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Raveling isn't unraveling

Dec. 19, 1983
Dec. 19, 1983

Table of Contents
Dec. 19, 1983

Redskins-Cowboys
Kevin McHale
Bob Baumhower
Mike Boddicker

Raveling isn't unraveling

Iowa stumbled last week, but its new coach was keeping his cool

Scoop! TAB BLACK MAN HAWKEYE MENTOR.

This is an article from the Dec. 19, 1983 issue Original Layout

Who? George Raveling, ex-Washington State coach and sometime scribe.

What? Replaces Lute Olson, for nine years the revered head of hoops at Iowa.

When? Last April, after Olson stunned all by bolting for Arizona.

Where? The Hawkeye State, home to fans who phone players at 2 a.m. just to find out what the coach said in the timeout huddle.

Raveling never covered that story in his syndicated newspaper column. Others chronicled the range of emotions Iowans felt when Olson walked out on them with six years left on his contract: feelings of shock giving way to a sense of betrayal, then anger.

To be sure, Raveling has received a gracious welcome around the state, and Iowans love hearing his funny lines. But devotion to Olson, the man who took the Hawkeyes to the Final Four in 1980, was total. If To Tell the Truth had been taped in Ottumwa and God were on hand to stump the panel, Olson and Iowa Football Coach Hayden Fry might have been tapped to fidget in their chairs and feign rising. "Lute was kind of magical," says Jim Rosborough, who was Olson's top assistant. "Raveling got a great reception when he came here, but I think a lot of it was anti-Lute backlash, sort of 'How could our white knight do this?' Lute had been a totally permeating thing. He was larger than life." Lapel buttons in Iowa are like wall posters in Peking, and within a few days they went from LUTE LUTE LUTE to LOOT LOOT LOOT to LET GEORGE DO IT.

Thus far, doing it hasn't been easy. Despite the fact that the nucleus of the team that went 21-10 and reached the Sweet 16 last spring was back, including Twin Towers 6'11" Michael Payne and 6'10" Greg Stokes, the Hawkeyes were 3-2 at week's end. Two road defeats—a 79-58 wilting in the heat of Louisville's indomitable press, and a 53-48 loss in Corvallis to Oregon State and another former Iowa coach, Ralph Miller—dropped Iowa to the bottom spot in SI's Top 20. "I've said from Day One we shouldn't be ranked this early in the season," Raveling said after losing to the Beavers. "But no one listens to me."

Obviously, Raveling realized that the new offense and multiple defenses he brought to Iowa would take some getting used to. He has shuffled players around, moving senior Steve Carfino from point guard to "off" guard and letting sophomore Andre Banks run the attack. As a result, the team has occasionally looked disoriented. At one point against Louisville, Raveling yelled instructions to Carfino, who turned to listen—just as an in-bounds pass whizzed by his head and out of bounds.

But it's Raveling's informal manner that presents the sharpest contrast to his predecessor—and will be most likely to draw criticism. "I don't believe you have to have a military setting to win," he says. "The best discipline is self-discipline." He kept a promise not to look at film from last season, so as to give each player a fresh start. Every member of the team was required to come in for at least an hour-long one-on-one session, in which Raveling drew them out about their goals, in basketball and in life. Everyone periodically fills out a "How'm I doing?" questionnaire evaluating the coach and the program. Raveling even symbolically takes a seat in the middle of the bench during games.

Things were different under Olson, who distanced himself from his players and tried using the media to motivate them. "Sometimes I'd pick up the paper and read 'Stokes isn't intense enough' and crawl into my shell," says Stokes, who leads the team with 15.0 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. "Coach Raveling lets you know when you're not doing well, too—but in practice. I like that."

Still, something about Olson's style galvanized the state. "The image he portrayed wasn't a portrayal," says Rosborough. "That's the way he was." Raveling himself has called Olson "so square, if he received an invitation to a pot party, he'd bring Tupperware." And: "Lute's an ail-American type, the kind of guy everyone wants to move next door. When I move in, FOR SALE signs start going up around the neighborhood."

To Raveling, race isn't a grave issue. He's as amused as anyone that a Des Moines Register editorial hailing his hiring inadvertently ran just above a filler item about a watermelon theft. "One of the most important things to learn is the ability to laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously," he says. "Thus far people in Iowa have accepted me strictly as a person." When he heard that 7-foot backup Center Brad Lohaus, an Arizonan, was considering following Olson to Tucson—and that Lohaus had heard scuttlebutt that the new coach might favor Payne and Stokes for racial reasons—Raveling stepped in and sold him on staying. "I spent a summer of misery trying to make up my mind," says Lohaus, called Q-Tip since having his blond hair permed. "But his reputation with big men swayed me."

