Friday, December 23, 2016

Lambright, Part IX: Maxie and the media

      (Part IX)
      He was an outstanding football coach, no question. Maxie Lambright was far from a media star, and had no desire to be.
      He was -- honestly -- predictable and careful and, well, even dull. But never, to our knowledge, unwilling or uncooperative.
      It just wasn't a priority for him, and that was fine.
      Some coaches do well with the media and enjoy the tradeoff, some offer good material -- quotes, stories, barbs -- and merely tolerate it, some can be harsh, rude, curt or short and openly detest the time and effort it requires.
      Coach Lambright understood the media's role.
      "He was a dream to work with simply because he was so cooperative and allowed me to do my job," said Keith Prince, the sports information director at Louisiana Tech for 25 years, the first 10 (1969-78) with Lambright as the football coach and, for all but one of those years, also the athletic director.
      "In all the years, he was so cooperative and, with me, so gentle. I had so much admiration for him. He gave me such strong support. ... He was always in my corner if things came up."
Keith Prince
     Reporters knew that Lambright likely would not provide great insight to postgame analysis nor engage in much casual conversation.
     "From the media standpoint, he didn't cut them short," Prince said. "It seemed to me that he had less to say when we [Tech] won [games] than when we lost. He didn't want to seem like he was gloating, and that [the team] always had something to work on. He was cautious, and he was never derogatory to other teams. He always praised them.
      "It speaks of his character, his dignity, and his respect for other people."
      Prince knew Lambright so well that he could write stories with quotes from the coach, and that Lambright, when asked, would approve of them. 
      Part of the Lambright mantra, as we recall, was that the next game on the schedule was the most important game of the season.
      Larry White was a student assistant to Prince at Tech in the early 1970s, having returned from a stint in Vietnam. He would go on to cover Tech athletics for a brief time for the Ruston Daily Leader and the Shreveport Journal, then go into sports information with the Southland Conference, LSU, SMU and, for most of his career, the University of Alabama, where he was the SID for the final years of coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's career.
      Of Lambright, White said, "I remember him being so approachable and forthright in speaking with the media (of which there weren't many). I always felt his teams reflected his personality, on and off the field. He was a hard-nosed coach whose persona off the field was totally different. He was a true gentleman."
"Freeway Dave" Nitz
       Dave Nitz became the Tech play-by-play broadcaster for football, basketball and baseball in 1974, so he had five seasons with Lambright as football coach. But Nitz also worked in the Tech athletics ticket office and in sports information for a while.
      "He gave you something to do, and he expected you to do it, but he didn't look over your shoulder, he didn't make sure you had dotted the i's and crossed the t's," Nitz said. "But if it didn't go well, he wanted to know why. ... He was like that with the coaches, too.
      "He was a guy who let you do your job. I always respect that from anyone."
      Nitz got a dose of the Lambright wit related to a softball team that Nitz managed. When he came in after one weekend game and Lambright asked how the team had fared, Nitz replied it had won big. "You must've been playing the Little Sisters of the Poor," the coach cracked.
      Media people who dealt with him or occasionally traveled with him knew they'd have to carry the conversation or deal with mostly silence.
      Nitz, still doing Tech games 42 years later (I hesitate to call "Freeway Dave" a legend, although some do), also recalled driving Lambright to El Dorado, Ark. -- a 50-mile ride from Ruston -- to do a weekly Sunday television show during football season.
      "He didn't really want to do that," Nitz said of the show. But it was part of their job. The tough part was the interview.
      Nitz, as the William & Mary broadcaster in 1969-71, often had interviewed the football coach there, the very talkative, colorful Lou Holtz (now, of course, Nitz regularly talks with the current Tech coach, the son of the father, Skip Holtz).
      "If I asked Lou two questions [for a 30-minute show]," Nitz said, "that was one question too many."
      With Lambright he might have to ask 30 questions in 15 minutes. "Lots of 10-second answers," Nitz recalled. "I had to learn what to do [to interview him]."
      Longtime Ruston Daily Leader sports editor O.K. "Buddy" Davis recalled a similar traveling experience with Lambright on a ride back to Ruston from a mid-1970s game at Lamar in Beaumont, Texas.
      Assistant coach Mickey Slaughter, Davis said, had traveled to Beaumont with Lambright, and suggested after the game, "Buddy, why don't you ride back with Maxie? You will get some great insights on the game."

     "I am not exaggerating," Buddy recalled. "I bet Maxie didn't say four words the entire way back.
     "The following week, I go over to the fieldhouse and Mickey is grinning.
     "Well, O.K., how did everything go with you and Maxie?" Slaughter asked. "Did you get some good quotes?"
     I choose not to repeat Buddy's reply. But Slaughter and defensive coach Pat Collins enjoyed the laughs.
     (Next: Away from football, a friend)



1 comment:

  1. From Ross Montelbano: I've been following this series. As always, very interesting and enjoyable. The one constant theme about Lambright that stands out, was the expectation that others would do their jobs as required. I was fortunate to go to the National Fire Academy on nine occasions. Many go there to take technical courses, like Fire Investigations and others. I always tried to take management courses. They hammered the same thing: Employees will perform to level of expectations. If you assume that they are incapable and in need of constant monitoring, they will prove you correct. If you assume that they are capable and allow them to do their jobs, they will prove you correct. The key and Lambright clearly understood it, is that if they don't perform, there is a price to pay. Because he was hands off, there can be no excuse of interference on his part and, therefore, they are to blame. The other side of this is when success is obtained, they feel a swell of pride because he gave them all the credit and took none.