Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lambright, Part XI: The ties to Southern Miss

       (Part XI)
       Tim Floyd, a basketball coach who is a basketball coach's son, is indebted to a football coach.
       Maxie Lambright, he says, "changed my life."
       Tim's photo on his bio page on the UT-El Paso men's basketball web site lists his hometown as Hattiesburg, Miss., and his college as Louisiana Tech, 1977.
       In both those places, he knew Coach Lambright -- as a family friend, the Southern Mississippi offensive backfield coach, and then at Louisiana Tech the head football coach and -- more importantly for Tim -- the athletic director.
       Lee Floyd spent 14 seasons as Southern Miss' head basketball coach, beginning in 1949 when Lambright was still playing football for the Southerners and then, after eight years out of coaching (Tim's first eight years), from 1962 to '71 -- including five years while Maxie was on the USM football staff.
       "He and [wife] Gerry were dear family friends of my mother and father," Tim said recently, recalling the Lambright-Floyd friendship. "He [Maxie] was the reason I ended up at Louisiana Tech.
       "When I was a kid 11 or 12, Coach Lambright would visit with my father; they were drinking buddies," Tim said, "and I'd listen to them talk. He [Maxie] was extremely bright. They'd talk about coaching philosophies, and he was fascinating."
       And he was inspiring (more on that in a moment).
       Lee Floyd's teams won 246 games, 98 more than they lost. He would be proud of his son, who in his 23rd season as a college head coach has led his teams to 452 victories -- 186 more than they've lost -- and eight NCAA Tournaments.
Tim Floyd: From USM to La. Tech to UTEP (and
a few basketball coaching stops in between)
      And the son was an NBA head coach for five seasons, the first four with the Chicago Bulls to start  the transition from the era of coach Phil Jackson/superstar Michael Jordan/six NBA titles.
      So Tim is the Floyd who basketball people know now. He's in his seventh season back at UTEP, the school where his father played in the early 1940s -- before the school was even known as Texas Western, the name before UTEP -- and where Tim began his fulltime coaching career as an assistant to the legendary Don Haskins in 1978.
       But he was coaching as a student assistant at Louisiana Tech in 1977 after two seasons as a reserve -- he played little -- on the Tech team. He was on scholarship ... thanks to Lambright.
       Lee Floyd was increasingly crippled by arthritis as his coaching career wound down. His teams, his players, were bulky and tough and talented -- regular opponents of Tech -- but by 1971, he no longer could coach.
       He died three years later. Tim was a walk-on basketball player at Southern Miss, but -- in an era when coaches were not being paid fortunes -- paying for his education was a challenge for Mrs. Floyd.
       Tech's basketball program was on NCAA probation (for recruiting violations while Scotty Robertson was the coach in the early 1970s), and the Tech staff, headed by Robertson's successor, Emmett Hendricks, was prohibited from recruiting off-campus. But Tim transferred to Tech.
       "Coach Lambright told Emmett he was going to put me on scholarship, and he did," Tim said.
       He mostly watched as Tech's teams competed well and his close friend, Mike McConathy, became one of the best players in Tech basketball history.
       (Floyd and McConathy would always remain close, both becoming veteran, respected college coaches. In early December, McConathy took his Northwestern State team to UTEP and left town with a victory.)
       Tim can tell stories -- and did -- about his father or Maxie making trips to New Orleans to purchase and stock up some liquid refreshments to bring back to Hattiesburg (in a "dry" county) and hide away for future use, and about the Floyds' visit to stay with the Lambrights one Friday night before a USM-at-Tech football game the next afternoon.
       "This was Halloween night, and my mother brought in a blanket with a black cat wrapped up in it," he said, with a laugh. "When Maxie walked in, she sprung that cat loose.
       "Maxie was really superstitious, so he jumped. Tech lost the game the next day. I don't think he talked to my mother for months afterward."
       (Look it up. USM handed Tech its only loss of the 1969 regular season, 24-23, on Nov. 1.)
       "It seemed like he [Lambright] always made the right decision. ... He had a great sense of humor, really dry, and he was well thought of at Southern Miss," Tim remembered.
       Coach Lambright wasn't the only one who changed Tim's life at Louisiana Tech. So did his teammates, his friends and the Tech basketball staff ... but mostly, it was Beverly.
       He began courting and then married Beverly Byrnside, whose father George was a Tech student and football/track-field athlete a decade before he returned to the university as an administrator for 37 years, the last 25 as vice-president for administrative affairs.
       The Floyds have a daughter, Shannon, and a granddaughter.
       With UTEP in Conference USA with Tech, Tim's teams now have a regular rivalry with the Bulldogs. Although he has returned to Ruston often to see family and friends, his first trip back in 21 years as an opposing coach, in 2015, was eventful. He's been known to be a bit rough on referees and in this game (a Tech victory), he was told he would be departing early -- ejected after a mad scene.
       Tim is 62 now, but Coach Lambright's words when he was a young man made an impact. 
       "I remember his speech when he retired from football; it was memorable for me," he said, "and I might use some of that when I get out [of coaching]."
       And there was a night when Maxie, at the Floyd residence, recited a few lines that made a specific impression. 
       He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him.
       He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child. Teach him.
       He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep. Wake him.
       He who knows, and knows that he knows, is a leader. Follow him.

