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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

March Madness makes its way to the Marcus with ‘Coach’

Al McGuire is a legend on Marquette University’s campus. He’s also a legend outside of Marquette.

Cotter Smith plays Al McGuire in the one-man play. Photo courtesy of Belmont Abbey College and Patrick Schneider.

Standing on 12th Street, the arena named after him is a reminder of how much people respected the man and his craft, and on March 28 and 29, another form of appreciation will make its way to Milwaukee.

“Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire,” comes to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in celebration of March Madness and the 35th Anniversary of Marquette’s National Championship.

Written by national sportscaster and McGuire’s close friend, Dick Enberg, “Coach” is a one-man show that gives audiences intimate access to McGuire’s life. From his childhood, to winning the NCAA championship, to pioneering his unique and colorful style of sports broadcasting, “Coach” provides insight and a closer look at the man so many loved.

McGuire passed away in 2001, but his impact on Marquette and the sports world is still apparent more than a decade later.

Born in 1928, McGuire’s passion for basketball started way before coaching. Growing up in New York, McGuire played basketball and eventually became the captain of the St. John’s University team.

After graduating from St. Johns in 1951, McGuire played three seasons with the New York Knicks and one season with the Baltimore Bullets. When his playing career ended, McGuire became an assistant at Dartmouth and then later the head coach at Belmont Abbey College. It wasn’t until 1964 that he came to Marquette and brought tremendous success with him.

While McGuire coached at Marquette, the team compiled a 295-80 record, won 20 or more games for 11 straight seasons and won the NCAA tournament in 1977.

Beyond his coaching strengths and the influence he had on his players, McGuire is also known for his personality and wit that charmed sports fans and others alike. His catch phrases — which have since become a part of sports vernacular — and contagious energy are all aspects “Coach” captures and emphasizes.

McGuire, played by Cotter Smith, has a heart-to-heart with audiences through monologues and conversations. Throughout the duration of the play, he lets out the concealed thoughts and secrets often kept from the public eye and depicts why his philosophy on life and basketball were — and still are —  so important to so many people.

“Initially, it was a little daunting to recreate this man people loved,” Smith said. “It felt impossible to do. I had to provide a visit with him. People miss him.”

Smith, a film, stage and television actor, has been playing the role of Al McGuire since the show originally premiered at Marquette in 2005. He has traveled with the show to landmark locations like Atlanta for the 30th anniversary of McGuire’s national championship win, Belmont Abbey College (where McGuire coached before coming to Marquette) and Hofstra University near McGuire’s hometown on Long Island. The show has also made stops in Manhattan, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Diego, Maine and various venues in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Smith always considers it an honor to hit the road and pay tribute to McGuire through his portrayal in “Coach.”  What seemed like a daunting task in the beginning has become a great honor and privilege.

The Washington, D.C. native, whose movie credits include “X2: X-Men United,” as well as an appearance in Barry Levinson’s HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack,” will continue to play the role of McGuire as long as people want to see it.

“The show has grown a lot as I’ve become more comfortable,” Smith said. “We have incorporated more to the story. It has become more personal.”

Along with screen acting, Smith has also performed in the critically acclaimed Broadway production of  “Next Fall” by Geoffrey Nauffts, Wendy Wasserstein’s “An American Daughter,” Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” and various other projects.

Despite having a variety of other projects in the works, Smith still gets excited when asked to travel and perform “Coach.”

“Having been with it so long makes it feel like an old friend. It’s like a mini reunion,” Smith said.

After the performance, audience members can join Smith, Enberg and former Marquette assistant coach Rick Majerus for a talk back panel. The panel usually begins with Enberg discussing his time with McGuire and then opening up to the audience members, who often provide fascinating stories of their own. Smith mentioned one particular story a young woman shared at an event about McGuire. Her car had broken down, and McGuire let her take his to her parent’s house.

“He was an inspirational force,” Smith said. “That was the kind of thing this unusual guy would do.”

Little moments like the one Smith described all make up the person McGuire was, and what he meant to many people. “Coach” is a continuous tribute to that legacy.

“Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire,” comes to the Marcus Center for the Performing at Vogel Hall, 929 N. Water Street , March 28th and 29th.  Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online at Show times are at 7:30 p.m.

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