To Dick Tomey: Happy retirement and thanks for the memoriesby Anthony Gimino on Nov. 16, 2009, under Sports
Dick Tomey gave Arizona football fans Desert Swarm, Tedy Bruschi, a team of Joes, Mike Streidnig up the middle, the I-bone, Chris McAlister, the Leap by the Lake, playing with your hair on fire, the Fiesta Bowl, the Holiday Bowl, Rob Waldrop, the fumblerooski, the Sports Illustrated cover, the tie that felt like a win, “Burn the Boats,” wins you’ll always remember, losses you can’t forget and teams that fought like the dickens.
That’s only part of how I remember him.
I got to thinking about all this last night because the news leaked that Tomey, at 71, will announce his retirement Monday as the head coach at San Jose State, bringing an end to 46 years in the coaching profession. Bless him.
I still remember meeting Tomey for the first time. It was the spring of 1991, and I was a way-too-green 23-year-old football beat reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, recently plucked off the copy desk.
I was in his little office at McKale Center. I mean, if Mike Stoops thinks he and his assistants have it bad now in their relatively palatial add-on to McKale, they should have seen how little head room there was before he arrived.
Anyway, I sat on the couch, Tomey pulled up a chair and, to his credit, I never once saw him roll his eyes or look at his watch as I asked my silly questions, tediously going through every position group.
I have always thought that a lesser coach, a lesser man, could have chewed up a rookie reporter, been intimidating, made the job unbearable or made it something other than fun.
It never happened.
Over the next several years — from a 38-14 loss at Ohio State to start the 1991 season to the 23-20 victory over Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl — Tomey and I developed what I would consider a good working relationship.
That didn’t stop me from criticizing some decisions and it didn’t stop him from pulling me aside or calling me at home (on Thanksgiving!) to say some of my stories were “horsesh–” — which must be his favorite curse word — but if there was thing I learned from Tomey it was this:
Say what you have to say … and then let it go.
It works in football, more so in life.
I actually learned a lot from Tomey. Most of what I think a coach should be, how he should act, how he should respond to adversity, how he should motivate, came from him.
But it is his common decency — or, perhaps his uncommon decency — that I most appreciate and admire.
When he was hired at San Jose State in late December 2004, he said he “unceremoniously left Tucson,” which is another way of saying he resigned under pressure, which is another way of saying he was fired.
But he never stopped being a Wildcat.
Just as I can’t forget my first meeting with Tomey, I know my most recent encounter with him will resonate forever.
Tomey and about 150 other Wildcats spanning five decades traveled to Phoenix in February of 2008 to attend a fundraiser for Tony Bouie, an Arizona All-American safety in 1993 and 1994 who was fighting stage-four lymphoma. (He is doing fine now.)
After a day of $300-a-round golf at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, most of the group and other guests ate dinner outside and participated in an auction. Near the end, Tomey got up and spoke for a few minutes on what it meant to be a Wildcat.
Earlier, he had told me, “You coach to win, but you also coach to have a team that feels strongly about one another and is brought together for a lifetime. This is illustrative of the fact that this bunch of guys, and the people who coached them, succeeded in that endeavor. That’s really what it is all about.”
As the evening wrapped up, Tomey led everybody in singing “Bear Down, Arizona,” and, journalistic objectivity be damned, if you didn’t have goosebumps, you didn’t have a heartbeat.
When he leaves San Jose State at the end of the season and retires to his home in Hawaii,
he’ll have been a Rainbow Warrior, a Wildcat and a Spartan across a successful head coaching career.
He’ll have been a lot of other things along the journey and meant a lot of things to a lot of people … even to a little ol’ sportswriter.