Practice in thedecrepit barn of a gym has been going at a frenzied pace—adhesive man-to-mandefense and bodies bumping violently under the backboards. Directing the fiercedrills is a 56-year-old coach with graying hair and a small spare tire bulgingunder his sweat suit. He chides, he screams, he patiently explains techniquesto the young men he calls "lads." Finally it is time for a rite ofmanhood, the coach's Take-the-Charge Drill. He steps into the key and standsthere with his arms at his sides. One of his huskier lads dribbles full blaststraight at him. Oof! Down he goes and back he slides four feet. The playersexplode in cheers, surround him, pull him to his feet, clap him on the back,practically smother him with affection. Then they take turns steamrolling eachother.
George (Bud)Presley Jr. is in his eighth season as basketball coach at Menlo College, asmall, private JC in swanky Atherton, Calif., a few miles north of StanfordUniversity on El Camino Real. It has high entrance requirements and, unlike the104 other California junior colleges, is expensive. Tuition and fees come to$3,810 a year, and there are no athletic scholarships.
Menlo's record inthe four years before Presley arrived was 17-75. Presley's record in 7½ seasonsis 187-36. His teams have won one state Division II junior college championshipand finished second three times. They've won five Coast Conference titles andended up second twice. And in all likelihood they've won the nationalchampionship every year in taking charges. Points, assists and rebounds are notignored at Menlo, but "charges taken" is the glory statistic. A fewseasons ago a mild-mannered Chinese-American, Phillip Ching, drew 109 chargingfouls in 25 games.
Presley travelsall over the country speaking at clinics, mostly on motivation and man-to-mandefense, and one of his favorite bits of theater is to invite someone in theaudience to come up and flatten him with a charge. Unfortunately, he oncepulled this stunt shortly after undergoing minor surgery to remove a skincancer from his chest. The charge broke his stitches, and he finished the talkwith blood all over his shirt.
February 5, 1979
Presley is fondof conducting private clinics while driving, sometimes using the car todemonstrate how to cut off an opponent at the baseline. He occasionally becomesso wrapped up in his discourse that he tries to enter a freeway via an offramp. Nevada-Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian once spent a few days with Presleyand his long-suffering wife Gloria. When it came time for Tarkanian to depart,Presley, talking basketball all the way, tried to drive him to the San JoseAirport, but ended up nine miles away in Milpitas. Tarkanian missed his plane.Perhaps because he is always busy pondering new ways to draw the charge,Presley gets lost even when he rides alone. "He can't find his wayanywhere," says a friend. "He phones me and says, 'Damn it, kid, wheream I? I'm out in a cornfield in Hayward.' He calls everybody kid. I say, 'Howthe hell did you get there?' 'Oh, I don't know. You must've given me the wrongdirections.' "
The University ofPortland's Jack Avina, formerly a Bay Area high school coach, recalls goinghome with Presley one day. "Bud couldn't find his house key," saysAvina, "so he went around back where there were a number of trash barrelswith a plank over them. He climbed up on the plank, opened a window and crawledin. He kept that plank there and his bed next to the window because he had toget in that way so often."
Presley storiesare common wherever coaches gather in California, and none seems to beapocryphal. There's the one about how he so hates zone defenses that anex-student assistant, five years into his own coaching career, refused to use azone for fear Presley would find out. And the one about how, on a road trip,Presley sat up in his sleep at 3 a.m., screamed, "Defense, damn it!Defense!" and fell back on the pillow, leaving his startled assistantcoach-roommate awake the rest of the night.
But tributes comejust as thick and fast as accounts of his eccentricities:
•"He is a manwith incredible enthusiasm, a man who has never lost his appetite for moreknowledge about basketball. He is a great teacher."—Portland Trail Blazerexecutive Stu Inman.
•"There is nobetter coach anywhere in the country."—Penn State's head man, DickHarter.
•"About asfine a teacher of team and individual defense as any man I've seen."—formerCal Coach Pete Newell.
•"He is agreat disciplinarian. He's at the top of the list there, above Bobby Knight oranyone else."—Avina.
