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Thread: Dan Fitzgerald - RIP

  1. #76
    ID ZAGFAN Guest


    Quote Originally Posted by ZAGLAWQB View Post
    I was Montana kid being recruited heavily by football schools. Hank, Adrian, and Coach had me on their recruiting lists because I had played some pick-up games at GU each spring while visiting my sister at Gonzaga. Coach was a funny recruiter as he always closed our calls with how good the basketball players were in California, guys in theory I was competing with for a scholarship. I did indeed take a football ride for 2 years before tearing an ACL. I ended up at a small college playing basketball and worked 2 camps with Coach prior to my Jr and Sr years. The camp sessions were great educations for all of us, but the real intensity came at night during the pick-up games amongst college players and younger coaches. Coach was already 31 or so, but he made sure he got on whichever team looked to be the underdog, seemingly mine all 4 nights. Needless to say, his coaching level escalated about 4 notches and he somehow always threw in the reference to California superiority element just to goad me. In 1978 our paths crossed again, I in law school and him assuming the new head coaching position.
    I was still a gym-rat in my off time and AND AS BUSY AS HE WAS he sought me out to inquire if I needed anything. Somehow he knew my college basketball career ended in a hospital bed and home care for 8 weeks. Without even asking he knew I could use a job and said to come to his office as soon as i finished the lunchtime games. On the spot he said I could run intramurals if I wanted and he would clear it with the AD. It wasn't alot but it went further then he ever imagined. Those last 2 years of law school were better for the moments he spent with me. When it was all over and I had graduated, I went to say goodbye. He warmly kidded me about all the time I spent in the gym rather than the law library. And then, in his truly caring way he said, "Just call me if you ever need anything, and I mean anything, including a Coaching Job." Our smiles met, different then they had ever been before, and I said. "Thank you". It is 10 minutes in my life I have
    never forgotten, and once again I want to say, "Thank you Coach for taking a real interest in my interests."
    Thanks for a great story!


  2. #77
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Greater Tacoma

    Default Boling on Fitz

    Boling on Fitz

    Boling: Singular ‘Fitz’ laid Zags’ foundation
    Around Spokane, or in the national basketball community, the name Dan Fitzgerald was almost never spoken.
    It was always just “Fitz.”
    The abbreviation was enough because there was only one Fitz – unique and unmistakable. Besides, the single syllable saved a lot of time because there were so many stories to be told about him.
    Once the stories started, one would lead to another in a lengthy series because Fitz lived his life in the plural form.
    Just as there was nothing singular about his going for “a sandwich and a beer” after the game; there was never just one tale about his humble background, his comical experiences, or his unwavering philosophies on life and basketball.
    And after his death Tuesday evening, of an apparent heart attack at age 67, the eulogies will correctly identify his efforts as being at the very taproot of the basketball success that sprouted at Gonzaga University.
    But Fitz was bigger than that. His passing seems to mark the extinction of a species.

