Ay, there's the rub. The man has never really relished coaching, and with each succeeding season has cared for it less. When the call came, out of the blue, to interview for the Marquette opening ("They were desperate, obviously; otherwise they would have taken a First Communion guy"), he was drifting into real estate and other ventures, coaching with his left hand at little Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He went 6-19 and 6-18 his last two years there and was preparing to leave coaching altogether.
He appears to be approaching that estate again. In many ways, as he is the first to admit, Marquette basketball survives on his reputation and the hard work of Raymonds and Majerus. McGuire deigns to make only one recruiting visit a year ("The kids know more about me now than I know about them, but even though I don't work at it, I'm the best recruiter in the world"), and, invariably—11 years out of 13—he gets his ace with his one-shot road show. He is often late for practice; sometimes he doesn't even know where the team is practicing. He gets older and smarter, but for a coach time stands still. The kids are always 19 going on 20, and most coaches and fans are one-track zombies; the Germans have the best word for them: Fachidioten—specialty idiots. McGuire would rather talk about how his new uniforms will televise than about his player prospects. When he gets to the Arena floor, the first thing he checks are the four most distant corner seats—the worst ones in the house. If they are sold, he figures he has done it again. Then, only then, does he come to life as a coach. For two hours.
"I hate everything about this job except the games," McGuire says. "Everything. I don't even get affected anymore by the winning, by the ratings, those things. The trouble is, it will sound like an excuse because we've never won the national championship, but winning just isn't all that important to me. I don't know why exactly. Maybe it's the fear, the fear of then having to repeat. You win once, then they expect you to win again.
"Wait'll you see what happens to Bobby Knight now that he's won. On the other hand, I found out when I got those two technicals in the NCAA finals that people sympathized with me for making an ass out of myself. I get 35 million people looking at me, I can't help it, I immediately become an ass. People relate to that.
"But, Frank, I'm not doing the job anymore, Frank. I never liked coaching, but at least I should be available more. I should be more courteous to my staff. I should have a more orderly process with the university. Maybe it's the repetition. You take the clinics we do for Medalist. They're almost a success, but now, just when they're getting to be that, I don't have no thrill anymore. I wonder about myself. Can I be a success in anything permanently? Anything permanent?
"I figure I'm wrong 80% of the time, but it takes too much time to be right. I won't pay that price with my life. I'm jealous of guys like Dean Smith, Bobby Knight. I'm jealous of their dedication. I wish I had it. I admire the way their teams are dressed, the way their kids handle themselves. At the regionals last year one of our kids came down to lunch barefoot. But I just don't like coaching that much to put the time in on a thing like that. It's not my world. I run my team the only way I can run it and still keep my life.
"I'm ready to get out. It's just the numbers. So many of my numbers depend on me coaching. I'm scared to get out. Fear there, too. So maybe it's time I concentrated on coaching just for one year. It's been long enough I haven't concentrated. Frank, we could have a destructive machine if I worked at it. A destructive machine, Frank."
Is he acting now? It certainly doesn't seem so. The green eyes are neither twinkling nor blazing theatrically, the way they do when they signal routines. By happenstance, McGuire has been momentarily distracted. He came to an out-of-town place under the impression it was a greasy-spoon Mexican joint, but it has turned out, instead, to be a fancy-Dan supper club. With floor show. With table linen, yet. McGuire, in his sneakers and sport shirt, wasn't figuring on this—and place, setting the stage, is very important to him.
He wants to recruit around the kitchen table. Depression babies are kitchen guys, not parlor people. When a player comes to talk to him, get him out of the office, out of Marquette; get him down into some back-alley saloon. Welcome to my world. Visitors are escorted to an oilcloth-covered dining-room table in the back of a rundown Mexican bodega for a home-cooked meal. Or he just walks with people. Nobody anymore walks along and talks except for Al McGuire. Right away, the other guy is off stride, in the minus pool. You know what it must come from? From the going outside to fight guys. The meanness is out of it, but it's the same principle, same game. O.K., let's you and me go outside. Let's go in here. Let's drive out to this lake I know. Let's go to this guy's apartment. Let's go to this little Chinese place. Let's take a walk.
Everybody makes such a to-do about Al McGuire's exotic travels. Big deal: New Zealand. What is that? Anybody can go to New Zealand. That is the diversion, his escape, the smoke screen. Look at his world. That is the truly exotic one. How could a guy so Noo Yawk fit in so well in Milwaukee, or in Carolina before that? It's easy. Wherever McGuire is, he constructs a whole universe out of selected bars and restaurants, places to walk, acquaintances, teddy bears and zanies, places to drive, back rooms and penthouses, motorcycles and country-music jukeboxes. Tall guys with broken noses are also a part of this community. There is a cast and there are sets—everything but a zip code.