Frank McGuire, the New York City coach whose "underground railroad" of New York recruits was a cornerstone of college basketball's rise in the South, died at his home in Columbia, S.C., yesterday after a long illness. He was 80.
Complications from a 1992 stroke had added to McGuire's declining health. That was the same year he suffered a broken hip in a fall. He received a pacemaker for an irregular heartbeat in late 1991, more than a decade after retiring from 45 years of coaching high school, service, college and professional
basketball. His wife and other family members were at his side when he died.
In on his sport's ground floor from the time he played in the inaugural Madison Square Garden game in 1934, McGuire coached St. John's University, his alma mater, to the 1952 NCAA championship final (an 80-63 loss to Kansas), coached North Carolina to the NCAA title in 1957 and, after a single season coaching in the NBA in 1962, went about building South Carolina, from the ground up, into a perennial NCAA tournament team in the 1970s.
He coached or tutored a virtual Who's Who of basketball names-Wilt Chamberlain, Dean Smith, Al McGuire, Lou Carnesecca, Billy Cunningham, Doug Moe, Bobby Cremins and Larry Brown among them. As St. John's basketball/baseball coach in the early 1950s, McGuire even coached a third baseman named Mario Cuomo.
McGuire, in fact, coached in the two most remembered games of Chamberlain's historic career: Against Chamberlain in the 1957 NCAA championship game, when McGuire's North Carolina team defeated Chamberlain and his Kansas teammates in triple overtime, 54-53; and for Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors team on March 2, 1962, in Hershey, Pa., when Chamberlain scored his record 100 points against the Knicks.
It was the 1957 North Carolina team that went undefeated in 32 games, featuring only New Yorkers in the starting lineup: Lennie Rosenbluth, Pete Brennan, Joe Quigg, Tommy Kearns and Bobby Cunningham.
"New York is my personal territory," McGuire declared at the time. "Duke can scout in Philadelphia, and North Carolina State can have the whole country, but if anybody wants to move into New York, they need a passport from me."
McGuire himself needed no papers to prove his New York roots. A dapper dresser with wavy red hair, he carried his native Greenwich Village accent with him. He was one of 13 children, born Nov. 8, 1913, the son of a New York policeman. He learned his basketball playing for one of the settlement house teams organized for poor kids during the Depression.
Like a character out of an old movie, McGuire lived by simple tenets in a simpler time. He believed in promptness and directness and, for years, his practices basically were nothing more than scrimmages, without many drills or exercises.
"Smart, good ball-handling, typical New York style," is how Carnesecca, the recently retired Hall of Fame coach from St. John's, described the typical McGuire team. "And, he was a player's coach."
"He was the greatest game coach I've ever seen in my life," Brown said recently. "He was brutal to me, verbally [critical of mistakes], yet he was always there for me."
Between 1948 and '53, he coached St. John's to 20-win seasons three times and was 102-36. But the basketball game-fixing scandals had rocked New York college basketball, and Carnesecca believed that McGuire left New York for Carolina partly out of concern for his son, Frank Jr., who had been born with cerebral palsy.
"I believe he thought Frank Jr. could be taken care of better down there," Carnesecca said. "They had better facilities. But Frank never forgot he was a New Yorker; he never forget where he came from."
North Carolina wanted McGuire as a weapon to offset Everett Case's progress in forming a basketball power at rival North Carolina State, and McGuire obliged with a 164-58 record. It was McGuire who hired Dean Smith as a Carolina assistant.
McGuire then tried the NBA for a season, obliging Chamberlain's wish to play "all the time" by literally keeping Chamberlain in every minute of every game in 1962, when Chamberlain averaged a record 50.4 points a game. Then, following two years of work in public relations, McGuire returned to coaching at South Carolina in 1964, where he resumed his "underground railroad" to New Yorklayers and had six 20-win seasons.
It was during his stay at South Carolina that McGuire's first wife, Patricia, died of cancer in 1967. He remarried in 1973 and is survived by his second wife, Jane, Frank Jr., and two daughters.
Few of McGuire's mementos remain. In 1987, fire destroyed McGuire's home, and the only surviving basketball relic was a Sports Illutrated cover photo of McGuire and Chamberlain, taken in 1962.
"When they asked me to pose for that picture," McGuire said shortly after the fire, "I said, 'No way.' I wasn't going to look like a pygmy beside him. So they came up with an idea to have me stand on a chair under the basket, with Wilt behind me at the foul line, and we came out looking like we were about the same size." McGuire was one of the few coaches who got along with Chamberlain, though McGuire kidded, "What can you do with a 300-pound, 7-foot-2 guy except let him play?"