DURHAM, N.H. (AP) - Friel’s legacy is not linked to huge success in wins and losses at UNH. Rather, it is tied to his long friendship with legendary Boston Celtics player Bob Cousy which spanned 50-plus years, his dedication to wife and family, and his steadfast commitment to his players
DURHAM - Thoughts are turning to the late Gerard “Gerry” Friel. A respected men’s basketball coach at the University of New Hampshire, he passed away in 2007.
This fall marks the 50th anniversary of his first season in 1969-70.
Friel’s legacy is not linked to huge success in wins and losses at UNH, where he did what he did with limited resources for 20 seasons. Rather, it is tied to his long friendship with legendary Boston Celtics player Bob Cousy which spanned 50-plus years, his dedication to wife and family, and his steadfast commitment to his players.
Two of his sons, Keith and Greg, recently visited Cousy, now 91, at his home in Worcester, Mass., just days after Cousy received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump.
It was a come-full-circle reunion. Gerry got his college coaching start with Cousy at Boston College in the late 1960s, and before that as a young boy he cut his basketball teeth at Cousy’s Camp Graylag in Pittsfield, N.H.
“We told a lot of Gerry Friel stories,” laughs Cousy, who played 13 NBA seasons with the Boston Celtics, winning six championships. “Probably a lot of them were exaggerated. We might have shed a few tears, too.”
Gerry died young at age 64.
COUSY AND GERRY
Cousy recalls his first memory of Gerry in the early 1950s at age 8, his initial visit to Camp Graylag as a camper with his parents from their home in Oswego, New York.
“He loved basketball,” Cousy said. “He loved sports. He was full of energy.”
Cousy remembers standing at the bottom of a hill with Gerry’s parents while Gerry went up and changed into his sneakers.
“He ran back down and right by us to the courts,” Cousy said. “He was so anxious to get to the basketball courts. He didn’t say goodbye to his parents. That was the kind of enthusiasm he had as a youngster.”
Gerry eventually came back as a junior counselor, a counselor and then headed up the camp’s athletic programs. By then Cousy was at Boston College as the coach, where he spent six seasons.
“We reunited at Boston College and then he got the job at UNH,” Cousy said. “Gerard was literally like a son to us.”
Cousy said it was crystal clear as a youngster that Gerry had the skills for basketball. He later started coaching as a counselor. “It was obvious he had it in his blood,” Cousy said.
Gerry joined Cousy’s staff at BC in 1966. “He was like a breath of fresh air when I took him at BC,” Cousy said. “He would anticipate just what you need as a head coach. You need people to do things that require doing before you ask them to do it. Gerard, maybe it was because we had been together for so long, he had that kind of presence.”
BC enjoyed great success in the three years Gerry and Cousy were together, going to the NCAA tournament twice and then the championship game of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) that final season.
Cousy left BC to coach in the NBA, but not before recommending Gerry for the head job at New Hampshire.
Cousy doesn’t recall the specifics, only that “we had done reasonably well at Boston College, so I had some juice at that time.”
He adds, “I’m not sure I did him a favor. New Hampshire then and now is kind of a basketball graveyard.”
UNH, JOAN AND THE KIDS
Despite the obvious challenges, Gerry embraced his new job at UNH. After his first season ended in 1970, he met his wife, the former Joan Robie, then a senior at UNH.
Joan laughs about their initial meetings, spurning him the first time he asked for a date. She had seen plenty of sports growing up, listing off football, soccer, wrestling and hockey. She mentions, however, she had never gone to a basketball game.
Joan recalls his second attempt at dating her while she was walking near the intersection by Thompson Hall. “He pulls up in his Ford Torino convertible with white leather interior. He hops out in the middle of the intersection, leaves his car running and proceeds to ask me out again.”
She did go out with him, although it was an odd jaunt to Suffolk Downs with Gerry and four friends, including Satch Sanders of the Boston Celtics. The wives of the other four were supposed to meet up with them at Suffolk Downs, but never showed.
She laughed. “That’s how I met him, on the street. But he’d been watching me since September. Keeping track, yes.”
They were engaged later that year and married in 1971. They lived briefly in Barrington and then moved to Durham, buying a lot in the UNH faculty development for $1,800.
“Gerry was making $10,000,” Joan said. “We didn’t have $1,800, so we paid the university $100 a month.”
