For the record: Fairmont State, the "College on the Hill," is located in Fairmont, W. Va., 90 miles and a lot of baskets south of Pittsburgh. The Fighting Falcons are members of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and compete in Division I of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Among other distinctions, Joe Retton is the only man to have twice been named NAIA Coach of the Year.
At the end of last season, his 18th at Fairmont State, Retton's career record was a stunning 461-83. His .847 winning percentage is tops among all active coaches, including Jerry Tarkanian (.810) and Denny Crum (.789), as well as such past luminaries as Adolph Rupp (.821) and John Wooden (.806).
Neither the NAIA, which has provided the NBA with Earl Monroe, Zelmo Beaty, Willis Reed, Jack Sikma, et al., nor the Falcons, who have been ranked among the NAIA's Top 10 eight times and Top 20 16 times during Retton's reign, including No. 1 in 1976, need attest the high caliber of their play. The real question, in fact, is why all those NCAA teams that know only too well who Joe Retton is, most notably a natural rival like West Virginia University, deign to play other NAIA teams but never the infamous unknowns of Fairmont State.
The Falcons need no calling cards when they arrive in Logan. More than half the town (pop. 5,000) has turned out for the game against the Concord Mountain Lions, which is being played in the Logan High gym as a tribute to the four players, two from each team, who are graduates of the school's state championship high school squads.
These are Retton's people, none more so than Concord Coach Don Christie, who says, "This is my 21st year in this game and Jo Jo Retton is the finest coach I've ever seen. He developed the passing game before Bobby Knight even thought of it."
Jo Jo could also teach Sir Laurence Olivier a few moves. Before the game, he delivers one of his patented soliloquies, pacing the locker room as if it were the ramparts of Elsinore. "If you got it here [pounds his gut] and here [clasps his heart] and here [taps his head]," he concludes, "then I'll give it to you here [whacks Daryll Corley on the rump]!"
At 6'6" and 225 pounds, "Rhino" Corley is Retton's kind of player, a tight end in shorts who revels in mixing it up under the boards. "It's like my major, industrial arts," Corley says. "I like to handle the tough jobs, you know, the elbows and bloody lips, that sort of thing."
Indeed, the game is only moments old when the Retton trademark is in striking evidence: a tenacious, clawing, in-your-face defense that is 80% zone, 20% man-to-man and 100% confounding to the Mountain Lions. Powered by Corley, 6'9" Carl Lenoir, 6'8" Andre Allen and 6'6" John Jones, the Falcons force Concord to take bad shots and then sweep the boards with a vengeance. Quick on the outlet pass, they unloose roaring fast breaks led by Guards Mike Stone and Kevin Beaford.
Beaford, a wispy sophomore who would go on to lead the team in scoring with a 19.7 average, is not your classic jump-shot artiste. Rather, he throws up bombs from somewhere off his right ear, employing so much sidespin the ball seems to curve into the basket. But in it surely goes, for Beaford, the team captain, best reflects the Falcons' attack: nothing fancy, just deadly efficiency. (Indeed, more of the same can be expected this year because Beaford and Stone are back.)
Though the Falcons lead by 10 at the half, Athletic Director Colin Cameron is taking no chances. He tries to find a position on the bench that is a safe distance from Retton, explaining, "When the team falters, he pounds on you. When they go well, he bear-hugs you and musses your hair. Either way, you come out feeling like you've gone one-on-one with Mean Joe Greene."