He lived in a boardinghouse, hung around the Spudnut Shop, and courted a high school senior named Janice Fraser, who was mostly impressed by the fact that he attended church regularly. He married Janice after school that summer of '54 and took her with him when he went into the Air Force. Since both of the Mottas are candid—in addition to being intensely devoted—it is reasonable to accept their assessments, made independently, that each married the other mostly because there was not a whole lot else to do around Grace. She had no idea what she was in for. 'Things are never quite good enough for Dick," Janice says. "They always must be better. There always must be something else. You know, I think trouble likes to follow him—the feisty little devil."
They came back to Grace in the fall of 1956, after he was released from the Air Force, because there was no place else. "I was moved up to the high school," Motta says, "and they gave me the choice—coach football or basketball. There was a brand-new gym there, so I said, 'O.K., I'll take the basketball.' There was no other reason than that for me getting into the game."
That New Year's Day young Coach Motta called practice for eight in the morning. As 1957 dawned on the world of basketball, Bill Russell had just returned from the '56 Olympics in Australia to join Cousy and Sharman and Heinsohn on the Boston Celtics. Red Holzman, coach of the St. Louis Hawks, was about to be fired. Frank McGuire's North Carolina team had just won the Dixie Classic. The high school team in Grace, Idaho came to practice with snow on the ground and Love Me Tender at the top of the charts. The new coach smelled liquor on the breath of one of his starters and called him over. "You're off the team," he said.
The kid said, "When do I get back?"
The coach said, "Well, the way I work it, you don't get back."
"O.K.," the kid said, "then what about..." and he named all the other starters who had also broken training. One of them was the son of a local Mormon leader.
"Then they're off the team, too," the coach said. He was left with one senior, one junior and the rest sophomores.
If this seems inconsequential one must remember that there are vast segments of America where high school basketball is no trifling matter but a passion that heats the homes until the snows are gone. Grace (pop. 760) was one such place, and the town united in the conclusion that the convictions of a rinky-dink rookie coach who had never been good enough to play high school ball himself were hardly sufficient to wipe out the athletic flower of its youth. Entreaties, roundabout and otherwise, were directed at Motta and, that failing, booze bottles and beer cans were dumped on his lawn and live squawking chickens were hung by their necks at his door. He was not permitted to set foot in the only barbershop in town. Most of the high school rooted against its own team for the balance of the season, even though Motta somewhat muzzled the fervor of this campaign by leading his little band of reserves to second place in the league.
"He got the loyalty he needed to live on from those kids," says Phil Johnson, who was in that class—and a bench warmer on the team. "There are two kinds of kids who play for him. Those who love him, who really love him, and those who respect—I mean, well, even fear—him. The Grace thing wasn't unique. When he got to Weber there was a faction there in Ogden that was always mad at him. I guess that's the way it will always be with men like Dick."
Motta stayed at Grace two more years. He went 24-2 the second season, and then, when Johnson and the other seventh-graders grew up, he won the state title. Grace wouldn't give him a $1,000 raise, however, and he was turned down for the other jobs he applied for, so he had no alternative but to go to graduate school at Colorado State for a year. The next year he won the post at Weber State—then a junior college—and took three league titles in eight seasons, pushing Weber to prominence in the Big Sky Conference when it became a four-year college.