A friend of hockey coach Charlie Holt built their house for them, one they could afford, and they’ve been there ever since (1975) on Croghan Lane in Durham.
Joan recalls her first UNH basketball game with Gerry as coach during the 1970-71 season. It was at Bowdoin College in Maine.
“I’m engaged,” she said. “Mary Rayhall (the wife of an assistant) and I are sitting in the stands with the freshman team. Gerry got thrown out of the game.”
The thing was, as recounted by Joan, Gerry wouldn’t stay in the locker room after he was tossed. Two state troopers had to be stationed at the door to prevent him from re-entering the gym.
“On the way back home I’m wondering what have I gotten myself into,” Joan said. “The guy is crazy. He put on performances to rev the team up. He was just very enthusiastic.”
A Rhode Island fan section enjoyed Gerry’s visits, cheering on his sideline antics. “He’d throw his jacket, get on his knees, jump around, cartwheel,” Joan said. “You can ask the players. He was a little bit crazy.”
Another time years later, Joan recalls Jeremy, age 4, getting away from her during a game at UNH. “He’s down there at Gerry’s elbow, pulling his jacket, telling his dad to put a certain player in.
“Gerry looks at him,” she laughs. “Turns around and looks at me. What can I do but shrug?”
Joan mentions that Gerry had a nervous stomach. “He couldn’t eat before the game and really not after the game,” she said. “(The players) would vie to see who could sit next to him because that meant they not only got their meal but they got his as well.”
Gerry coached, Joan worked, too, and their family grew. By the time his final coaching season rolled around in 1988-89, they had four children (Jennifer, Keith, Greg,and Jeremy). The fifth, Jilliane, was born in 1991. All five played basketball at the local public high school, Oyster River. All five scored more than 1,000 career points, and attended and played basketball at an NCAA Division I university.
Coaching basketball was a passion for Gerry, but family was more important. He loved that his children could grow up in the Durham area.
Keith and Greg recall being ball boys for their dad’s team at a young age.
“Keith and I would do the halftime show,” said Greg, who later played at Dartmouth College. “We’d do our halfcourt hook shots and play one on one.”
Keith, who later played at Notre Dame and Virginia, said they went on close bus rides to Boston for games at Northeastern or Boston University. He particularly remembers the stacked Northeastern teams with Reggie Lewis in the mid 1980s. “We wanted to get out there and watch,” Keith said. “Everybody was talking about Reggie Lewis. I was excited to rebound for him and get out there.”
The boys remember seeing the other schools and coaches like Jim Calhoun, Mike Jarvis, Tom Brennan, Skip Chappelle and John Calipari.
Joan would pick the two boys up after school and drop them off at Gerry’s practice at 3:30 p.m.
“We quickly learned to hold onto the basketball when he was talking,” Keith said. “That last shot when he said stop, you’re running to grab it.”
“We got to hang with all the college kids when we were in elementary school,” Greg said. “We’d play horse, play pig.”
Gerry opened basketball doors for his children with his connections and knowledge but, as Keith noted, “He wanted us to take ownership of our own game. That started at a young age.”
Keith felt he wasn’t getting enough playing time with a sixth-grade travel team and told Gerry as much.
Keith smiles, recalling the exchange. “He goes, ‘So you think you should be playing more? Apparently it’s not that evident to everybody else. Why don’t you go talk to the coach. It obviously doesn’t mean that much to you if you don’t want to talk to the coach.”
Bottom line, Gerry wasn’t going to fight Keith’s battles, especially involving playing time.
“At the time, do I have a parent bail me out?” Keith said. “(My dad) didn’t see a practice or a game, so now it’s all on my account against someone else, a coach, who thinks you’re not that much better. That struck me. I had no one else. It’s in my hands. I’ve got it. I’m never going to be in that situation again. Great lesson.”
Gerry wanted to expose his boys to the best competition, so he took the family to California and enrolled Keith and Greg at the prestigious Snow Valley Basketball School in Santa Barbara for a week.
It was a great, eye-opening experience for both boys.
Keith recalls one morning they were offering optional big-man drills at 6 a.m. Gerry asked them if they were getting up for that.
“What?” Keith said. “We’re not going to be big men.”
