Bucks coach Jim Boylan: In the spirit of Al McGuire

Members of the 1977 Marquette Basketball team.  Left to right: Jim Boylan, Bill Neary, Ulice Payne, Butch Lee, Jim Dudley, Gary Rosenberger, Bernard Toone, Jerome Whitehead, Craig Butrym, Robert Byrd and Bo Ellis.Find Bucks assistant coach Jim Boylan in that suave, Billy Dee Williams cool,  disco days meets “The Great Gatsby” photo to the right and win the first ever Bob Boozer Jinx door prize.

The photo, from the Marquette archives, via a Sports Illustrated ‘Where are they now?’ feature, is the official team photo of the 1977 NCAA champions. Boylan is farthest to the left, seated in the back of the ’34 Packard, wearing the only all-grey tux. Left to right from Boylan: Bill Neary, Ulice Payne, Butch Lee, Jim Dudley, Gary Rosenberger (in the passenger’s seat), Bernard Toone, Jerome Whitehead, Craig Butrym, Robert Byrd and Bo Ellis.

It seems odd, yet somehow fitting, that Boylan would take a seat furthest in the back — he was nowhere near the back of the ride on the ’77 Warriors. As the starting point guard, he was in the drivers’ seat more often than not. But then, no player is behind the wheel of the Packard in the team photo, an important, and quite deliberate pose. Warriors coach Al McGuire was nothing if not a basketball artist; his motif was the essence of “team.”

Or, as McGuire might have told the story of the photo shoot years later and probably did, the coach had reserved the drivers’ seat for himself but lost his tux on the way to the photo shoot or somesuch and decided to bench himself out of the picture, the sort of thing that McGuire would do, the team being less about him and more about the players (whether that was true or not).  There was something magical about Al McGuire telling a story, spinning myth and street legend with wisecrack yarn and Manhattan snap.

Up until his death in 2001, when asked who, of all the players he coached, his favorite point guard was, McGuire would get serious and the answer was always the same: Jim Boylan. Sometimes he’d say Boylan was his favorite player, period. Boylan reminded Al of Al.

Al McGuire

I came across a great story on the Chicago Bulls website about Jim Boylan and the Bulls after Boylan took over for Scott Skiles last December. What caught my eye was the following quote from Boylan:

“I told the guys that we shouldn’t concentrate so much on winning. Let’s concentrate on letting go of the things we can’t control and free ourselves to be the kind of players we know we are. Live in the moment.”

That quote from Boylan, Bucks fans, is the Al McGuire basketball philosophy to the letter. It was infused throughout the basketball world in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when McGuire was on top of that world and players, especially those on Al’s home turf in state, were told to just play “in the moment” and forget the scoreboard. The coaches would let you know when to look at the scoreboard and the clock. It was all very mystical and Zen, long before Phil Jackson won championships and wrote “Sacred Hoops.”  It was very McGuire.

Boylan, at age 52 — after two college coaching jobs (Michigan State under Jud Heathcote and head coach at New Hampshire) and five jobs as an NBA assistant (including his first with Mike Fratello in Cleveland and two with Skiles, in Phoenix and Chicago) — is still Al McGuire’s point guard.

The Bucks job is Boylan’s sixth assistant post in the NBA, reunited for a third run as Skiles’ lead assistant. He joins Skiles’ most impressive staff to date, with Lionel Hollins from the Memphis Grizzlies, a 20-year NBA assistant and Kelvin Sampson, one of the best college coaches in the game. Rounding out the staff are Kohler’s own Joe Wolf, an up-and-climbing NBA coach-in-the-making from the CBA and the D-league; and Bill Peterson, the coach who developed Finley, Nowitzki and Nash in Dallas, and was responsible for Ramon Sessions development last season for the Bucks.

They’ve have all been “hired” for two weeks or more now (the Bob Boozer Jinx blogs about Skiles and his assistants are archived here.) This is a staff geared to develop its own stars, not to coach somebody else’s 2nd or 3rd tier NBA “stars.”  Boylan’s story with the Chicago Bulls offers even more insight. On a Skiles-Boylan team, the ball will move and the tempo will be up in transition. It’s been described as an Eastern Conference version of the Phoenix Suns phenomena — Eastern Conference because, on a Scott Skiles team, defense will be played.

When Skiles left Chicago in Boylan’s hands, Boylan sped up the tempo even more, and the Bulls talented point guard, Kirk Hinrich shot less. Sometimes he didn’t shoot at all, as though he were channeling Boylan style of point guard play. The Bulls stat hounds ignored the scoreboard and the shooting stats, and instead tracked ball movement and pace like it was religion.

Looking ahead to next season, don’t expect overpaid shooting guards to freeze the Bucks offense by palming the ball, holding it with the dribble, then lowering a shoulder into the teeth of the defense with no passing mindset. Sloughing off in transition won’t be a good idea, either.

Monday, I’ll have a take on Bill Peterson and his development work, and I’m projecting a suprising revelation in the mix. For now, check out some more Jim Boylan in-action photos from J.E. Skeets yahoo blog “Ball Don’t Lie.” It’s true — Boylan does kind of look like the evil president from “24.”

The catcher’s crouch:

The “I just might kill Hinrich during this timeout I’m about to call” pose:


One final coaching note:  Former Bucks coach Terry Porter (2003-05) is back on what New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey calls the NBA “coaching carousel.” The buzz in Phoenix says he’s the leading candidate to fill the job Mike D’Antoni vacated last week. Porter, an asssistant with Detroit the past two years, is believed to be the first candidate Suns GM Steve Kerr interviewed for the job, Charles Gardner reported yesterday at JSOnline.  Vecsey saw opportunity coming for Porter a month ago in his column, and I swiped Vecsey’s crystal ball for a day or two in an early BBJ post.

Bucks fans may never know why then-Bucks GM Slickless Larry Harris rescinded the vote of confidence he gave Porter at the end of the Bucks injury-riddled 2004-05 season. When Bucks owner Herb Kohl fired Harris in March, he told us the firing of Porter was “Larry’s decision” — but then Herb had been labelled a meddler by ESPN’s Marc Stein and was on the defensive about that “growing reputation” and perception.

In any case, Porter got a bum shake from an impatient GM who didn’t have a plan for building the Bucks. Porter deserved another year, if for no other reason than it is bad policy to treat a hometown hero with such little respect when being a hometown hero is part of the reason Porter got the job in the first place.

Terry’s been coaching in Detroit the last couple of years — under Flip Sanders, one of the coaches Harris supposedly fired Porter to bring to Milwaukee (I’ve come to doubt that’s the real reason Porter was fired) — which says something about how well-regarded Porter is in NBA coaching circles. Suns GM Kerr is looking to bring a defensive edge to the Suns, and who better than the top assistant in Detroit? Phoenix, with Nash and Stoudamire and Shaq, looks like a good opportunity. It’s about time Porter got a second chance to head a team.

3 thoughts on “Bucks coach Jim Boylan: In the spirit of Al McGuire

  1. Jan

    Hi, I just came across this page when searching for a poster of the 77 team around the ’34 Packard. My fiancee is a Marquette grad (as is most of her family) and I’m looking for a poster sized copy of that picture that I might be able to have framed and give to her for our wedding this summer. Any ideas? Thanks

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