But more than a decade had passed since Lavin received the following advice from one of the elders whose counsel he has sought. "Money has corrupted the coaching profession," Newell wrote to him back in 1986. "Coaches today, with their salaries, shoe contracts, summer camps, radio and TV shows, are in the $200,000-a-year bracket—some well above that figure. What this simply means is that the coach acquaints himself and his family to a lifestyle that says 'win or else,' so he does what he has to do to win.... Being able to live comfortably with yourself and know you have helped other people is more important than fame or money."
This fall, freshly turned 33, Lavin spent a Nyquil night worrying about the prospect of another season begun in crisis. So he clicked on the TV and happened upon a documentary on Harry Truman. "He was a complete failure until age 33," Steve says. "But his entire presidency was crisis management. Real crisis management. When all that's happened is you've lost three of your top six players, you realize everything's relative."
Looking on from retirement, Cap scarcely recognizes himself in the way his son relates to the game. "There's a naive and beautiful way he loves sports, while I can get ironic and sarcastic," he says. Nor does he see in Steve much of Newell or Woolpert, who quit coaching at ages 44 and 54, respectively. "They argued all the time, chewing their towels. I think Steve has more fun."
Often Cap thinks back to his conversation with Steve 13 years ago, the one that was equal parts challenge and discussion, as the best learning situations so often are. "He was absolutely right," Cap says of that day when the son persuaded the father that a teacher of anything, and certainly one of this crazy, graceful and rugged game, needn't be constrained by limits. "Steve took to heart that coaching is teaching, only instead of a blackboard you have a backboard. He found his own way to all sorts of things that are universal in the game and as rich as literature and philosophy."
Last April, not long before undergoing a successful heart bypass, Cap wrote Steve these words:
You chose a career in the game I have been deeply in love with since 1939, nearly 60 years of experience.... If you decide you want to stay with it a good long while, say 'til 2039...that's a hundred years between us.... Like me, you're built to go a long arc.
Two long arcs, one in descent, the other just ascending. Only there's a trick to these long arcs. Gotta stay in your stance, Steve. Stay in your stance!