Sunday, March 26, 2000

Guthridge last of the old-schoolers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        AUSTIN, Texas — Bill Self, college basketball's newest rising star, is 37 and Boy Scout-handsome. He coaches the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. After Tulsa dropped Miami Friday night to reach the Elite Eight, Self pulled his sportcoat back on, adjusted his tie and proceeded to work the room.

        He waded among the Hurricane supporters in the lower level of the arena, shaking hands, slapping backs and smiling. March makes instant stars of players. Also, coaches. Self wasn't missing a beat.

        Meanwhile, Bill Guthridge sat on the North Carolina bench. He's 62. Guthridge graduated from Kansas State in 1960, two years before Bill Self was born. Before taking over for Dean Smith three years ago, he had been an assistant for 35 years. He interviewed for several jobs. He turned down a few offers. You could store his ego in a matchbook.

        “I don't know if I could be an assistant for 30 years,” Bill Self said Saturday. “I don't know if my ego could allow me.” Self is said to be on the short list for the Nebraska job. Bill Guthridge is on the short list for a gold watch.

All about loyalty
        This is how it goes now. There are lots of Bill Selfs, fast-tracking coaches hoping to answer an opportunity knock. You wonder if there will ever be another Bill Guthridge.

        “The biggest thing is loyalty,” Guthridge said. He sounds like a Model T at the Auto Expo. “That's one of the benchmarks of our program, the loyalty former players have toward (coaches) and the loyalty we have toward them,” Guthridge said.

        “One of the problems with some of the young coaches is they try to get ahead and they don't care who they step on.”

        Guthridge wasn't talking about Bill Self. Neither am I. But college basketball is a coach's game. Until coaches start bolting for the NBA after their freshman years, it always will be. The NCAA Tournament is the ultimate job interview. The way you look, the way you speak, the number of times you win.

        Bill Self is no better a coach today than he was two weeks ago. But everyone thinks he is.

        Bill Guthridge has been at this a very long time. Long enough to be comfortable with who he is. His father was a school superintendent in Kansas; they named an elementary school after him. Listen to Guthridge long enough, you get the feeling he'd be just as happy teaching algebra to ninth-graders.

        “When I started out, I wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “Anytime you're young and in this profession, you want to be a head coach. I finally decided I had the best job in the country.”

        He wanted to work for Dean Smith. He wanted to school Carolina's big men. He loved the idea he could tell Sam Perkins to practice jump hooks and free throws, and Perkins would do it. “I've seen some schools where I don't think that's possible,” Guthridge said.

        He knew what was important. His family was happy, he was happy. He didn't panic when his peers began snaring bigger jobs. The fast track eluded him, and he was glad for it.

He's not in a hurry
        As Dean Smith presided for three decades over an unbroken chain of Tar Heels stars, Guthridge coached happily in the ebb tide. He didn't wonder why his phone never rang. He didn't have to glad-hand alumni. Not if he didn't want to.

        After his team beat Tennessee to set up the game with Tulsa, Guthridge celebrated by “going back to the hotel room and kissing my wife.” The players call him Coach Gut, much too visceral a name for such a gentleman.

        “One of the bright young stars of the coaching profession” is how Guthridge describes Bill Self. Tulsa has won 32 games this year; today probably will be No.33

        Self said he's not interested in anyone else's job. But he qualifies it by speaking of “financial security” and “the chance to win a national championship,” and you can almost see Tulsa leaking out of him.

        Bill Guthridge, though, isn't going anywhere. He's the last of a breed.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454. Fair Game, a collection of his columns, is available at local bookstores.


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