The name Nicholson may not inspire the same reverence among basketball fans as Naismith, but it's a respected handle in Ellensburg, Wash., where the Central Washington University Wildcats have been coached by nobody but a Nicholson for the past 53 years.
First there was Leo Nicholson, who became coach in 1929 and stayed on the job for 35 years, amassing a 505-281 career record. When he retired in 1964, he was succeeded by his son Dean, a four-time all-conference guard at the school, who has coached the Wildcats ever since and who has a 409-134 record to show for his 18 seasons. The combined 914 victories of Leo, who died in 1967, and Dean put them ahead of the Ibas (Hank and Moe), the Diddles (Ed Sr. and Ed Jr.), the Meyers (Ray and Tom) and any other father-son coaching duo you can think of.
In explaining how he came to follow in his father's coaching footsteps, Dean, now 56, begins by noting, "I was a gym rat from the age of three on." But he also recalls playing on the 1950 team that earned a berth in the NAIA tournament—the one time his father had a team in the tournament—only to be beaten in the quarterfinals. "I didn't shoot well that night," he says. "I always felt I let my father down." By way of making amends, Dean's own teams have won 20 or more games 16 different times. Last season the Wildcats went 22-7 and qualified for the NAIAs—for a record 16th time under Dean's tutelage. The leading scorer, at 17.1 points per game, from last season's team, Guard David Williams, brother of NBA stars Gus and Ray, is gone, and so are all but one of the other 1981-82 starters, but Nicholson feels that this year's team shapes up as his best ever, thanks to a strong array of recruits and transfers led by 6'9" Center Jerome Williams (no kin to David), the fourth-leading rebounder in the Pac-10 for Oregon last season.
Nicholson has two sons, Joel and Gary, but neither is following in his footsteps. Both attended Central Washington, but neither of them played basketball and, says Nicholson, "they were too smart to go into coaching." Nevertheless, the family's name will continue to be tied up with the school's basketball fortunes for some time to come if only because the building where the Wildcats play their home games is called Nicholson Pavilion (cap. 3,200).
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Bob Trumpy, the former Cincinnati Bengal tight end who does football announcing for NBC, also has a sports talk show on WLW-Radio in Cincy. One evening he took a call from a woman who said, "I think your show stinks." Affably, Trumpy asked why she felt that way.
"My husband sits there listening to your show with a set of headphones on and ignores me and the children. I can't communicate with him. He won't pay any attention to me."
"Is he listening now?"
"Yes," she said. "Of course he is. That's why I called you. I can't even talk to him."
"Hmmm," said Trumpy. "Do you want me to give him a message from you over the air?"