It is impossible to replace it with a single new image because the conference covers too much area, sprawling through two time zones, temperature changes from plus 100� to minus 30�, and altitudinal differences ranging from the Tucson desert to the high-plains plateau at 7,200-foot Laramie ("the terminal of the four winds"). But three men—two new, one old—represent the flavor of the WAC better than any others. They are sometimes known, Aesop-style, as The Fox, The Hippie and The Bear.
Fred Snowden of Arizona, The Fox, was the first black head coach at a major school, "the fly in the buttermilk of Tucson" as he still puts it. In charming self-parody, he also refers to himself as "Ego King," and he is not far wrong. Snowden's teams dazzle the opposition on the break, then wave at them on the defensive end. "We let you play with it because we want it back in a hurry," he says.
The Fox has a preference for white shoes, the word "syndrome" and large phrases that he mixes with his hip street slang. He calls the university president "a good cat" and says he has "body vibes" that this is Arizona's year. The Fox has a large opulent office with red velveteen wallpaper and dim lighting all around. He is of the opinion Arizona does not get enough attention.
"Some coaches get rated because of who they are," says The Fox. "Knight, he's one. Indiana and Knight get rated every year just because he's Bobby Knight. I figure I should get rated because I'm The Fox. I'm going to be up there every year because my contacts get me people to stay up.
"The man at UCLA," adds The Fox, referring to John Wooden, "now when he goes, you know who's getting all the dudes from L.A.? You looking at him: The Fox."
Snowden is from Detroit and grew up with the Four Tops and the Temptations. He used to run sandwiches up to Charlie Parker at the Bluebird Inn and sit at the knee of Joe Louis. Tucson was a big change.
"It isn't my life-style," says The Fox, "but it's where I had to come to get a chance. I miss the little black things. Having my hair styled by my own guy. Listening to my sounds on a black station. My daughter misses Soul Train and the black dancers. I love Soul Train.
"My man, Tucson folk are the greatest in the world, but we had to work like hell to get them. I didn't come all this way to lose, can you dig it? People need to get rid of their cowboy syndrome about this league. I was assistant at Michigan, and you telling me the Big Ten is as tough as the WAC? We had four teams that would kick Indiana's butt at the end of last season. Put that down. Put down The Fox was one of them."
Norm Ellenberger of New Mexico, The Hippie, has a beauteous wife named Judy, some children, a pet timber wolf named Sasha, an adobe hacienda to put them all in and many irons in the fire of the burgeoning business of Indian jewelry. The Hippie is the Newman-Redford among coaches, a man of such striking looks and charisma that his picture, hanging in Albuquerque restaurants, must be guarded lest it be defaced with scribbled I love hims.
The Hippie wears faded jeans, a mustache and shades "to keep the image." The walls of his remodeled office are covered with white shag carpet; there are several mirrors on one of them. "Rule One is: No player can look better than the coach," says The Hippie. "If I don't like his hair or clothes, they're out."