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Monday, May 3, 2010

Required Reading: John Feinstein Recalls V 17 Years After His Passing

I missed this when it came out on April 28th. I wish I'd seen it then. It's from John Feinstein's blog, "Feinstein On The Brink," and it's a fantastic look at Jimmy V from the perspective of someone that new him well. It reads much like his excerpt about Valvano from "A March To Madness," which honestly was the best part of that book to me.

I certainly can't (and won't out of respect to Feinstein) repost the entire article here--it is worth reading at his site in its entirety. Here, though, is a great snippet:
Jim and I had been close for a long time. I had seen him play at Rutgers (he was part of a superb backcourt along with a great shooter named Bob Lloyd) and had first gotten to know him when he coached at Iona. I had spent many late nights sitting with him after games when he was coaching at State. Like most coaches, Jim couldn’t sleep after games—he was never much of a sleeper to begin with—and he would always head up to his office after doing his postgame press conference in Reynolds Coliseum and order pizza, wine and beer. His coaches would come in and hang out and so would various friends. I always stayed until the end because I knew when the room cleared out, Jim would stop telling stories and get serious. As hysterically funny as his stories were—I still re-tell some of them when I speak—the best parts of the evening always came well after midnight.

Jim would put down his wine glass and often stretch out on the couch in his office and say things like, “I need to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”

He was constantly restless. He had spent his life dreaming about winning a national championship and then when he won one at the age of 37, in the most dramatic fashion possible, he felt unfulfilled. You could almost hear the famous line from the old Peggy Lee song, ‘Is that all there is?” playing in his head on a constant loop.

He chased The Next Thing for a while, flying to New York on Monday mornings to appear on CBS’s ‘Early Morning,’ Show; doing color on occasional games IN season; hosting that awful sports bloopers show; doing a pilot for a variety show in Hollywood (seriously); selling memorabilia; becoming the athletic director at State. Anything to avoid being JUST a coach.

Everyone knows what happened: he stopped paying enough attention to his program and enough bad kids seeped bad kids seeped in to bring the program down. A book, written with the (paid) cooperation of a former manager, helped bring about an NCAA investigation—even though there were so many in-accuracies in it on simple things like what day of the week Thanksgiving fell on (I’m not joking) that it should not have been taken seriously. Still, the investigation led to probation and to Valvano being forced to resign after the 1990 season. Twenty years later I think it is fair to say that State still hasn’t recovered from that episode.
John is dead on here, sadly.

Even sadder is that years later, perception has become reality moreso than fact, as evidenced by some of the comments by those following the piece. They refer to Jim as a cheat, dirty, among other things. It's amazing to this day what a piece of fiction did to that man and our school, perception-wise. It was like the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or meltdown in the town of Chernobyl. The events have long since passed but the effects are still felt to this day.

It helps having folks with strong voices like Feinstein trying to set the record straight. But since these pieces only come out rarely, they do little good all these many years later.

Nevertheless, a must read from Feinstein.


  1. One thing I don't like about Feinstein is he once commented that he thought V would've fit in (and preferred) to be a a school "like" Duke. The implication was that V wanted to discuss English lit and art and what not and -- heaven forbid! -- he just wasn't going to find those kinds of students at State. i've always resented Feinstein for that implication.

  2. That's a shame. Even if State students on the whole may be more of the "salt of the earth" variety than say those at Duke, I always got the sense that Jimmy felt perfectly at ease with that, but like you said, there are certainly more than enough English and art scholars at State to satiate any desire V would've possibly had to discuss these topics.