Legendary coach realizes life's treasure
July 25, 2009
CHENEY, Wash. -
by Scott Davis, Sports Editor, The Easterner
Hall of Fame coach Chuck Randall, 82, spent 18 days in an intensive care unit after a severe heart attack in 1975. His wife Doris sat by his side even though her own mother died while he was hospitalized.
"The doctor told me it was the most severe heart attack he had ever seen someone live through," he said.
This acclaimed coach, who also served in World War II and invented the Slam-Dunk rim, now concludes that success came not from money or winning, but from having a close family.
Randall's cardiac arrest came three days after his Western Washington University basketball team defeated Eastern Washington University 61-60 in Bellingham, Wash. Following the game, Eagle coach Jerry Krause led Randall to center court, where one of the rims was visibly bent downward.
"I felt so bad because I knew that they should have won the game," said Randall. The Eagles' final shot hit the backboard, bouncing off the crooked rim and narrowly missing the cylinder. The injustice inspired Randall to create the world's first dunk-proof rim.
Randall's original prototype consisted of two "pop bolts," which sheared off when under more than 200 pounds of pressure, taking one minute to replace. "I struck it rich," he thought. He later implemented a spring mechanism to absorb overemphatic dunks and pop the rim back to original form.
That year, Allsop produced collapsible rims for the NBA's Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trailblazers, as well as two for WWU. "If I was anywhere but Western, I wouldn't have invented the rim because I would have gotten new ones and not worried about it," said Randall, whose Viking budget was less than $9,000 yearly.
Randall's resilient rim with shock-absorbing axis, seen at any competitive level of play today, is not officially credited to him, however. The Smithsonian Institution recognizes retired Illinois grain operator Arthur Ehrat as the inventor, while documents also show Portland physics professor Toby Dittrich patented the idea.
"Chuck Randall got the publicity, but Arthur Ehrat and I got the patent and the money," said Dittrich, according to a 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article. John Simonseth, a business partner of Randall who initially helped market the rim, prematurely stopped sending royalty checks to him. Randall filed a law suit to retrieve the money, but claims his attorney stole more than $7,000 from him in the process.
"[My attorney] ends up writing me a check and it's no good and she skipped the country," said Randall. Since then, the lawyer was disbarred, jailed and pays Randall $12 per month in restitution.
"I don't lose any sleep over it," said Randall. "It's over and done with. I've realized money isn't that big [or] important, and still don't think it is."
Ironically, Randall later had another invention that almost made him wealthy. After traveling to Fred Meyers' headquarters in Seattle and selling 10,000 golf putting training sets at $10 each, Randall said he flew to K-Mart's operations center in New York, where he sold $600,000 worth. K-Mart rescinded its offer days later, saying the product did not fit store shelves properly.
A 1951 Eastern Washington University graduate, Randall is Western Washington University's Coach of the Century (1900-1999), and is a member of the NAIA, Washington State Basketball Coaches, WWU and EWU Halls of Fame. His strict Christian upbringing helped shape his coaching career, in which he touched hundreds of lives.
"When I was coaching I made it real strict, no smoking, no drinking," said Randall. "When I was a first grader, my mom said for us to sign a contract not to do that stuff. My mother died when I was in the third grade, but I guess from the time I was born to the time she died, she had a heck of a lot to do with my life and who I am."
Randall treated every player as an equal, regardless of talent level. The "Athlete's Prayer" was his signature, a poem to God that he and players recited together prior to every game. "Reporters would ask if they could come in and take a picture of us saying the prayer, but I never let them. I made it kind of a sacred thing just for our team," he said.
Personally, Randall heeded his mother's advice not to drink or smoke, except for one cigarette at age 10. He felt regret, so when returning from Sendai, Japan as a paratrooper in World War II, he secretly refused to take a toast of whiskey with the troops.
"They were really great guys and idols for me. I really wanted to drink the toast with them, but I thought, 'Well, I've gone this far without drinking, I'm not going to do it,' so when they weren't looking, I poured it in a plant," said Randall.
Randall knew in fourth grade he would coach after he saw his uncle console a crying child after a track meet. "I realized how important coaches can be and their impact on people," he said. It was an auspicious vision.
In his 18 years as a WWU head coach, Randall highlighted his players' successes as his greatest joys. "What you do for me is immaterial; what you do for yourself is what's big to me. Take something, run with it, and success," he would tell athletes.
Randall's compassion as a high school coach was exemplified when former player, Jerry Martin, who had an alcoholic father, could not hitchhike rides home from Republic, Wash., after winter practices. Randall allowed Martin to move in with him that year, becoming his good friend and mentor.
A pioneer of the sport, Randall created the first basketball camp in the western United States. Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics offered to help organize the camp, which took place at Conifer Lodge on Snoqualmie Pass in Washington. More than 450 boys signed up from around the Northwest.
In 1961, Randall, along with Ray Thacker and best friend Ernie McKie, opened a second camp in California's San Bernardino Mountains. There, legendary coach John Wooden, Bill Sharman and NBA Laker "Hot" Rod Hundley helped lead 250 youth in drills, providing bedding and three meals daily. The camp still exists today.
Randall touched the hearts of many who crossed his path - not just players, but other coaches, university administrators and acquaintances. Paul Madison, WWU sports information director, wrote to Randall, "You are the father I never had and having you standing with me is in reality having my dad there. Thank you for your love and for your patience and for always being there for me."
Randall now lives in Bellingham, Wash., by Lake Samish with his wife of 60 years, their son and granddaughter. He compiled a 274-183 record from 1963-81 at Western with numerous honors, and recently received the EWU service and contribution award in its Hall of Fame. But, he said, "The best thing in life happened to me at Eastern, when I met Doris, the prettiest and smartest girl on campus."
"You get to 82 like I am, you look back and realize, 'Hey, marriage and your family are the most important things.' Winning games is big, but nothing like marriage. I learned that after coaching," said Randall.
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