One of Presley'splayers took a bad shot a few years ago—it doesn't happen often—and Presley ranon the floor, grabbed the kid, carried him past the bench and dumped him in thethird row of the stands. The referees were so shocked they didn't even call atechnical foul. And Presley felt so bad afterward about the incident that hecouldn't make himself go into the locker room. He waited outside, half hopingthe youngster would come out and paste him one. Instead, the player came outand hugged Presley, and they both started crying.
Presley iscapable of screaming at a player—"You sprint back on defense next time, oryou'll never play another minute for this school"—and a few minutes later,be it after victory or defeat, telling the player without the least hint ofembarrassment how much he loves him. Presley's extreme emotions are probably areaction to the reserved manner in which he was treated by his father, whom Budidolized. Presley Sr., a multisport athlete at Stanford and a prosperous SanFrancisco lawyer who died when his son was 11, showed affection by putting onboxing gloves and sparring with Bud.
One year duringPresley's coaching days at Cubberley High in Palo Alto, his team had a 12-0record when several top players got injured. Cubberley lost seven games in arow, and Presley was going crazy. Gloria, who would rather go to the opera thana basketball game, suggested that he drop his boorish ways and behave more likethe gentlemanly Inman, then coaching at San Jose State.
"I wasdesperate, I was willing to try anything," says Presley. "I tried to beStu for a week. I wore a suit and I took my briefcase to practice, and whensome tender candy wouldn't crash the boards, I would call time and say, 'Son,do you not think that if you rebounded with just a bit more intensity, it mightbenefit our cause?' Then I would smile.
"Well, thiswent on for a week, and we lost two more games. Then one night I had to goscout. The whole squad came over to the house—they loved to come over and seeGloria and get a little sanity in their lives, a little mellowness andtenderness. They said, 'We know the coach isn't home, Mrs. Presley, but we cameto talk with you.'
"So they camein the house, and a couple of them said, 'We think the coach has quit on us. Wethink he has given up on us. He's not himself. He doesn't scream at us anymore.He doesn't call us terrible names. Is he sick?'
"Gloria said,'No, not physically. Mentally, yes, he has been sick for years.'
"The pointis, I couldn't be Stu Inman. I had to be myself. Kids see through a phony intwo seconds. They want somebody to set limits for them. They're crying forsomebody to make them physically and mentally as good as they can be. They wantsomebody to make them work hard. They want somebody to teach them the glory andthrill of an all-out effort.
"But ifyou're going to be demanding and get those kids to die for you out there, you'dbetter hug 'em off the floor, you'd better be concerned about their lives, andyou'd better give 'em love."
Presley's mixtureof affection and abuse has worked beautifully over the years. His teams havewon 517 of 726 games over 28 seasons. Last year at Menlo he became the firstcoach to win the Charles B. Emerick Teaching Prize.
The questionnaturally arises: If this Presley guy is such-a genius, such a great motivatorand such a defensive wizard that pro coaches call him in to teach theirplayers—which they do—how come he's not working at a major college?
Age is onereason. Not many schools are willing to hire a man 56. An even more likelyreason is Presley's habit of raving about gutless administrators andnamby-pamby psychologists.
More than 10years ago, practically on the eve of his being named the coach at College ofSan Mateo, a good junior college job, Presley got into a brawl with twohecklers at a Cubberley High game. Avina got the job instead, built a goodrecord and moved on to Portland. In 1966 Presley did get an assistant'sposition at Gonzaga, with a good chance of taking over as head man in a fewyears, but he had a dispute with his boss and left.
If he had hislife to live over, Presley would do many things differently, but he would stillbe a coach. He speaks about his calling with revival-tent fervor.
"Coaching canbe discouraging at times," he told a clinic recently, "but far moreoften it is deeply satisfying and rewarding. Youngsters are naive, they arevariable, they are sometimes obstinate and incomprehensible, but they are alsowarm, flexible, loyal and incurably optimistic. They lift us up when we aredown, they deify us when we and all our peers know that we have feet of clay,and they constantly reaffirm our faith in the innate goodness of man.
"No matterhow much we give of ourselves to our kids, we can never match by half what theygive us in return. We tend to bellyache and despair at times. Some of us arepetty and belittle our fellow coaches, and all of us by necessity are a littleinsane. But we should count our blessings because we in the coaching professionare the most fortunate people on the face of the earth."