GORDON WHITE: Great Coaches Don't Always Make Great Golfers
Lou Holtz, who coached at more football way stations than a Broadway bus has stops, recently posted on the Internet his version of what it was like to be coached himself and learn a lesson on the golf course.
The teacher was John Derr, my good friend of more than a half century, who is a nonagenarian resident and active golfer of Pinehurst.
Professor Derr's classroom was the seventh hole of Pinehurst No. 2 in the summer of 1975. Holtz was the football coach at N.C. State and Derr had just moved back to his native North Carolina from New Jersey.
Holtz described the lesson by saying, "I was playing with Johnny Derr and I wasn't playing very well and got mad and threw my clubs. He said, 'Lou, I've played with all the great golfers. I watch them every week. I've played seven holes with you. I want to tell you something about your game that you should know that will help you. You aren't good enough to get mad. You're a bad golfer and the minute you accept that you'll enjoy the game.' And from that time on I just tried to do the best I can but I accept whatever happens."
This was no small accomplishment for JD since most successful coaches such as Holtz are known to have rather inflated egos.
But Derr could do this 33 years ago because he was an exceptionally good (single digit handicap) golfer in those days, who had been playing out of Upper Montclair Country Club in New Jersey before coming home to the Sandhills.
Derr was director of sports for CBS radio out of New York City when I first got to know him as I was starting out as a reporter in the late 1940s.
I could add stories of Derr golfing with other football coaches such as the day he played a big round with Walter Camp and Fielding Yost. But I'll get to that one at a later date.
Those of us in sports journalism had numerous opportunities to play golf with athletes and coaches we covered. Such rounds often resulted in worthwhile stories.
For instance, I played golf a number of times with Ben Schwartzwalder, the head football coach at Syracuse University. I could ask and Ben would tell me anything I wanted to know about how an unbalanced line works well. That was his Syracuse offense's modus operandi and blocking scheme for the likes of Jimmy Brown, Floyd Little, Larry Czonka and the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis.
Schwartzwalder never wanted to lose in football or golf. There always were a few pence on the golf game and the coins virtually squeaked when Ben reached in his pocket to pay off when he lost.
Although I played most of my golf with Ben at Drumlins Golf Club in Syracuse, my most memorable game with him was in Arkansas during an annual American Football Coaches Association outing in 1972 that was hosted by Frank Broyles, the Arkansas head football coach.
I was riding in a golf cart with Schwartzwalder. On the second hole, a par 3 over a 20-foot wide brook, we waited while the group ahead of us holed out. One of the members of that foursome was the Oregon State coach, Dee Andros.
After putting, Andros looked up and there, wound around a concrete piling of the bridge over the little brook, was a huge copperhead that must have been four to five feet long and as fat as a man's forearm.
Andros, who was rather rotund, jumped up and down giving me thoughts of Santa's belly being like a bowl full of jelly on "the night before Christmas." Andros and others threw rocks at the snake until it slithered away.
To make matters worse, just as Schwartzwalder and I took off after hitting our tee shots to the green, Ben, who was driving, put his hands on the steering wheel and let out a yelp you could hear back in upstate New York. He had not only clamped down on the wheel but also clamped onto a large hornet that was minding his own business while sunning himself on the steering wheel.
Ben and I had enough trouble with our golf games so that we did not need snakes and hornets interfering.
A year earlier at that Arkansas outing, I played in a foursome with Bear Bryant, Alabama's coach; Johnny Majors, then the Iowa State head coach, and Dan Foster, sports editor of the Greenville, S.C., News.
Bryant was a native of Arkansas. He thought the state was as much his recruiting territory as it was Frank Broyles' territory. So he was trying to nail down a talented high school senior running back from Arkansas while attending the coaches' outing. One way to do this was to soft soap the family. That is standard recruiting practice.
Bryant had the athlete's 10-year-old brother serve as his personal caddie that very hot day. The youngster was thrilled and wide-eyed as we started out.
However, Bryant's bag was very heavy with 28 clubs, double the amount allowed by golf rules. But when it came to The Bear, who was counting?
