It was a stern look that crossed the face of Coach Howard Lyon at a recent Biola University basketball game.
"Darn it," he said after a missed free throw, tugging at his ear lobe. "Come on, Jim."
A few minutes later, Lyon, pacing in front of the Eagle bench, stamped his foot, but not a bad word crossed his lips.
In his 35th--and probably final--year of coaching, Lyon is watching Biola struggle. The school, which won NAIA-record 39 games in 1981-82, is well below .500 now.
Lyon has had only one other losing season, so it seems ironic that his last team may be the most difficult to direct. Because of injuries and graduation, Biola has no starters back from a team that was 29-8 a year ago.
Yet Lyon's legacy, if he does not return next season, is more likely to be his big heart, not his last won-loss record.
"Howard has a real interest in people," said former Biola Vice President Robert Fischer, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes. "He doesn't just look at them as players on his team but as people and how he can help them in their development."
Lyon, 61, has more than 730 wins. More than half of those have been at Biola, a 2,000-student Christian College Coalition university in La Mirada.
He came to Biola in 1971 after stints at Avalon, Poly and Millikan high schools. In 17 high school seasons, Lyon posted a 325-133 record. In 1970, Millikan won its first Southern Section 4-A title under Lyon. Teams he coached entered the playoffs 12 times.
Said retired Long Beach City College Athletic Director Del Walker, who was Lyon's "B" basketball coach at Poly High: "Howard had an excellent record. Every place he's gone he has been successful."
Lyon "retired" at the conclusion of the 1987-88 season after Biola posted a 31-5 record, yet failed to win the District 3 title. Dave Holmquist, who spent nine seasons as Biola's co-coach with Lyon, took over, and the Eagles regained the district title in 1989.
Then last spring, Holmquist became the school's first full-time athletic director. That opened the door a crack for Lyon, albeit as an interim coach--a chance he relished.
"I missed coaching last year," he said, "although at times I thought it was the best for Biola."
Holmquist said Biola will search for a new coach this spring. Lyon admitted that his future is bleak in the current job market.
"At my age, it would be very hard for anyone to look at me," he said.
Holmquist and Lyon spent nine years together as co-coaches.
"With Holmquist, we immediately jumped to a national contender," Lyon said.
Gregarious in a conservative way, Lyon was, nevertheless, the unflappable soul of the team. Holmquist, a quiet, intense person, perhaps provided the spark. They won more than 80% of the games their teams played.
"Howard's style is not one of demanding intensity, but one of players seeing him work," Holmquist said. "His work ethic kind of rubs off on them, and that attitude carries over to their play."
As Biola succeeded, winning five District 3 titles, Holmquist became the more visible of the pair. That fueled the notion that Lyon held a title, not a real job.
Explained Cal State Dominguez Hills Coach Dave Yanai, whose teams play Biola at least twice each year: "(The Biola coaching situation) was strength added to strength. Dave was the more outgoing, fiery kind of guy. Howard was more reserved, steady. It's never easy with two head coaches, but that will tell you about Howard. To be able to submerge egos (for the sake of a team)."
Lyon's future does not ruffle him.
"My original intention was to come back for one year," Lyon said, somewhat close to the vest. "I would like to stay here. . . . But I'm not sure about the Biola situation."
He will be missed, opposing coaches said.
"Howard is a very, very humble man," said Yanai of Dominguez Hills, who has 310 career wins in 22 years of coaching. "He has tremendous integrity. In my mind, he is an excellent basketball coach too."
In 18 seasons at Biola, Lyon has been a good-will ambassador for the university as well as a good coach. The Biola basketball team has played in places such as Guatemala, China and Australia.
A Long Beach native, Lyon turned down the first offer he had to coach here, in the late 1960s, because "I didn't think I was ready (for college)."
But after he was named coach of a state high school all-star team--a group that included players such as Jamaal (then Keith) Wilkes--Lyon changed his mind about his future.
"I had a pretty good thing going at Millikan, about the best situation you could ask for as a coach," he said. In 1971, Lyon posted a 17-11 record at Millikan. But he jumped at another offer to step up to Biola.
The college not only offered a change, but its philosophy matched his devoutly religious life style.
"The way I look at (life)," he said. "you will either be with the Lord eternally, or with the devil. I figured there are a lot of athletes out there that want to grow spiritually as well as in basketball, and I felt I could contribute to Biola having a strong program."
Holmquist, who played for Lyon at Biola in 1971-72, said a key Lyon trait is his even keel.
"His style is steady, consistent, not too much up or down," Holmquist said. "That has a calming influence on people, and because of that he was successful."
Lyon places his coaching philosophy on two different planes: personal development of the athlete and reversing the ball, a basketball technique that requires a lot of passing and teamwork.
"Move the ball," he said. "If you don't, pretty soon players will say, 'I'm going to shoot this thing or I'll never see it again.' If you reverse (move) the ball, it opens up holes and more people get involved in the game."
As for player development, he said, not everyone is capable of becoming a Jamaal Wilkes.
"But can they be the best they can be? It's not necessarily whether you win or lose, but can you walk away from that loss knowing that you gave it everything that you had?
"That is what is important. That's growth."
Yanai and Lyon, wearing coats and ties, stood in the wings at Biola's Chase Gymnasium recently, chatting before a game between their teams. A banner on a wall above their heads read: "Equipped to Do His Will."
The chat was casual, not pressurized or phony as one might expect between two highly successful coaches at any level.
When they departed for their respective benches, Lyon helped an assistant coach shuffle some chairs.
Glancing into the bleachers, he noticed his young granddaughters. With a big grin, the veteran coach went into the stands to hug and kiss them. He spent several minutes there, his back to the court, while the Eagles continued a shoot-around.
His team, he said, was "in a hole" in its quest for the seventh (and final) playoff spot in District 3.
But whatever happens to him, or the team, Lyon said, it would just be a small part of the eternity he expects to be waiting for him.