Mad Dog may never have been an all-star in the NBA, but he was, as they say in the pros, a player. He could shoot the ball. He could handle it. He could steal it. He could also hurdle press tables, throw up 30-foot rainbows and, with untoward regularity, get into a whole lot of foul trouble. And he did all these things while wearing a manic grin. In short, when Fred Carter played basketball, he looked and acted much like a mad dog.
During his eight years as a guard for the Bullets, 76ers and Bucks, Carter scored 15.2 points a game, and in three seasons he averaged more than 20. A severely sprained ankle prematurely ended his career in 1977. "I had played sports all my life, but suddenly I was over the hill at the age of 32," says Mad Dog. "It was like dying young."
Carter's $150,000-a-year contract with Milwaukee was guaranteed through the 1977-78 season, and his agent, Larry Fleischer, had invested Carter's earnings well. So money was no problem. But adjusting to being on the sidelines was. And coaching, the traditional halfway house for players suffering withdrawal symptoms, didn't immediately open up to Carter. After all, who wanted to hire a guy named Mad Dog?
Nobody did until last April, when Carter's alma mater, tiny Mount St. Mary's College (enrollment 1,300) of Emmitsburg, Md. took him on. Now Carter gets in his playing during prepractice one-on-one sessions with his 6'1" center. But once all 15 of his charges have arrived on the floor, he is nothing but clipboards and business. "Now, Becky, I want you to fill the lane on this one," he said recently as he diagramed a play from his days with the 76ers. Becky? A 6'1" center? Yes, not only is Mad Dog coaching, but he coaches a women's team.
"When I was first offered the job, I thought, 'Can I teach girls?' " says the first ex-NBA player hired to direct a women's program. "But then I put my ego away and decided it was a challenge, not a demotion. Believe me, and this is coming from a male chauvinist, women's basketball is where it's at. Watching a girl score a basket on a fast break is as exciting as seeing a flying dunk by one of the guys I used to play with. I love coaching my girls. It's ginger."
At first, things weren't so snappy for Carter. In one of his early games, a player fouled out, and Carter thought he saw tears. "Is she crying?" he asked one of her teammates. "Yes," she replied, "didn't you cry when you fouled out?" But now Carter has adjusted and is happily putting in 12-hour days. "I saw more of him when he was a pro," says his wife Jacqui, who has gotten used to hearing Carter say, "Sorry. I won't be home for dinner tonight."
Since mid-October. Carter's players have been running windsprints, lifting weights and suffering through strenuous two-a-day workouts. "He practices them longer and works them harder than I do my team," says the Mount's men's coach, Jim Phelan, whose 1962 team won the small college title. Carter's players are also pushed harder than the female teams at nationally ranked Tennessee or UCLA, where one practice a day is the rule. But Mount St. Mary's is moving up to the big time, and Carter wants the Mountaineers to become instant winners. Last year, playing mostly weak sisters, the Mount had a 16-6 record, but this season such strong basketball schools as Howard, St. Joseph's (Pa.) and James Madison were added to the schedule. Nonetheless, the Mountaineers finished their season last week with a 19-10 record and received their first bid to the AIAW Division II championship tournament.
Carter stresses fundamentals, but he strongly believes that in time a six-foot woman will be able to do whatever a six-foot man can do, including dunk. "Women's basketball is 15 years behind the men's game," he says. "Experience is the best teacher, and girls haven't had enough playing time. Things that guys do by instinct, girls have to learn. But girls are better listeners and more coachable than boys. The hardest thing to teach is the killer instinct. For years, society has said, 'Be a lady, be meek, be polite, wear ribbons and be pretty.' I keep telling them, 'Be mean, be aggressive, have confidence, scream "In your face!" at your opponent. You be a lady after the game.'
"When we started practicing, I heard criticism that I was running my girls too much, that I was overworking them. Well, that's condescending. We don't play women's basketball, we play b-a-s-k-e-t-b-a-l-l. The sport's a frame of mind. The only time you're not tired is at the start of the game. You have to learn to reach back. You can be dying of fatigue, but I still want crisp passes and fast breaks. I tell my girls, 'When I was a pro, the best feeling was to look in an opponent's glazed eyes and see he was tired.' "
Carter still gets a lot of kidding from NBA players about coaching girls. But anyone who thinks Carter is kidding hasn't seen him work. In a recent game against American University, the nattily attired Carter paced the sidelines, barking comments on how everyone was performing, including the refs, who quickly rewarded him with a technical. "Move up, move up, Mary Beth. Push it, push it!" he screamed, pounding a program against his leg. A botched play was greeted with a stomp and a sneer. During timeouts he hastily chalked plays on the floor and then asked, "Do you understand?" Five heads nodded in agreement, and in most cases the plays—named Philadelphia, Baltimore. Milwaukee, etc., after the NBA teams that originated them—were well executed. Freely subbing his short guards, whom he calls the Munchkins, Carter used a fast-break offense and a pressing man-to-man defense—two aspects of the game at which he excelled—that eventually wore down the taller opposition. Forward Rose Stephens scored 22 points, Center Becky Lovett, the Mount's only six-footer, added 18, and Carter's Mad Pups, as they are sometimes called, won 77-68.
"He's tough," says senior Forward Lynne Phelan. "We've never run so much or worked so hard, but he's not unreasonable and we've all learned so much. He demonstrates plays, takes us to pro games and is always here if anyone needs help. We now have a good team, and it's fun to have a coach who is asked for his autograph."
Because Maryland is currently ranked seventh in the nation, Mount St. Mary's is not even No. 1 in its state, but under Carter's tutelage the Mountaineers could be ranked nationally next year. However, there are rumors that Mad Dog is going to coach the Mount's men's team or move on to the pros. Indeed, one of Carter's former NBA coaches, Gene Shue, has offered him an assistant's job at San Diego. Carter says, "The Mount has been great to me. When I came here as a student, I was just out of the slums of Philly and I needed all the help I could get. The Mount gave it to me and now I've promised my girls I'll be back to give it to them. I've come full circle, and I've found that coaching makes my heart smile. At times I get caught up in my own enthusiasm. I have to say to myself, 'Fred, be patient.' But I'm building a system, and before I leave, my girls will master the gunslinger rule—have confidence, swagger and come out smoking."