    I interviewed coach George Raveling in the mid-90s for a story about Fitz being added to the college basketball rules committee. The NCAA overlords wanted him in the group because of his widely held reputation for integrity.
    “I see Dan as the last of the basketball cowboys,” Raveling said at the time. “His word is his bond; he’s a coach with impeccable integrity who has always, always done it the right way. He’s not going to go down with John Wooden and Adolph Rupp as the greatest coaches of all time, but I guarantee you he has done every bit as much to influence kids’ lives as John Wooden or Adolph Rupp ever did.”
    Fitz was never shy about embroidering his own creation myth, telling at length the stories of his hardscrabble life as a kid in San Francisco.
    “The guys used to love it when Fitz would tell them the stories about growing up in the park, getting a six pack of beer and a pack of cigarettes and going down to the park to beat the crap out of each other just for something to do,” said Bill Grier, the University of San Diego coach who broke into the game as an assistant to Fitz at GU.
    Like many of the stories and quotes I’m retelling here, that one from Grier came from interviews for a 2004 book I wrote on Gonzaga hoops history.
    Longtime athletic trainer Steve DeLong was at GU from the start with Fitz, 30 years ago, and he saw how today’s national basketball power was built from the ground up by Fitz’s 20-hour-a-day dedication.
    “When he got here, it was in shambles, an unbelievable mess,” DeLong said. “No one can imagine how bad it was, and he righted that ship and created some avenues that led to what we’re doing now. It was the framework of why this works so well. It’s a shame it ended up the way it did.”
    Ah, yes, the shame of it. We’ll get to that.
    But from the start, Fitz found tough guys and challenged them to play smart and physical basketball. He did it on a shoestring budget that was always the smallest in the conference.
    And if players wanted an example of toughness, Fitz was there to provide it.
    Zags player Jarrod Davis recalled a game at Idaho State in 1991 when a rowdy fan tossed something at the GU bench. It hit Fitz, who turned around to the stands and cut loose: “You ... bring it down here, right here, right now.”
    As a man in steady search of an audience, Fitz always had one at the ready ... his team. And when he went off, it was sometimes frightening and sometimes comical.
    Former team manager Drew Dannels recalled after a game one year when Fitz came in and started throwing around the boxes of postgame pizza.
    “Fitz was so pissed, he fired this thing and the box opened up in the air and pizza went flying everywhere,” Dannels said. “I looked over in the corner and there was Mark Spink with this huge hunk of cheese hanging off his head. It was hilarious.”
    And that was after a win.
    At halftime when the Zags were getting beaten by Drexel, Fitz was so upset that he screamed at the guys and then stormed out, slamming the locker room door so hard that it broke the keypad lock. The team couldn’t get out, nobody could get in. The second half was delayed until a player eventually jimmied the door. The Zags went on to win the game.
    He had no tolerance for players who failed to study the game. Dead-eye guard John Rillie remembered Fitz’s pregame grilling of players on their scouting reports. When Fitz tested one player who clearly hadn’t studied enough, he made him dress and go home. He hadn’t earned the right to play that night.
    “So, he could intimidate you, but you knew he had a very good heart and a real soft spot for the players,” Rillie said.
    Ken Anderson, a player from the early days and now the university faculty representative, very clearly saw Fitz’s human side.
    “It didn’t matter what Fitz would be doing; whether you believed him or not, you always respected the passion he brought to it,” Anderson said. “Whether he was building you up or throwing garbage cans around in a fit, he did it with passion. He’d tell you a story and you’d think, ‘Hmm, he’s full of crap,’ but it would be damned entertaining.”
    Fitz was not noted for his flexibility on certain issues. He claimed that if Michael Jordan didn’t prepare well, or wouldn’t set a pick and take a charge, he wouldn’t be allowed to play for the Zags.
    But he rather admired players who stood up to him. He used to kid that spirited point guard Geoff Goss was taking years off his life. Goss countered that Fitz was doing the same thing to him.
    “He’s a real rigid, kind of crusty-type individual,” Goss said, “but after you are around him for a while, you realize what he’s all about and you admire him for how he does things.”
    He had always operated this program on an impossible budget. When assistant coaches Dan Monson or Mark Few went on recruiting trips, they often arranged to sleep on the couch in a hotel room of friends who were assistants at richer programs who happened to be recruiting in the area. Just to save money.
    Fitzgerald said he recalled one year, as athletic director, when he saved any extra money in hopes of getting a van for a women’s team, only to see it disappear into the general university fund.
    He later said, at that moment, he thought: “(Bull), that’s never happening again.”
    And it all came apart a few years later when an internal investigation discovered a $200,000 “slush fund” that Fitz had set aside for use by the athletic department.
    According to reports, money was never used for personal enrichment or to buy players or gain a competitive advantage. But it very definitely bypassed university control and accounting.
    “All the stuff I did, all my camp money and stuff like that, that went into the fund, too,” Fitz later said.
    He told me his side of it in an interview a few years ago.
    “What I did was very poor judgment,” he said. “But it was never for personal gain. I had absolutely no idea it was an NCAA violation; this had nothing to do with basketball, there was no competitive gain. I thought, hey, if I broke a rule that gave me a competitive advantage, take me out and shoot me. Fine.
    “You could say it was well-intended,” he said. “But I don’t think you can rationalize that it wasn’t a mistake.”
    Fitz resigned in December of 1997 and the university was placed on probation.
    And as the Zags, under Monson and then Few, rose to national prominence, Fitzgerald was an outcast. Those two longtime assistants often cited Fitz’s enormous influence in establishing the foundation for the success.
    But the rest of the country had no idea about the man who, from that point, promised to never set foot on the campus again.
    “People ask if I’m happy for these guys ... heck, I’m elated; I’m like a kid, I pray for these guys every single day,” Fitz said. “But I’ve stayed away. I don’t go over to the university because I know my personality and I’d probably be tempted to knock a couple (administrators) on their asses.”
    Having covered the Zags under Fitz for a number of years, I have two memories that best show what was going on inside the man.
    Late in one game against San Francisco, when the Zags were on the verge of setting a team record for 3-pointers made, word seeped to the crowd that a record was near, and they kept chanting for more 3s.
    The game was in hand and Fitz told the players to be sportsmen and back off and kill the clock.
    “I don’t care what the critics think about it,” he said after the game. “I’m not going to embarrass their players and staff just so we can get a few seconds on SportsCenter.”
    And after a heart-wrenching road loss, when the staff and team was emotionally drained, Fitz told them all to hurry for the bus. But he looked around the locker room and said this: “Hey, before you go, clean up this locker room; these people have been good us, so let’s be sure not to leave a mess.” He then took a hand in picking up the litter.
    Fitz had dealt with skin cancer in the ’90s, and talked about his mortality at the time. He did it cynically, and with humor ... and the customary tough posture.
    “It’s mostly crappy living on my part,” he said of his health issues. “I go pretty hard and don’t take very good care of myself. But I’m determined not to die healthy. If it costs me a year and I had fun ... then so be it.”
    It’s hard to think of that after his passing last week. But it all was typically on his terms.
    And, yes, he had his fun. And he leaves a legacy of basketball excellence, of passion, of caring about the game and the people who played it.
    And he made a difference in the lives of too many people to count.
    Dave Boling: 253-597-8440
    "thnk god for few" jazzdelmar(12/12/11 12:50pm)
    "When most of us couldn't buy a basket. Where do we get off anyway?!" siliconzag (11/17/06 5:45:41 pm)
    I am monitoring the price of a donut

