Once, when the class struggle was considerably younger than it is today, a Yale basketball team coached by Ken Loeffler traveled to Peoria, Ill. for a game with Bradley. Yale was, of course, overmatched and it was clear that only the greatest of orations by Loeffler could avert disaster. Fortunately, Loeffler has an oration to fit almost any occasion.
Just before the game, the little band of Elis huddled in the visitors' locker room, a mere beaverboard partition away from the room where Bradley's team was similarly grouped. Loeffler climbed a stool and, with every Yale eye upon him, inhaled, as a preface to his speech. He proceeded no further.
Before Loeffler could declaim a syllable, the voice of the Bradley coach boomed through the partition.
"Men of Bradley! Tonight you will be playing against the sons of the men who own the factories in which you will some day be working. But you are not working in them yet...."
January 10, 1955
Yale lost the basketball game by more points than anyone remembers, and that night in Peoria stands as the only occasion when Ken Loeffler was unable to deliver a pregame philippic.
In some 30 years of coaching, Loeffler has probably cleaved the general air with more speech than any of his rivals. That covers considerable territory, including as it does the Oxonian-accented addresses of New York's Nat Holman and the basketball-boosted-me-from-slag-heaps-to-heights style of West Virginia-born Clair Bee.
Lately Loeffler has been coaching a National Championship team at La Salle College and has also developed an ulcer. There was an inclination to wonder whether these recent developments had cramped the man's speaking delivery. A quick trip to Philadelphia last week ended the wondering.
At 4:30 one afternoon, the team gathered in the gymnasium for drill. Loeffler trotted out a blackboard, took some scouting records from his pocket, exacted a pledge of secrecy from a sportswriter and began to read the report aloud and to chalk diagrams.
It was pretty dry stuff on the blackboard for a while, but soon Loeffler split his team into bad guys (without shirts) and good guys (with shirts) in the chilly gym. While the bad guys played the role of the opposition and the good guys played the role of La Salle, Loeffler drilled them all on technical basketball. Within a few minutes he was punctuating the drill with rapid, nontechnical oration.
"Alonzo, Alonzo," he pleaded to one of the good guys. "Why doncha hustle when you haven't got the ball? Didn't you hustle when you didn't have the ball in high school? No, you always had the ball when you were in high school. Well, you're in college now."
"Yods," Loeffler addressed a bad guy, "we're going to make a trip and we can't take everybody. Fredericks will make it instead of you if you don't start to hustle like Fredericks. He's terrible, but he hustles."
"Alonzo, why doncha watch Greenberg? Look at how he's moving. I wish Greenberg had your physique, Alonzo. He'd be playing all the time."
"Gomez, you lost the ball. That's what drives me nuts. Maybe that's what you want to do."
There followed a long Loeffler sigh. "√úbung macht den Meister," he muttered. "They don't understand that, but it doesn't matter. They don't understand anything I say."
So it went for a couple of hours. When the drill was over, La Salle's National Champions had pretty much learned the secret maneuvers Loeffler had been working to teach.
Sometimes the players chuckled at Loeffler and sometimes Loeffler chuckled at the players. Chuckling most was Tom Gola (SI, Dec. 27), who, great as his potential was, must be viewed as a monument to Loeffler coaching. Gola also must be viewed as a cause of Loeffler's ulcer. He graduates in June, leaving an unpluggable gap in the squad.
"My freshman team," said Loeffler, "consists entirely of A students."
"But, Kenny," someone asked, "what do they expect you to do when Gola's gone?"
"Coach harder," Loeffler said.
In a clutch, the man can quote good chunks of Shakespeare and next season it might be: "Alonzo, Alonzo, thou marble-hearted forward." But next season Alonzo likely will have mastered the tricks of movement Loeffler is drilling into him. Next season, or any season, nothing short of a return of the class struggle can stop Loeffler from talking his basketball teams to heights they are not good enough to reach without him.
LA SALLE BOWS TO KENTUCKY
Kentucky's star center Bob Burrow outjumped Tom Gola, the star of La Salle, and Kentucky defeated the Explorer five. Even setbacks like this don't faze Loeffler. "I don't care about losing now," he declared. " 'I prefer to be judged by time, the wisest of all counsellors.' Plutarch said that." Loeffler is saving his quotations from Shakespeare for bigger games later in the season.