He goes, “Yes, you are. You’re going to learn to catch that ball down on the block. It was great for moving forward. Now I knew where my bigs wanted to catch it. It made a world of difference. Especially now, where everybody wants to specialize.”
Basketball was a year-round staple of the Friel household, even in the summer. For six to eight weeks, they would pack up the family car and head to Phillips Exeter Academy where Gerry ran a summer basketball school from his first year at UNH until the early 1990s.
Joan recalls they at first lived in the dorms, and then once they had kids, they were given a house for the summer. They ate meals at the dining hall.
“We loved going over there,” she said. “There were swimming lessons at the pool. I loved their little library. Other families started to come, Dave Faucher’s family.”
She laughs. “People would say ‘How was your year?’ Someone would say 11-16. You never had to say anything else. Because everybody knew - 18-10 or 2-15 or whatever. Nobody had to explain, hockey coaches or basketball coaches.”
Joan said she enjoyed it and the guys had a good time. “They’d go out for a run in the morning after they’d been up all night talking basketball, trying to figure out the ideal number for a basketball camp, which, by the way, is 96. But that came after a lot of alcohol and 20 years of working at Phillips Exeter.”
They are fond memories for Joan. “People go to Maine or the Cape for vacation,” she said. “We just went to Exeter.”
Gerry’s last season at UNH in 1988-89, the Wildcats nearly beat UMass on national TV. Greg remembers fans chanting “Gerry! Gerry! Gerry!” after the loss on a buzzer-beating shot by UMass.
“He was intense,” Greg said. “He was competitive. There were no resources at UNH. No money.”
Dave Faucher, who later was the head coach at Dartmouth College, agrees. Faucher, a Somersworth native, graduated from UNH in 1972. He credits Gerry with getting him into coaching. He served two years on Gerry’s staff before coaching high school in Newmarket. He eventually joined the staff at Dartmouth where he became the head coach in 1991, a position he held for 13 years.
?(The UNH) budget was not on par with other things,” Faucher said. “There were a lot of things that were wrong with the school. That was wrong for the program not to be funded properly. He wasn’t out recruiting as much as other schools, but he had contacts and he really used those to get players. There were a lot of disadvantages.”
Although he was hamstrung, Gerry made the very best of his situation. “He made it a good place to go,” Faucher said. “A good program for kids to play in. He coached with passion. He taught his players a lot. The proof is seeing his players come back.”
Joan was frustrated at times with how Gerry had to operate his program. “He was on the road a lot,” she said. “He did more with so little. The other coaches in the league, the Yankee Conference, their budgets were so much better. They had two or three assistants. Gerry at one point had one full-time and one part time.”
Gerry, as Joan notes, made $10,000 when he started at UNH. When he was done in 1989, she said he was making $38,000.
She recalls at some point the university giving Gerry a business American Express Card, which you had to pay off every month before you got reimbursed by the university.
“Gerry didn’t make much money,” she said. “So if you take the drain of recruiting and putting that through the small family budget, that was a hardship for us financially, to be honest. If he didn’t keep all his receipts, it was like us subsidizing the university.”
There was, of course, an upside, according to Joan - he got players he really liked and cared about. “You see the quality of the kids that he got. Their families were impressed with the fact that Gerry was going to watch out for them for four years. Some of them were willing to pay in some way.”
Joan notes that UNH’s standards for getting kids in was higher than other schools UNH played against. “They had to be smart and they had to want to come to New Hampshire.”
Despite the obvious disadvantages, there was still plenty of upside. Gerry’s players were, truly, family.
Joan recalls the university closing down for winter break and the players coming to their house for meals. She remembers one particularly bad snow storm. There was so much snow that Young’s Restaurant, which fed the kids during the break, was closed.
So the players came to the Friel house for supper that night and for breakfast the next morning. “Randy Kinzly loaded the dishwasher and someone else vacuumed after dinner and made sure everything was picked up,” Joan said. “They would baby sit for us too and mow the lawn. We have fabulous, fabulous memories as I’m sure the kids do, too.”
When Gerry was let go after the 1988-89 season with a career record of 189-335, he did not take it well.
“It was tough,” Joan said. “Basketball really was his passion.”
LIFE AFTER COACHING
She encouraged him to look for another coaching job. “I’m an Army brat,” Joan said. “We moved all the time. I knew it wouldn’t kill the kids to move some place else. Family was very important to Gerry. He did not want to disrupt what we had with the kids and being in one place.”
