “I just felt that after 13 years, who needs it.”
Boyd became an associate athletic director at USC for seven months. He then resigned and went into real estate.
For two years.
When Mississippi State Athletic Director Gary Maddox offered him a coaching job in 1981, Boyd snapped it up. In four seasons under Boyd, the Bulldogs were 55-87, but were 17-12 in 1982-83.
After four years in Starkville, Boyd resigned in 1986. He and his wife, Betty, returned to California to be closer to their family.
No one came and dragged Boyd out of his most recent retirement. It was by choice that he wandered from his Palm Desert home in 1988.
But after two years of puttering around the house and putting on the golf course, Boyd yearned for the old life.
Riverside College Coach Dave Waxman was taking a sabbatical. The Tigers needed a coach for a season.
It was a mere coincidence that Riverside President Chuck Kane was an old friend of Boyd’s. But it was a convenient one.
Kane didn’t waste much time in hiring him.
The Tigers finished 27-9 and won the Orange Empire Conference title with an 11-1 record. The two previous seasons, Riverside had won a grand total of two conference games.
“I never knew I would have missed coaching so much,” Boyd said. “I really missed it. I had to get back into it. I was glad to find out I still had the energy to do it.”
As the end of the season approached, Boyd was anything but eager to return to the golf course. So when Chapman officials came calling, he was eager to listen.
Never mind the financial problems the athletic department was wallowing in, or that the Panthers were coming off a turbulent season (Coach Kevin Wilson was fired one game into the season).
In January, the school dropped six sports in an effort to consolidate finances. As part of that move, only four of the school’s 11 remaining sports will offer scholarships.
And the recruiting budget remains small. There are only eight scholarships for the entire men’s basketball program--four fewer than the maximum the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. allows for a Division II team.
“It’s difficult to maintain a continuity and flow and progression with eight scholarships,” Boyd said. “But I knew there were only eight when I took the job. We talked about it a great deal during the interviews. If Chapman chooses to give eight . . . that’s OK with me.”
But it’s an opportunity that Boyd couldn’t pass up.
“I’m not going to coach at USC and they’re not going to hire me at UCLA,” Boyd said. “I want to coach and I liked the atmosphere at Chapman College. It was perfect.”