This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah's first televised home basketball game aired in 1958 when I was 10. My best friend was sleeping over so he, my dad and I could watch the game in our basement.
The Utes, playing Utah State, lost their game-long lead in the second half after Ute coach Jack Gardner benched my favorite player, Pearl Pollard.
As the clocked ticked down and the Aggies kept the lead, I became increasingly agitated that Pollard was still on the bench. I ran upstairs, grabbed the phone book and called the University of Utah. After telling the operator it was an emergency call for Jack Gardner, she transferred me to the security guard at the old Einar Nielsen Fieldhouse, where the crowd could be heard over the phone.
He said Gardner could not come to the phone, but he promised to pass on my emergency message to put Pollard back in the game. I ran back downstairs, just in time to see Pollard returning to the floor. He eventually would make the winning basket and I took full credit for the win.
A few years later, my father and Gardner were in the same foursome during a golf outing and he told the coach that story. Gardner laughed, then handed my dad a book he had written on basketball fundamentals. He signed it: "To Paul. The best assistant coach I ever had."
After that, I thought Jack Gardner was the coolest, nicest person ever to coach in Utah.
Then I met Ron McBride.
McBride became the Utes' head football coach a year before I began writing this column. At the time, it was a two-author column, with writing partner JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, and we were trying to get to know as many local newsmakers as possible.
We asked McBride to lunch and he generously obliged, sharing anecdotes and giving us tidbits for our column. McBride's humanity became so evident, JoAnn eventually would collaborate with him on a book about his life.
McBride invariably showed up at his players' weddings, to their family members' funerals, to births and LDS missionary farewells and homecomings.
McBride's success proved his passion and commitment to his profession. Utah had not been to a bowl game since 1964 when McBride took over the program in 1990. Over the next decade, he would lead the Utes to six bowl games.
But the games themselves were not the most important thing to McBride. The players, their families and the fans were the priority. He once was criticized for attending the funeral of longtime Ute booster Dick Schubach on the day of a game. He explained that Schuback was his friend and he needed to be there.
When longtime Tribune sports and managing editor Jack Schroeder was on his deathbed at St. Joseph's Villa, McBride came to Jack's bedside and handed him an autographed Ute baseball cap. Jack was buried in that cap.
Some excerpts from JoAnn's book, The Mac Attack, tell it all.
• As a new assistant coach at Long Beach State, Mac encountered Rudy Huerta, a Latino, who had the reputation of being the toughest player on the team. Huerta didn't report to practice when the new coaches arrived. He finally agreed to meet with McBride, to whom he confessed: "I don't know where I fit in. I'm not black and I'm not white. Which bus do I get on?" It turned out that in 1973 the African-Americans players and the Caucasian players traveled on separate buses. After that conversation, the team buses were integrated and Huerta sat in the seat of his choice.
• In the late 1990s, as head coach at Utah, Mac recruited Anthony Brown, a huge but inexperienced and little-used offensive tackle out of Arizona Junior College in Mesa. During Brown's first year at Utah he was seriously injured in an automobile accident and for a week, was comatose in a Salt Lake City hospital. Mac visited daily, always reminding Brown he would get well. Brown did, and later was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
• When Vince Lobendahn, a defensive lineman from Hawaii, was playing at Utah in the early 1990s, physicians found a tumor on the brain of his baby son, Tsune. The child survived a difficult surgery and for two years, fought to live. Finally, he could fight no more. Mac got a call from Vince, who sadly reported that he and his wife, Micky had decided to disconnect the life support from their son. Mac went into the weight room and gathered up the coaches and players, who rushed to the hospital. They circled the bed, held hands and prayed as Tsune took his last breaths.
There have been numerous columns written and commentaries aired since McBride announced his retirement last week. But I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn't added my own tale about this life-long jock who loved people more than sports.