  3. #78
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Between Swamp & Pine Barrens


    Quote Originally Posted by McZag View Post

    And instead of thanking him Harry Slater and company chastised him. This is a very dark chapter in Gonzaga history and now its too late to thank him properly. I can't believe Few did not insist on honoring this man while he was alive.
    The passing of Harry Sladich in 2009 and now Fitz in 2010 might make one pause every time there's a rumble of thunder up above.

    I agree that it's a shame there couldn't be a reconciliation ("healing the culture") at some point in the years after 1997. Both sides of the kerfluffle had their points. For Fitz, it was seeing money he struggled to save through lots of penny-pinching for a women's team van get sucked up by the GU general fund and spent elsewhere and his resolve, after that episode, to somehow put some amount of athletics-related revenue back into athletics' needs.

    For Sladich, who was interim President after the dust-up between the Jesuits and the Trustees over the short-lived Presidency of Fr. Glynn, it might have been a combination of outrage about the absence of trust (concealing funds from the finance honchos) and a panic reaction (NCAA penalties go "lighter" if the institutions mete out stiff consequences) during a year that already was full of turmoil "at the top" of the university hierarchy.

    The two people who probably knew the most details, from opposite sides, have both now passed from this mortal realm. One was a scrapper from Montana and the other a scrapper from S.F. The model that evolved (even as the scrapping of the original parties never got resolved) was to find the GU Administration under Spitzer recognize the importance of re-investing in athletics and listening (a lot) to the Athletic Director's ideas about their needs. But the Elite Eight run made a lot of things possible, revenue-wise, that simply didn't exist in '97 and earlier. Scarce resources + two scrappers were an unhappily potent mix.

    Gonzaga should rise above the "dark history" to do the right thing in honoring Fitz. People were talking about the need for "healing" back when Fr. Tony died and, good grief, that was '02. The topic came up again as Hall of Fame and uni retirement ceremonies were planned. Carpe Diem.

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