Raveling has written two books on rebounding and was quite a player himself. Sent from his home in Washington, D.C. to a Catholic boarding school near Scranton, Pa. after his father died and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, he earned a scholarship to Villanova and All-America honors there in 1960 as a 6'5" forward. A short time later he joined Villanova Coach Jack Kraft as an assistant, setting up the "Underground Railroad" that brought black stars like Howard Porter, Johnny Jones and Sammy Sims to Villanova from the Deep South.

He read a lot of newspapers to keep up on high school prospects, and he still gets up at 5:30 each morning to plow through some of the 150 publications he subscribes to. "Back then there were no sophisticated scouting services," he says. "I'd go to this out-of-town newsstand in Philly and sometimes meet with Coach either in Manhattan or Philadelphia, whichever was convenient. We'd go through the papers till 2 or 3 a.m." "Coach" was Indiana's Bobby Knight, a friend of Raveling's and then an assistant at Army. (Knight has chosen Raveling to be his assistant with next summer's Olympic team.)

By the early '70s Raveling had a nationwide reputation as a top recruiter and had joined Lefty Driesell at Maryland. There he conceived the notorious WE WANT YOU ad in The Washington Post, in which Uncle Sam appealed to the five high school All-Americas in the D.C. area to stay at home and play for the Terps. Only one of them did. But usually recruiting came easily for Raveling: It was social, and required salesmanship and street sense. "You establish who's making the decision and don't waste time with people on the periphery," he says. "Eight out of 10 times it's the mother." But the flip side—that he could charm but not coach—followed him when he took the Washington State job in 1973. He still thinks the recruiter tag is a backhanded compliment with racial implications. "I started to overcoach," he says, "just to prove to people that I could do the job."

Al McGuire calls Pullman the place where "elephants go to die." But during Raveling's 11 seasons there, he learned how to bring the home crowd to life by gesturing with his arms. He screened the movie Patton in the locker room before one game and dunked in the warmup line before another. He had run his record to 167-136 by last March and taken the Cougars to a surprise berth in the NCAA tournament, when Iowa Athletic Director Bump Elliott phoned him in Albuquerque. Olson had just walked out on a $57,500 salary, a summer camp, a TV show, a $200,000 home, an interest in an Iowa City bar and a brand-new $17.5 million arena built expressly to keep him from leaving. Did Raveling want the job?

He flew to Denver to meet with Elliott. "We agreed to agree," says Raveling. "But then, on the plane back to Albuquerque, I thought, something's wrong. If this job's so good, why would Lute leave it?"

He now has an idea. "Can you be you coaching here?" Raveling says. "Or do you have to be someone else? To survive you almost have to isolate yourself from people, and I can't do that. I'm a people person. Maybe I'll burn myself out."

Rosborough says Olson wanted to escape the expectations of a state in which better than 50% of the population watches games on TV and a person has to give $2,500 to the athletic department just to be eligible to buy a season ticket. Olson's wife, Bobbi, once called the program her husband created "a monster." Olson has said the press was unduly "negative." His parting radio call-in show, done long distance from Tucson, included a half-hour tirade against the Register.

Raveling is already anticipating heat but still chalks in the same goal—HAVE FUN—at the top of the blackboard each day before practice. "It doesn't make any difference to me whether the fans accept that or not," he says. "We're foolish to live up to others' expectations. If we live up to our own, somewhere along the line we'll satisfy theirs." And the press can fire away at will. "We're going to learn to accept any criticism that comes," he said Saturday after the loss at Oregon State. "I don't expect them to write good things about us if we lose."

Of course, Raveling can hardly get down on the media. He is a member of it. Aside from juggling the same array of TV and radio shows that Olson did, Raveling writes a column on basketball for NBA Today and another mishmash of sports tidbits carried weekly by 10 Iowa newspapers. He started the column in Washington, culling items from his own well-connected network of sources and from the papers he reads. When Raveling was the first "reporter" to print the news that John Wooden would retire after the 1975 season, UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan arranged for Raveling to be officially censured by the Pac-8. Unchastened, two weeks later Raveling disclosed that Gene Bartow would replace Wooden. Both scoops were correct.

"And I never got any apologies for the censure," says Raveling the journalist, who knows that every story should address the five Ws—who, what, when, where and why. So far this one has answered only the first four.

So, why did the Hawkeyes hire a black basketball coach?

Any Iowan could tell you: Because they couldn't find a gold one.

PHOTORaveling is an omnivorous reader of newspapers and a contributor to them as well.PHOTOBehind this door sits more than a coach.