Greg Jayne: There's always more to tell about legendary coaches

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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The well-deserved tributes have started, and there's no telling when they will run their course.

There's always one more story to tell, one more wry smile that requires explanation. Because when Northwest legends Frosty Westering and Marv Harshman died Friday, it served as a double shot of a reminder of how many lives a successful coach can touch.

Westering won 302 games as a college football coach, most of those wins coming at Pacific Lutheran — along with four national titles. Harshman won 687 games as a college basketball coach, splitting his 40 years on the bench almost evenly between PLU, Washington State, and Washington.

And while you can spend days reading stories from former players about how both men were even finer gentlemen than they were coaches, there is a local reminder that the reach of a coach can extend even beyond the players.

"He was always concerned about you and your family," Denny Huston said, "because family was the most important thing to him."

Huston, a 71-year-old Washougal resident who was the athletic director at Clark College until 2011, was an assistant coach under Harshman for two years at Washington State. He then followed Harshman to Washington — doesn't that fall under the heading of treason? — and coached with him there for 10 years.

Those were heady days for basketball in what was then the Pacific-8 Conference. John Wooden's UCLA teams ruled not only the West, but all of college basketball. Ralph Miller was at Oregon State. Dick Harter brought a thuggish brand of toughness to Oregon.

Why, Harshman's staff at WSU had included Huston, who later became a head coach at Weber State, and Jud Heathcote, who later road Magic Johnson to an NCAA title at Michigan State.

It was competitive and — until the mid-70s — only one team from the conference could go to the NCAA Tournament.

"The first year at Washington, we lost four ball games in the Pac-8, two to UCLA, and we didn't go to the postseason," Huston recalled.

But that's not his favorite memory of Harshman. No, the story Huston tells with relish revolves around a visit to face Harter's Ducks in Mac Court.

Oregon players, apparently, made a habit of standing menacingly at midcourt during warmups in an effort to intimidate the opponents. A couple of Harshman's players stood with their backs to the Ducks, put on Groucho Marx-style glasses, and turned around to taunt the bullies.

It's the kind of story that brushes against apocryphal — until you run across a photo of Harshman with a pair of the glasses in the post-game locker room.

A victorious post-game locker room, mind you.

Then there's the time, according to Huston, when Harshman made his first visit to Pullman as Washington's coach and donned a black wig during warmups to throw off would-be hecklers.

"He was just the most laid-back guy I've ever seen," Huston said.

And Harshman could coach a little, too.

"The thing that stands out to me is Marv did a great job of putting guys in position where they could be successful," Huston said.

There were plenty of victories, of course. It maybe wasn't a John Wooden/Bob Knight level of success, but Harshman has rightly taken his place alongside better-known names in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

So, as the tributes roll in — for both Harshman and Westering — you are reminded of the meaningful side of coaching. And you are reminded that a coach's reach can stretch across a multitude of generations.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor at The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To "Like" him on Facebook, search for Greg Jayne — The Columbian