       -- Attributed to: Omar Khayam, 13th century philosopher
       "I went upstairs to my room and wrote that down," Tim said, "and I've kept it all these years. I have used that as a guide many times, as I evaluated players, or in any job that I've taken. It's just a guide for life."
       Back to football. Invariably, Maxie Lambright's career was tied to Southern Mississippi -- player, assistant coach, opposing coach.
       Tech had more natural longtime rivals -- Louisiana schools -- but Southern Miss and Tech have played 48 times (including every year from 1946 to 1972).
       And Southern Miss has dealt the Bulldogs a lot of grief over the years, such as end-of-the-regular season losses in 2015 and 2016. The series count: USM 33, Tech 15.
       Tech teams knew when they faced those guys in black and gold, it was going to be a physical, mental challenge.
       But Lambright's record as Tech head coach vs. his alma mater was 5-4. That had to be so satisfying for him.
       Consider this: As consistently good-to-great as Coach Joe Aillet's Tech teams were, his record vs. USM was 4-18. In a seven-year period (1952-58), Tech scored only once. And that one score came in a painful loss, 7-6 in 1955's second game -- the only Tech defeat that season.
       Just as painful was the second time Southern Miss ruined Tech's perfect record -- 1964 when the 8-0 Bulldogs lost 14-7 in Hattiesburg.
       That one was controversial; Tech's Billy Laird always was sure he had scored on QB sneaks, on third and fourth downs, near the end of the game. The obviously biased officials -- just kidding, USM folks -- didn't think so.
       Would Coach Aillet, had the TD been called, chosen to go for a two-point PAT play and the victory -- or loss? I suspect he would have. Moot point.
       It is also interesting that the only Aillet teams to post consecutive victories vs. USM were in 1959 (another 9-1 team) and 1960 -- Lambright's first two seasons as a USM assistant.
       The first time Maxie sent a Tech team against USM was a Thanksgiving Day game in Shreveport in 1967, the final game of the regular season, and it was a 58-7, seven-interception embarrassment.
       Four of those INTs -- two returned for touchdowns -- were by USM defensive back Larry Ussery, who was a Fair Park High graduate playing on his "home" field at State Fair Stadium. It was a cold, very windy day -- and there were 28,000 empty seats.
       That game in mind, it made Tech's 27-20 victory at Southern Miss in 1968 that much sweeter. The Bulldogs' victory was more one-sided than the score looks; USM scored in the final minute.
       From then, it was a "go figure" series the rest of the Lambright-Tech era:
       -- 1969: Tech was unbeaten (5-0) and powerful in Terry Bradshaw's senior season. But a middling USM team came to Ruston and, with a methodical field-long drive in the closing minutes won on a field goal, 24-23 (remember Tim Floyd's story above).
       -- 1970: Tech had lost seven games in a row, most of them close (6, 2, 3, 4 and 3 points), and USM had beaten No. 4-ranked Ole Miss and QB Archie Manning two weeks earlier. But the Bulldogs went to Hattiesburg and, somehow inspired, won easily 27-6.
       -- 1971: A Tech team that was 7-1 going in lost at home to USM, 24-20.
       -- 1975: A Tech team that was 5-0 lost at home to USM, 24-14.
       -- 1976: Tech was 4-5 going in, but won in Hattiesburg, 23-22.
       And, in what was the tiebreaker in the series during the Lambright era, Tech won 28-10 at home in 1977. Maxie had the edge on the school he loved so much. But by then, he loved Tech as much -- or more.
       (Next: The final career stop)


  1. From Linda Lambright Causey: Love that Tim was in on this one. We are still such great friends. Beverly, his wife, was my first friend when we moved to Ruston. We are still very close to this day.

  2. From Jesse Carrigan: (His son, Shane, won the Maxie Lambright Award at Louisiana Tech in 1996) Saw this (award) at Shane's home tonight; thought you might like to see it. After reading your series on Coach Lambright, this means so much more to me and the words chosen for the award. Shane is worthy of the award, and after reading your expose of Coach Lambright, Coach is accurately described by those words. I'm very proud to have been there when the logo was created, the first game in the new stadium, the new jerseys, the new era, and for the privilege of playing for both coaches, Aillet and Lambright. Incredible times. Thank you for the lump in my throat your writing caused. Well done, old friend. I remember the quote on our menu at the dinner before that game in '68: As Grantland Rice said... "when the one great scorer comes to record your name, it matters not whether you won or lost, it's how you played the game." Coach Lambright scores very well.

  3. From Tom Morris: And in the summers, Tim Floyd would travel to the New Orleans Saints' summer training camp (at USM) and be [coach] Hank Stram's personal assistant.