Advice from coach: ‘Stay Tough’

By Hunter Ford
There are all kinds of coaches, good ones, bad ones, mean ones, winning ones, nice ones, losing ones. I don’t think there is any one formula that makes a coach successful.

The best ones, in my opinion, are the ones that make impressions on people that last beyond the court or the playing field.

Gene Bartow, the former head basketball coach of Memphis, UCLA and UAB, is one of those kinds of coaches.

I got to know “Coach Gene” as a reporter for the student paper at UAB.

I was immediately struck by how much he strived to treat everybody with respect.

Bartow could be on the phone talking with Bobby Knight, but if I came by the office he would wave me in and give me some of his time.

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Bartow actually took a great interest in the student newspaper, which was smart if you think about it, because it was a direct voice to the student population and a potential PR tool.

But I never thought of Bartow as just another “car salesman” type. He has always been genuine…the kind of guy who asks about your family and remembers what you said the next time he sees you.

I recently talked with Coach Gene about the fate of UAB football.

We both agreed that there are a lot of problems with it, but that it can still work if the right things happen.

Number one among those “right” things that must happen? The team has to get better and win some games.

In the heart of Crimson Tide and Auburn Tiger country, the Blazers must earn respect and fan affection by beating somebody.

The Blazers were lousy last season, going 2-10 and rarely looking as if they could beat Hoover High School.

The good news however, is that UAB returns lots of starters and has now had two spring practices and a full season under second year head coach Neil Callaway.

Perhaps that will make a difference that can prove wrong the people who voted UAB to finish last in Conference USA this season.

Another thing that has to go “right” for UAB, is that the political animosity existing between some factions of UAB supporters and the “powers that be” in the University of Alabama system must be smoothed over.

There is still passion about some old arguments or differences of opinion. I hate to see such petty things linger.

It’s like the old song “There ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys. There’s just you and me and we just disagree.”

Coach Gene, a long time ago, wrote a letter to somebody complaining that the folks in Tuscaloosa may not be playing fair as far as certain recruiting rules were concerned. He may have been right, he may have been too quick to judge. It doesn’t really matter now.

Bartow is still on the scene at UAB, although not as visible as he used to be. That could be one thing holding back the necessary healing that has to occur. Could be. I don’t really know.

One prominent Alabama fan told me a long time ago that UAB and Alabama would never play in basketball “as long as Gene Bartow had anything to do with UAB.”

It’s a shame the two schools don’t play on the hardwood. They compete in baseball and other sports. Alabama recently played a game against Birmingham Southern. They can’t play UAB? It would raise the interest level for the sport, and Alabama basketball might need that now, more so than UAB basketball.

I digress. This column was supposed to have been about Gene Bartow, and I don’t have room to tell some of the stories about him I would like to share.

I would say this about the guy. He was always a winner on the basketball court, if not in the court of public opinion, or the eyes of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

He took two schools to Final Fours, three to the Elite Eight, he coached in the national championship game, he won more than 600 games… he is 1-0 against Alabama.

Coach Gene knows some stuff that’s worth knowing. More often than not, when I get a chance to talk with him, he concludes our conversation asking me how I’m doing personally. And he ends it with the same advice… “Stay tough.”