Thursday, January 21, 2010

RIP Dan Fitzgerald

Marc Armstead and Marty Wall (both capped spectators) thinking how that used to be them "Fitz" was staring daggers at.
While Australian basketball is today deciding whether this new "High Stakes Hoops" will help or hinder the progress of the sport in the country, I cannot keep my mind off the fact that one of the most colourful human beings I have ever come across has passed away.

Former Gonzaga basketball coach Dan Fitzgerald dies at the age of 67.

Former teammate and Gonzaga alum Jeff Brown (former Adelaide 36ers import) wrapped it up very well in his interview.

"Fitz" did love the underdog, the walk on or anyone that he felt just needed a chance. I was one of those guys Fitz took a chance on.

Like Brown, there are many "Fitz stories" that are etched into my mind, but some more prominent than others. I actually think I have enough to write a book, so here are a couple for now.

He called me into his office once (and did not offer me the use of his phone to call my parents) and threatened to fine me $1000 if he heard I was playing pick up games anywhere around town (Spokane, Wa).

Now, I used to keep all my money tucked away in a sock draw in my Boone Apartment and I knew I did not have a lazy grand to spare so I thought I better sign off on this one.

But, as I looked at Fitz (with a freshly stitched eye due to a head clash suffered at the East Side Rec Centre the night before official practice kicked off), I really wanted to ask him if the boundary was Spokane because I knew North Idaho College had some good runs happening there.

I thought better of it so racquetball become my sport of leisure during this time.

One more before I go to bed because it includes fellow Aussie Paul Rogers.

We were hosting a few recruits on their visit and we go to Fitz's for dinner. We arrive at Fitz's house and he has some Vegemite there that Coach Don Monson had brought back from Australia with him.

In true Fitz fashion he goes, "Rillie and Rogers, how do you kangaroos eat this stuff?"

I reply, "on bread or a cracker, and you spread it on like peanut butter."

Well, out comes a plate full of crackers with Vegemite heaped on each piece. Rogers and I look at each other and laugh as Fitz hands out this Aussie treat to the recruits. There was enough "black paste" on one cracker to do the whole plate.

If you could have seen their (recruits) faces as they tried to eat it just to keep their potential head coach happy. Those poor kids. "Rogie" and I joked that none of those kids would sign after that experience but history shows that two did.

Oh how I have laughed about different Fitz moments throughout the day and one is not basketball related.

That was Fitz, the ultimate teacher in all facets of life and that is why everyone has a spot in their heart for him. He left a huge impression on me and he was never looking for anything in return.

Every time I returned to the States I always talked to him on the phone, trying to find out how he and his family were going but he had this unique ability of deflecting this. He always finished with, "well, you know if you ever need anything just give me a call".

He gave me all I needed, a chance and I will forever be grateful for that.

It saddens me to think was has happened but a smile comes to my face just thinking about the stories he would have been sharing at the restaurant on Tuesday evening. Was he telling his audience how, "(Geoff) Goss was the worst point guard in GU history", or was it, "Marc Armstead is the toughest son of a bitch I've ever coached."

RIP and my thoughts go out to your wonderful family.


Jon said...

A few of my favorites Fitz-isms

To the referees: "You'll never work here again!"

On our 0-6 start to the 1995 league season: "I tried to commit suicide but the rope broke!"

On his gravestone: "Goss, minus 10 years!" -- meaning Goss took 10 years of his life.

To Lango Taylor: "Lango, you're going to be the world's tallest bus driver!"

On a road trip, speaking to any of the veterans: "Really good right...especially for some of the younger guys."

On shooting up, not out: "Here, not here...right?!

Goss said...

Nice article. Fitz endured you and I in his backcourt. Was an honor to play for him, don't know if he saw it that way (Ha).... He was a hell of a coach, great mentor and friend. He will be missed.

R.I.P. Fitz.