In '94 Gladstone left coaching after 12 years and two undefeated campaigns at Brown and later went through a painful divorce. He and Cal also missed each other. In '96 the Bears placed 9th at the IRAs, and some team members were unhappy with coach Mark Zembsch, who had refused to discipline an oarsman who had cursed at him in practice, according to Sebastian Bea, a '99 Cal grad and member of the U.S. eight that won the '97 worlds. Gladstone returned the following year. "We desperately needed a central authority we were scared not to obey," says Bea. "Gladstone came back [in 1997], and everyone pretty much shut the hell up. Winning just follows this guy like a bad habit. He's a visceral person, kind of an alpha dog. People don't squabble with him."
Cal's oarsmen recall one practice two years ago on their home course at Redwood Shores, Calif., where their boat had to fight particularly bad currents caused by private vessels. "You guys know what a B.A.R. is?" Gladstone asked them. "When I'm old and want to go to prison, I'm going to take a Browning automatic rifle and put a hole in every one of these boats so we can have just one perfect day."
The rowers have taken on Gladstone's orneriness. Word got to them last year that a U.S. Rowing official had been asked which team he wanted to win the IRAs. The official responded, "Anybody but Cal." Bears oarsmen arrived at the IRAs with T-shirts that read ABC in large letters on the back.
Gladstone often races his crews in boats of two and four oarsmen to keep them competition-sharp. In recent years he has emphasized low-cadence rowing in practice so his oarsmen can better understand leverage. "He stresses the importance of getting the oar in the water quickly rather than waiting for the catch," says Bea. "The catch can seem messy when you drop the oar in the water on your recovery, because it creates a lot of backsplash. He wants your legs fully compressing so you row longer. It can be harder to control, but you overcome the fear of the boat being bobbly when you're all going for it at the same time."
Gladstone seems content these days, the contemplative man watching from the van. He is married again, with a nine-month-old daughter named Sonya. He runs as many as five miles a day, and to relax he reads Dostoyevsky and digs trenches. But things can always be better. He still flagellates himself for his decision to do color commentary for NBC at the '88 Seoul Olympics, which ran into October and caused him to miss several early-season practices at Brown. "Unconsciously it was a statement to the guys that the coach was doing something he thought was more important," Gladstone says. "It ran counter to the commitment I asked my athletes to make."
On Saturday, an hour after his most glorious IRA title, Gladstone was still beset by well-wishers near the team's boats. "Steve, what have you got to say for yourself?" a man in a Cal T-shirt asked.
Answered Gladstone: "Well, I coached the jayvee too, you know."