Bryant had two complete sets of irons from 3 iron through pitching and sand wedges, two putters, one driver and a complete set of woods from 3 wood through 9 wood.
The glow began to wear off for the poor kid who shouldered this overload. But Bear cheered him along and even made him feel important by asking him to read his putts.
The older brother Bear was after ended up going to Arkansas so in that recruiting contest, brother caddie and all, it was Broyles one, Bear zero.
Broyles was one of the best golfers among college football coaches in those days. His arch rival on the gridiron, Darrell Royal of Texas, was one of Broyles' best friends and an equally excellent golfer. Each of them was a scratch or 1 handicap golfer. They played together whenever they got the chance, often going 36 holes or even 54 in one day. While they played golf their wives usually went antique shopping. Those Broyles-Royal rounds of golf were truly expensive.
There are few college coaches who are better golfers than Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse basketball coach. Another former basketball coach who is a very low handicap golfer is Bill Raftery, who played and coached at Seton Hall before becoming one of the better television basketball commentators for the past quarter century.
I played with Bobby Knight during his days as Army basketball coach in the late 1960s. He was erratic sometimes but usually a fairly good golfer and quite long. Navy's basketball coach at that time, Ben Carnevale, was also a very good golfer and even longer than Knight. Ben's son, Mark Carnevale, played on the PGA Tour for a number of years.
Digger Phelps went a couple of rounds with me in South Bend, when he coached Notre Dame basketball. Unfortunately, Digger is in my class as a golfer so he will never win any coaches' golf prizes unless he gets help from one of the many leprechauns that haunt the Fightin' Irish campus. But Phelps will always talk it up to make the day enjoyable on a course.
LaVell Edwards, Brigham Young's coach when Steve Young and Jim McMahon were just two of his many superb quarterbacks, was a fine gentleman with whom I played golf more than once. He had a fair game, too.
Wayne Hardin, an excellent golfer, was Navy's football coach, 1959--1964, when Midshipmen Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach won the 1960 and 1963 Heisman Trophies, respectively. Hardin then coached Temple, 1970--1982.
I called Hardin at his Temple University office in Philadelphia two days after the Owls' wild 34-31 victory over Hawaii in Honolulu, Nov. 3, 1979. I simply wanted some information about the football game played 5,000 miles and five time zones away.
Hardin took his team to Hawaii on Thursday, Nov. 1, allegedly so the players would get acclimated to jet lag. And the coach played golf on Friday, Nov. 2, at the Waialae Country Club. That is where the PGA Tour holds the Sony Hawaiian Open each January on the island of Oahu. And that may be the real reason Hardin flew the Temple football team to Hawaii two days early.
Hardin got a hole in one on the par-3 17th hole at Waialae and was so excited about it that he talked more about his ace than his team's victory. So I wrote a golf/football column about a tough old coach's hole-in-one.
Years ago the eight Ivy League football coaches held a golf outing each spring and I was lucky enough to be an invited guest. During an Ivy round, Jake McCandless, the Princeton coach, asked me if I would like to join him the next two days at the Pine Valley Golf Club, then rated as the No. 1 golf course in the country by Golf Digest. I jumped at the chance since I had never played the famed course laid out in the Southern New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Thus I got to play a couple of rounds that brought me to my knees, crying for mercy at Pine Valley. I loved it. I have since played Pine Valley a few times and have never scored well there. But I have never gone away unhappy. Golfers are truly masochists.
I was also introduced to one of my favorite Southern golf courses when Joe Morrison, then the South Carolina football coach, invited me to a Gamecock golf outing at Wild Dunes in 1985. I first got to know Morrison years before when he was a tight end for the New York Giants, 1959-1972.
Most coaches play golf, although two of the nation's most famous college coaches I know well have never taken a shine to the crazy game. They are Joe Paterno, Penn State's 81-year-old football coach, and Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's basketball coach who played for Coach Bobby Knight at Army, 1966-1969.
Paterno and Krzyzewski show all the signs of lasting forever while many coaches with whom I played golf are no longer with us. Among them are some I mentioned here---Ben Schwartzwalder, Bear Bryant, Ben Carnevale and Joe Morrison.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
More like this story