What: “You Can Call Me Al”
Author: Joseph Declan Moran (Prairie Oak Press, $16.95)
This hefty paperback recounts “The Colorful Journey of College Basketball’s Original Flower Child.”
And that, of course, could only be Al McGuire, the American original who coached Marquette to the heights of college basketball--the last of his 13 teams won the national championship in 1977--while confounding the NCAA, game officials, fellow coaches, grammarians and anyone else who had never seen, or heard, McGuire’s particular brand of organized chaos on the basketball court.
Moran takes us all the way through McGuire’s free-wheeling life, from his youth as the son of a saloon keeper in Rockaway Beach, N.Y., to his continuing third-age gig as a color man on college basketball telecasts, but the main thrust is on his coaching life.
For although McGuire played for St. John’s, and had a few seasons in the early NBA, it was his coaching, as an outrageous New Yorker in staid old Milwaukee, that made him famous. Actually, it wasn’t so much his coaching as the way he went about it, which was not at all the way anyone else went about it.
“I’m just the cocktail waitress,” he often said. “Hank [assistant coach Hank Raymonds] does the real coaching.”
Which, of course, was part of the con--and in almost everything McGuire did, there was a con or a promotion lurking. For if Raymonds drew up and ran the practice drills, there was no question who was in charge on game night. McGuire might have been out-coached a few times, but not often, and almost never in a game that really mattered.
The book does a good job of capturing “the Fox” through the eyes of others--Moran was relentless in his pursuit of those who knew McGuire when--and the result is a fascinating portrayal of a fascinating man. There is even a photo of McGuire chasing a ball-carrying Joe Paterno when they played high school football at St. John’s Prep and Brooklyn Prep, respectively, in 1945.
If there is a weakness, it’s that Moran relies too much on others. A chapter on McGuire through the eyes of McGuire would have been welcome. Lord knows, he has always had something to say--about anything.