Instead he took a job as Director of University Athletic Relations, and Director of Athletic Fundraising. Joan said he was good at his job, but he did not have the same appreciation or enjoyment of it as basketball.
“He was a different person (after he got out of coaching),” Keith said. “He was down. He was never diagnosed with depression. The fun-loving guy wasn’t the same person anymore.”
Long after Gerry’s career ended his legacy lives on. His kids used his wisdom and connections to play college basketball. His players respected what he had done for them and came back to show their appreciation.
“The older guys come back and reach out,” Greg said. “A lot of those guys came to our games when we were in college. He created a real family atmosphere, which I don’t think happens a lot these days.”
“He sacrificed his career for family,” Keith said. “He was blessed in so many different ways when you look back.”
Keith, when he played, recalled time and time again people, officials, pulling him aside and asking about his old man.
When Gerry was on the road, no matter where he was, at 9 p.m. he would leave whatever he was doing to call home and say goodnight to his children.
Greg and Keith’s recent visit with Bob Cousy was initiated by reconnecting with Greg’s old pen pal - Bob Cousy - who he used to write to when he was much younger in the 1980s and 1990s.
On March 21 he received this letter form the NBA Hall of Famer: “Dear Greg. So Pleased to hear that the Friel family is alive hopefully well. Your dad was always like a son to me. Hope you can decipher the scribbling. I’m proud to announce that I’m still computer illiterate. I had a wonderful BC event on March 9, 2019; honored the 67-68-69 teams. I was there in spirit. Health problems. But your dad’s name along with Frank Power and Jack McGee were mentioned often. Have to keep this short as having energy issues. Hopefully a pacemaker in April will assist. If your mom is still alive, please give her a big hug for me. Bob Cousy.”
So many memories of Gerry Friel from Cousy and others.
Faucher recalls how he got into coaching through Gerry in the early 1970s. An undergrad at UNH, Faucher was taking a class with Gerry on coaching basketball.
“I was coaching youth basketball,” he said. “Cousy was my favorite player. I read this book called ‘Basketball Concepts and Techniques’ by Cousy with Frank Power. Friel was Cousy’s assistant. I read it.”
One of the class assignments was to scout Gerry’s team.
“Well his team ran a double stack, which was in Cousy’s book,” Faucher said. “So I knew all the terminology. Hit the wings. Screen away. High-low. Two-man game. All of it.”
Faucher saw UNH play and the following week in class, Gerry tells everyone what a great job they did with the scouting reports. He singled out one report “that’s equal to any college coach in the country. I want to see that person after class.”
That person was Dave Faucher.
They went to lunch and Gerry asked Faucher to join his staff as a volunteer assistant, going to practice and watching film.
The next year Faucher returned to the staff as the freshman coach. “I loved it,” he said. “It was a great opportunity. I’ll never forget it because who knows what happens?”
Joan smiles when she speaks of her husband. “He learned to cook at 40 as soon as he stopped coaching. People loved to have him at weddings,” she said. “He was a great dancer. He’d dance with all the old ladies and anyone who didn’t have a date.”
She laughs at his “old man quotes” or Friel-isms, which her children repeat to this day.
Greg likes using them and shared a few - Be quick, but don’t hurry. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Never panic, adjust. A good pass is one that gets there. Lots of hands make the load lighter, not later.”
His favorite? “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Gerry really cared about his players.
“He had a nice impact on their lives because he was a gentleman,” Joan said. “He insisted on manners. He expected them to work hard. He didn’t put up with bad behavior. He expected them to go to class.”
Dave Pemberton played for Gerry in the early 1970s and he told Joan, “It was the first time someone said he was smart and he could do anything he wanted to do with his college education. He had a lot of impact on people that way. At least that’s what they tell me.”
Gerry took his job and his players very seriously. “He felt very responsible for them,” Joan said. “Academically, socially. He followed up. Graduation was very important to him. He had one of the best graduation rates.”
Gerry Friel left his mark. Maybe not with the record, but he did what he could given the limitation of the resources at hand. More importantly he impacted many young lives by being a coach who was invested beyond the confines of the basketball court, beyond Xs and Os, beyond wins and losses.
Pretty good legacy.
Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com
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