Monday, August 29, 2011

Coaching ’til The End, ‘My Man!’ Says Goodbye

(Sunday's effort in The Times and the News-Star)

In this Jan. 30, 1981 file photo, Detroit Pistons coach Scotty Robertson gives directions to his players during an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. Robertson, a former Louisiana Tech coach and the first coach of the NBA's New Orleans Jazz, died Aug 18. Robertson, who had battled cancer in addition to a stroke five months ago, was 81. He coached 10 seasons at Tech but also served as head coach with the Chicago Bulls and Pistons and was an assistant with six other NBA teams. (AP Photo/Richard Shenwald, File)

SCOTTY ROBERTSON lived by the rule that you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.

He bought a lot of tickets. He was the kind of guy who walks up to the counter and tells you he’ll take one of those and three of those and five of those, then asks if you’ve got anything else in back.

A pro baseball player for a year, Coach Scotty took his hacks, went up there swinging. A basketball coach in parts of six decades – including for C.E. Byrd High, Louisiana Tech and eight NBA teams -- he lived out the old saying that you can’t score if you don’t shoot. He shot.

Five months ago he was enjoying retirement in Ruston and his 81st year, working out each morning, drinking coffee with the guys, driving to Simsboro once a week for lunch on a Styrofoam plate at the gas station, helping local basketball teams, and talking smack.

The usual.

Then the unusual happened. A stroke from nowhere, a cancer diagnosis two days later, a fall at home, and Aug 18, the end of an earthly road filled with wide lapels, platform shoes, long Cadillacs, nylon nets, embroidered team logos, plane tickets, rubber chicken and lots and lots of tall people. It was always gametime. The preacher reminded us at Sunday’s funeral that Coach Scotty’s prime, his heyday, lasted 81 years.

Last week with the pastor praying and his family gathered around his bed, Coach Scotty opened eyes that had grown weak and, looking at one of his three daughters, barked suddenly during mid-prayer: “What in the world did you do to your HAIR?!”

You had to stay on your toes. Coach Scotty kept shooting, right ’til the end.

He’s in eight, maybe nine Halls of Fame, the most recent one the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum of Champions in Shreveport. He got there the hard way. His dad was killed when he was 14 and J.D. Cox, his coach at Byrd, became a father figure. He learned how to tackle today’s task. He walked with confidence. He perfected scrapping. Motivated by ego, never afraid of the fight.

He took a high school job coaching football, baseball and basketball, teaching five science classes and P.E. “But it paid me well,” he said; $2,000 a year. By the time he retired, he was making almost that much a day in the NBA.

“Don’t make it about money,” he told a classroom of want-to-be coaches last winter. “It’s an opportunity to enjoy what you do and to do some good with people.”

At his funeral were a half-dozen rows filled with family, including his wife of 61 years, Betty Lou, the newlywed who drew the line and said no when he was offered a high school job featuring five returning starters – but no indoor plumbing at the only house in town for sale.

Former players filled another four rows, guys he was tough on, guys who heard him say more than once, “I’m with you, win or tie.”

My son summed up how a lot of people felt about Coach. “If the day was going bad but you looked over there and saw Coach Scotty, you just went to him or he’d come to you, and you knew the rest of the day was going to be good.”

“My man!” he’d say. And he’d make you think you were his man, THE man. But really, he was.