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Dick Enberg’s “Coach” Returns to Milwaukee

While Al McGuire was still head coach at Marquette, Dick Enberg actually didn’t like him.

Broadcasters usually meet with coaches at practice the day before a game and go over strategies so they can gain some insight into the team. Enberg’s problem was that McGuire never was at practice.

After three or four years of this, Enberg finally got a chance to talk to the Warriors’ coach in 1977 before Marquette’s Final Four match-up against UNC-Charlotte.

“I asked him one question, and he started to talk,” Enberg said. “Then one hour later, he said, ‘Well that’s it. I got to go onto my next deal.’ And I thought, ‘Wow. This is one of the most interesting and exciting hours of my life. He’s a fascinating person.’ And that was just the start.”

After that, Enberg’s life changed forever because of Al.

McGuire retired from coaching after that season and winning the NCAA Tournament, and would join Enberg’s broadcasting team at NBC for the next season.

Along with legendary broadcaster Billy Packer, Enberg and McGuire made up one of the best broadcasting teams of all time.

The three complimented each other perfectly, according to Enberg. He would be prepared, with information on both teams. Packer was the x’s and o’s guy of the team, as he could dissect any play, and show you how it happened and why, and knew all the players of every team that was part of the game. McGuire wasn’t like either of them. He would just react to the game, and provide insight and commentary only Al could.

Enberg explained that McGuire never knew how television worked. All he knew to do was to be himself on the air. Because of that, the trio worked so well together.

“If any one of the three of us had thought that we were the star of the trio, then it would have fallen apart,” Enberg said. “The truth of the matter is that Al was the star. Billy knew it, and I knew it, but Al didn’t know it, because he was afraid he would make some horrendous mistake on television, because he just never quite figured out what television really was.”

Having spent so much time with Al during their time together at NBC, Enberg got to know one of the most unique personalities the game of basketball has ever seen.

Enberg had a feeling Al might just have wanted him to do something with his everything he got from their experiences together. He got that feeling from one of his last conversations with Al before his death in 2001.

“As I think back,” Enberg said, “I almost think he told me so many things and shared so much of his philosophy of life and his unique way of looking at it, that he thought maybe I might do something with it.”

“One of the last encounters with Al, when we finished our conversation, he started to cry a little bit, and said, ‘You know I’m doing this for my grandchildren.’ So I guess in the back of his mind, of all the people I know, maybe Enberg will keep me alive, and share some of my philosophy.”

After that, Enberg would find himself writing down some of his experiences with McGuire, just in case he would use them one day. He thought one day it may be used as a chapter of a book, or if he ever were to give a speech on McGuire.

With everything he went through with McGuire, it was difficult to stop writing, as once he thought of something, there was plenty more that would pop into his mind. Enberg admittedly lost some sleep while documenting his experiences with Al.

“When he died, I just thought he had offered me so much, shared so much about this incredible guy, that I better sit down and start writing some of my memories,” Enberg said. “The more I wrote, the more I remembered, and I’d stay up some nights until three o’clock in the morning. I didn’t want to go to bed, because I was reminded of another Al story.”

During that process, Enberg felt as if McGuire were there, writing it with him. He said that if anyone doesn’t like the play “don’t blame me. Al wrote it.”

When he was finally done, Enberg had about three-hours of material for a possible play. Ever since, he has broken it down to about an hour and five or ten minutes, and it has become a hit. Since debuting in 2005, “Coach” has been performed over 40 times all across the country. The first performance came at Helfaer Theater on Marquette’s campus, and since has been performed in cities like Atlanta, San Diego, Long Island, and Las Vegas.

Cotter Smith portrays McGuire in this one-man play, and has drawn praise from those closest to McGuire. Smith has been an actor for over 30 years, but still had to work hard to portray Al. As daunting a task as it may sound, he got a very nice endorsement after the first production of “Coach” back in 2005.

Al’s wife Pat and sons Allie and Rob were in the front row for the debut, which would intimidate anyone in Smith’s shoes.

“Afterwards,” Enberg explained, “we went down into the seating area, and he met Mrs. McGuire and the family.

“In meeting Pat, he started to apologetically say, ‘This was a very difficult challenge for me as an actor, and everyone said I couldn’t pull it off…’ and in midsentence Pat McGuire cut him off and said, ‘Cotter, this is no bull shit. That was Al.’”

Now, “Coach” is returning home, to Milwaukee. It will be at Vogel Hall next week on March 28th and 29th, but tickets are only available for the 29th. After that, it will head up north to Sheboygan’s Weill Center for the Performing Arts on the 30th, then up to the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay on the 31st.

If you have the chance to see “Coach” during this year’s March Madness, do so. Not only will you be entertained, but you will discover why the man who made Marquette basketball possible was much, much more than a coach.

Head over to marquetteradio.org/sports to listen to Matt Trebby’s full interview with Dick Enberg.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Author:Matt Trebby

-Marquette Junior -Sports Director for WMUR -ESPN Milwaukee Intern -MarquetteHoops.com reporter -Marquette Tribune Columnist -Sport enthusiast

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