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"You're getting fired," Vitale's wife, Lorraine, told him.
"Honey, you're crazy," Vitale said.
Lorraine left the house. She didn't want to be there when it happened. Davidson arrived and didn't mince words. "I made a coaching change today," he said.
Vitale couldn't believe it. "I'll be honest," he says now, "I broke up crying."
In the weeks to come he considered seeking professional help. "I was so weak characterwise that I couldn't deal with failure," Vitale says. "I felt like a zero. All I wanted to do was stay in my room and sleep. I hung around the house and watched soap operas for a couple of months. Finally Lorraine woke me up. She said, 'You violate everything you've ever preached.' And it was true, boy. I had this whole speech I used to give about how the scoreboard doesn't tell you who the loser or the winner is, but when I got fired, I didn't remember any of that. What a baby I was. What a wimp."
A month after Vitale was fired, an all-sports network called ESPN came into existence. Scotty Connal, the executive producer of basketball telecasts, had heard Vitale give a speech two years earlier and thought he would be great on television. Connal called. Vitale agreed to give it a try. He started doing college basketball broadcasts for $350 a game. "I was like a kid in heat," he says. "I'd found the microphone and I didn't want to give it up. I felt important again."
Now Vitale has a new five-year contract with ESPN, three more years on a contract with ABC, product endorsements, an autobiography and a basketball magazine with his name on it. He commands $10,000 for speaking engagements and has an annual income exceeding $1 million. He is happily married, a doting father to his two daughters, ages 17 and 18, and wouldn't trade jobs with anyone. But at age 51, he's still a coach at heart.
"The only emptiness I feel is that I never rolled the dice with the big-college boys," he says. "I never coached a North Carolina or a UCLA or an Indiana. But I was lucky, too. I never had to face the scrutiny these guys do today: recruiting violations, the drugs, graduation rates. I'm a sensitive son of a bitch. It would have killed me.
"But now I coach on TV, boy. I coach every night. Who else coaches Indiana on Wednesday, Notre Dame on Friday and' UCLA on Saturday? I've been doing that for 11 years. And you know what? I'm undefeated, baby."
Syd Thrift was living in Fairfax, Va., running a real estate company that employed 30 agents, when he got a call from Joe Brown during the 1985 World Series. Brown had been called in by the Pittsburgh Pirates' new owners, a consortium of nine corporations and four individuals, to find a new general manager for the team after it lost 104 games and $10.7 million in 1985. Thrift had run the Kansas City Royals' Baseball Academy in the early '70s and then had been minor league director of the A's in 1975 and '76. He accepted a two-year deal with the Pirates. "I viewed the job as the most responsible position in baseball," he says today. "To see that baseball survived in Pittsburgh."