It was a typical winter day in Minnesota when the University of Minnesota athletic director was deciding the fate of basketball coach Dave MacMillan as the 1948 season was winding down. The weather forecast called for heavy snow and windy weather.
MacMillan had been the basketball coach for a couple of decades with fair success but it was felt it was time for him to step down. His contract called for a buy-out of $10,000 to be earned as an assistant to the incoming coach, whoever that might be.
The chosen coach-in-waiting, a long time resident of Indiana who had played at Purdue, was now the coach at Indiana State University. A studious, mild-mannered man, both he and his wife looked favorably upon joining the Gopher family and staying in the Midwest but he told the athletic director he thought it not fair to either himself or coach MacMillan to have the former coach stay on as an assistant.
The athletic director agreed and said he would meet with the Board of Regents that afternoon and get back with his answer by 6 pm. The prospective coach said he’d look forward to the call because another school was going to call at 7 with a job offer, but he’d rather Minnesota.
At 2 pm, a storm of biblical proportions engulfed the Twin Cities, cutting off all communications to the outside. After convincing the Board to simply give MacMillan the money, the A.D. was unable to make contact with the good news.
Thinking there had been no movement on the Minnesota situation, the coach took the other call at 7 pm and accepted their offer of a job.
That’s how the greatest coach in the history of basketball, John Wooden, wound up at UCLA, not Minnesota.
Seven years later, on an similarly stormy night in New York City, Fordham University’s president huddled the football team together to inform us of the decision to discontinue the sport based on a $30,000 annual deficit. We freshmen were told our scholarships would be honored until we graduated.
Given I might well have been the Fordham starting quarterback for the next three seasons, I was very disappointed.
Unknown to me then, Fordham Athletic Director Jack Coffey had reached agreement with an alumnus from the glory years of Fordham football to be the new coach. Despite Coffey’s plea to the president that this home grown New York guy would make the program a winning one, the Fordham president stood firm in his decision to discontinue football.
That Fordham alum then took a special interest in me, connecting me to coach Murray Warmath who gave me a football scholarship, a college degree, and a great start in life at the prestigious University of Minnesota.
Fate is fickle, however.
I’ve often wondered, had Fordham been the least bit prescient and hired that alum, what it would have been like playing quarterback for the greatest head coach in the history of football, Vince Lombardi.