Edwin Lewis Jucker is one of those men so completely absorbed in his job that it almost seems he would not exist without it. His job is coaching the University of Cincinnati basketball team. Under his guidance it has become the best team in the country, and with it he is trying to do something no coach has ever done before—win three straight national championships. Jucker (right, with player Larry Elsasser) works at his job all of his waking hours, and these include many hours that people normally reserve for sleep. In stray moments of relaxation he will talk of politics, golf or bringing up children, but the path of such conversations returns inevitably to basketball. Should he forget the job for an instant, which is unlikely, he need only glance at the centerpiece on his dining room table, a gold-plated basketball, or at his 7-year-old daughter Karen, who wears a T shirt on which is printed: "My dad is coach."
Karen's dad has been coach of Cincinnati for three years, and for three years he has been supremely successful. Twice in a row his teams have won the NCAA championship, symbol of basketball supremacy, and this year Cincinnati is the favorite to win it again. By midseason this year his Cincinnati teams had won 71 of 76 games for him, and had the country's longest current winning streak. His achievements are unprecedented, deserving of all kinds of glory, a performance to make a man proud. Yet much of the glory has eluded Jucker, and he has no time for pride.
Successful though he is, Jucker usually has the harried mien of a longtime loser. Basketball coaches are a notoriously nervous lot, but shortly before the start of every Cincinnati game Jucker looks like a man condemned to die. His skin turns several shades paler than normal, accenting his heavy beard and making him look old (he is 45). His eyes are strained, as if pleading for help, and beads of sweat line his forehead. He develops a cough, though his health is perfect. He keeps glancing at his wrist as if checking the time, but he wears no watch. "In the last few minutes before a game," says Tulsa's coach, Joe Swank, "Juck wouldn't even remember his name." Backslapping well-wishers stop by the bench to wish Jucker luck. "I nod yes and no," admits Jucker, "but I don't even know what people are saying to me."
Nor is the Cincinnati team spared any of its coach's pregame agonies. "We'll be sitting around the locker room listening to some music on the radio," says Tony Yates, the Cincinnati captain and a cool, cool man on the court. "He'll come roaring in and turn it off. He's afraid we won't be thinking about the game." No one will ever accuse a Jucker team of laxity. "His boys have marvelous discipline," says one coach admiringly. "He flogs his tigers until they even hate their mothers."
The game begins. High in the grandstand of Cincinnati's fieldhouse sit Jucker's pretty wife, Joanne, and 9-year-old son, Steve. "Aw, she claps when they introduce the other team," says Steve disgustedly. "That's being fair," Jucker tells his son. "You know, they do some good things too." This is what Jucker says on Sunday morning, but at court-side the night before he is in no mood for compliments. Nor, for that matter, is the howling, clapping, fur-bearing Cincinnati crowd. Watching basketball in Cincinnati has become a social event, the thing to do for the country club set, and it's a rare hostess who would dare schedule a Saturday night party to begin before the game is over. The field-house is always filled; owning a season seat is a sign of status. The crowd has become giddy with victory (the Bearcats have not lost at home since 1957), expects it and grows surly when the team fails to win impressively.
During a game, a nervous Jucker gets almost as much exercise as his players. "You'd have to say he's in the excitable class," says Bradley's Chuck Orsborn. "Not the most excitable, but up there." A foul called against Cincinnati will bring Jucker leaping to his feet, arms stretched toward heaven, his face a picture of amazement. "He's very quick to come off the bench on a call," says a rival coach. "He certainly lets the officials know what's on his mind, even to the extent of buzzing the buzzer at the scorer's table." In a recent game against Houston, Jucker did just that, not once but twice. Later, when asked about it, he looked wide-eyed with disbelief. "I didn't do that, did I?" he asked. Yet there is evidence that Jucker knows exactly what is going on every second of a game. "One of his greatest assets," says Orsborn, "is his ability to think under pressure."
The Cincinnati players themselves, though they may exchange secret winks when Jucker flies into action, appreciate his attention to duty. "It's good for the team to see someone who makes sure we get a fair shake," says Tony Yates. And whenever Jucker threatens to go too far, the players know how to contain him. Once when Jucker leaped from the bench and started to storm onto the court—a sure technical foul—a player reached out, grabbed Jucker's coattail and firmly pulled him back. Another time, after a referee failed to call a foul on the opposition, Jucker was about to explode when a smiling Yates, dribbling by, gave him a big wink and told him to relax.
But Jucker can't relax, even when the game is over. Some coaches find him remote—"He'll shake hands, but that's all," says Wichita's Ralph Miller. Others, like Joe Swank, find him fairly cordial. "Why shouldn't he be?" asks Swank. "He wins."
A team, but no Oscar
No one expected Ed Jucker to win in such grand style when he was promoted from assistant to head coach three years ago. Oscar Robertson—the Big O—had just graduated, removing in his own person a major part of the Cincinnati basketball team. At this propitious time Coach George Smith, who had won three straight Missouri Valley Conference titles with Robertson, accepted the athletic director's post.