Marquette men go all-out on 'Al's Night'
MILWAUKEE -- It's been nearly 35 years since Al McGuire walked off the court for the last time as the head basketball coach at Marquette University, having led the then-Warriors to a 67-59 victory over North Carolina in the 1977 National Championship game at the Omni in Atlanta.
But McGuire's impact on the program remains very visible today. His name graces both the front of the Golden Eagles' jerseys as well as Marquette's practice facility on N. 12th Street in Milwaukee. The Bradley Center court is named in McGuire's honor, too.
Marquette honored its legendary coach Wednesday night when the Golden Eagles hosted McGuire's alma mater, St. John's, at the Bradley Center. And they celebrated "Al's Night" in a way he would appreciate, posting an 83-64 victory over the Red Storm.
"Al's Night" is more than just clever marketing on Marquette's part, it's a reflection of the respect for a man who put this Midwestern Jesuit university on the map during the 1960s and '70s with flashy, occasionally brash, and most importantly, successful basketball teams.
In 13 seasons at Marquette, McGuire posted a 205-80 record. The Warriors won 20 games or more in each of his last 11 seasons and made the NCAA Tournament eight times, finishing as the national runner-up in 1974 and winning it all in '77 before calling it a career.
McGuire also led Marquette to the 1970 National Invitation Tournament championship, after a controversial decision to pull his team from the NCAA Tournament field when he was dissatisfied with the Warriors' assignment to the Midwest Region. Since then, the NCAA has passed a rule preventing teams from following suit.
Following his coaching career, McGuire enjoyed success as a broadcaster, gaining fame for his work alongside Dick Enberg and Billy Packer, first on NBC and later on CBS. McGuire passed away in December 2001 after a lengthy battle with leukemia, but his legacy lives on at Marquette.
Current Marquette coach Buzz Williams draws heavily on McGuire. In many ways, Williams feels like he's a caretaker of the program that McGuire brought into national prominence during his time.
"It's still his program," Williams said. "His name's on the court, his name's on our jerseys. His name is on the building we work in. I have great respect and admiration for who he was and what he was about and how he changed the program from that point forward."
Wednesday, Williams sported a blue plaid sport coat — "sofa plaid" he called it — as his own tribute to McGuire, following a tradition he started on "Al's Night" a year ago, when he wore a similar throwback-style blazer in a game against St. John's.
"I told coach (Steve) Lavin before the game that I wasn't trying to draw attention to myself," Williams said. "I told coach (Mike) Dunlap the same thing tonight.
"This 'sofa plaid' I was wearing was in honor of Coach McGuire, because I'm sure it was the style in the '70s."
None of the current Golden Eagles were alive when McGuire coached his final game, and they were mere youngsters when he was nearing the end of his broadcasting career. But they, too, are familiar with the McGuire legend and are reminded of it each day when they step into the practice facility, where a statue of McGuire stands in the lobby.
"I think it's a lot of inspiration for the guys who have been here," Marquette senior Darius Johnson-Odom said. "The younger guys, the freshman, they really don't know too much about Al McGuire but that statue says it all."
Johnson-Odom said it's not so much McGuire's and Marquette's success that stands out in this day and age, but rather the reputation McGuire has for building relationships with his players that is his most impressive accomplishment.
"I think we're more familiar about the way he spoke to his players, how he interacted with him," Johnson-Odom said. "He was a great coach for his players to be around. He knew a lot about his players."
Marquette Athletic Director Larry Williams has only been on the job a few weeks but has learned quickly of the McGuire legend. Prior to the game Wednesday, he had the chance to chat with somebody who shared a personal tale of the way McGuire helped shape their career.
Williams was impressed.
"There are so many of those kind of stories about this bigger-than-life individual who personally touched so many people in this community," Williams said.
Williams never met McGuire, and like so many who grew up during his era, has vivid memories of seeing Marquette on television with McGuire patrolling the sidelines.
"I remember seeing this iconic figure on the sidelines with the energy of 100 people," Williams said. "That's the Al McGuire I remember."