Tuesday, March 13, 2012
SEPTEMBER 1, 1988, SPORTS
Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Newell Way Is No Doubt the Best Way
Practically every sport has its legendary coaches, managers and leaders. And practically every one has its legendary teachers.
They are hardly ever one and the same.
Football has had its great and colorful characters like Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi and its great innovators like Pop Warner and Tom Landry. But anyone who knows anything about the sport knows that the head coach frequently wheels around practice in a decorated golf cart, or stands on a tower, while dedicated assistants do the nitty-gritty work with selected groups of specialists.
A half-century of quarterbacks learned the basic art of modern offense from an assistant coach named Clark Shaughnessy.
Baseball had the incomparable Connie Mack, the pugnacious John McGraw, the shrewd Branch Rickey and the ageless Casey Stengel. But when something went wrong with their batting strokes, hitters for years took their problems to people like the late Charlie Lau, a lifetime .255 hitter.
Basketball had its John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Adolph Rupp and Nat Holman. But where would you guess the $2-million-a-year-super-stars go when their games go sour?
Well, they go to Peter Francis Newell — on their own credit cards.
Newell may never make the cover of Sports Illustrated or head up the 11 o'clock news. His picture is not on shoe ads. But every locker room in the country knows who Pete Newell is — a guy to hunt up when your jump shot won't bank, you can't seem to be, or find, the open man, and you find yourself being consistently outplayed by a guy who shouldn't be on the same court with you.
Pete Newell is kind of like the F. Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli of basketball. When your game comes under indictment, get Newell.
Why Pete himself never quite became one of the supercoaches himself is an enduring mystery. No one knew more about the fundamentals of the game than he.
Like so many creative teachers of players, Newell was a mediocre one himself. "I couldn't shoot," he laments. In spite of that, or maybe because of that, he became something of an offensive genius.
Like a lot of his generation, Newell's entrance into the coaching ranks was delayed by a few entrances he had to make on fortified Pacific isles.
Even when he got out of the Navy, basketball as a profession ranked well below letter carrying or shoe shining as a lifetime way to make money. He took a job as basketball-baseball-golf-tennis coach at the University of San Francisco, where he is also remembered as the guy who introduced Pete Rozelle into sports administration.
"I brought Pete in as P.R. at $75 a month and books," Newell recalls. Newell himself was much better off. He got $200 a month.
His San Francisco team won the National Invitation Tournament in his third year. In those days, the NIT was the prestigious tournament in college basketball. The NCAA was for teams not good enough to get an invitation.
Newell's success brought him a contract to coach Michigan State, which had just been accepted into the Big Ten that year (1950). When he took that school from a 4-18 record to contention, the University of California at Berkeley called — with an offer of $3,000 less than Pete was making at East Lansing.
He took it. A native Californian considers $3,000 a small price to pay to get back to hibiscus and bougainvillea, which Pete, an ardent horticulturist, revels in.
At California, Newell beat Wooden, Rupp and other legends at their own game — precision and conditioning. He beat Wooden's UCLA teams eight games in a row. Two years in a row, he took Cal to the Final Four.
The first year, 1959, he won it, beating Cincinnati with Oscar Robertson in the semifinals and West Virginia with Jerry West in the final. The next year, his team defeated Robertson and Cincinnati again in the semis but fell to Ohio State, which had Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, in the finals.
In 1960, Pete Newell coached what might have been the finest collegiate basketball team ever assembled. In the Olympic Games, he had Robertson, West, Lucas, Terry Dischinger, Walter Bellamy, Adrian Smith and Darrall Imhoff.
Unaccountably, Newell never returned to coaching after that, moving up to athletic director at Cal and later general manager at the Lakers and San Diego before retiring.
About a decade ago, Lakers forward Kermit Washington, dissatisfied with his court movements, went to Pete Newell to work out the kinks. Newell worked him out at Loyola with a roundup of other players, among them Dan Ford and Kiki Vandeweghe.
The improvement in these players was so noticeable — basketball players hawk each other's pattern changes the way pro golfers do — that Pete Newell all of a sudden had a waiting list.
The registered giants of the game were, so to speak, lined up in the waiting room — Ralph Sampson, Akeem Olajuwon, Kenny Carr, James Worthy, Bernard King, Kurt Rambis, Purvis Short, Herb Williams, Jerome Whitehead. Pete hadn't seen that much talent on one floor since the 1960 Olympics.
Pete had to split his class for forwards and centers into two sections. He charges nothing for the service, but the players volitionally donate $200 apiece to Loyola for the use of the hall. And two years ago, Newell's ‘students,’ a who's who of the NBA and Bank of America, gave Pete a Datsun 280Z for his contributions.
"The game itself changes little fundamentally," Newell says. "Plays are bigger and faster but angles and cosines of angles don't change. In basketball, you have the ball 10 percent of the time. It's what you do the other 90 percent that matters. It's a game not of arms and hands, but of feet. We try to teach you what to do with them.
"To me, there are two schools of coaching — the school of surprise and change, and the school of simplicity and execution. If you out-execute, no amount of surprise can overcome."
The biggest surprise will come when the Lakers' Kurt Rambis pulls a nifty move on the court this year and an observer exclaims: "That's a new Rambis out there!"
A colleague will shake his head and say: "No, that's a Newell Rambis out there."
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