As told by Dave's friend, Michael "Red" O'Connor
Dysfunctional Dave McGee
I guess it even surprises me how long I’ve been with Dave. He’s not an easy guy to get along with- hell, he’s impossible to get along with- three ex-wives, not a single other long term friendship, no connection to his family…
The man the media has always called “Dysfunctional” Dave McGee is one of a kind. He has a fierce, hair trigger temper, he has been known to get into street brawls, and more often bar brawls, he drinks way too much, he is constantly mad at the world to the point of almost being paranoid. He simply has few if any people skills regarding anyone but those involved with his basketball program.
On the other hand he has a deep, wide, long knowledge of basketball fundamentals, and an equal knowledge of the intricacies of the game. He is an excellent teacher. No one is better at putting together a practice that wastes no time at all. He has unquestioned integrity. He demands the best, in the sport, in the classroom, and on the street from his students. He expects them to avoid anything remotely resembling trouble. But he is loyal to a fault. He will defend his players completely in times of trouble, if he feels they are in the right, or even if it is questionable.
The media too often portrays him as simple. He isn’t. He’s exceedingly complex and usually conflicted.
Okay, where to start? Third grade I guess. I moved to Cranston, Rhode Island from Bridgeport, CT in October of my third grade year. As all schools do, this school teamed me with a kid who would show me around. When we got to lunch recess we went outside. There was a small group shooting baskets, dominated by a tall, rugged looking kid who was clearly in charge. He was yelling at one of the other kids as we drew near.
“Stay away from him, Michael. He’s a real asshole.”
“He’s in the third grade, how bad could he be.”
“If you look at him he beats you up.”
“Hah… What’s his name?”
“What’s the deal?”
“I dunno. He’s in Miss Butler’s class, not ours. I just know he’s trouble.”
I walked over to the game.
“Hey McGee, kin I take a shot?”
… “Guy wants a shot ta the HEAD! What’s your name, kid?”
“Michael O’Connor. You kin call me Mike.”
“At least yer Irish. I figgered by the hair. Guys, this here is ‘Red’ O’Connor. Call him anything but ‘Red’ I’ll kick yer asses.”
He threw the ball to me, hard. I dribbled twice and took a jumper. It went in.
“Not bad, Red. Yer on my team. Jeff, switch ta skins.”
“Hey! Why I gotta-”
“SWITCH TA SKINS!!!”
That was the intro to Dave McGee. For some reason he liked me. Turned out he lived on the street right next to mine so we hung out a lot right from the beginning. It wasn’t easy being Dave’s friend. He just did stupid, annoying things. Couldn’t seem to help himself. I stuck it out though. I don’t know, I’ve always had a thing about underdogs for one thing. For another, he could play basketball, and even then he was the leader, the coach. He’d put plays in and they were way more sophisticated than you’d expect at this level. He had a head for the game.
He was a head case though. He and I were in school together from third grade through college at URI and I never once saw him do any school work. Don’t ask me how he passed! If a teacher said something he didn’t like, or tried to work with him, Dave would start a battle with the teacher, and more times than not, wind up kicked out of class. But he did pass. He claims he never failed a class, and his URI diploma is in his office.
I guess I’d have to say he was at least somewhat of a bully. Leave him alone, no problem, but get in his way and you’d pay. Kids, even kids 2-3 years older, quickly learned that it was best to do things Dave’s way.
None of that ever changed much over the years. Good or bad he was a leader, and people saw that in him right away.
He kept growing, a big, beefy kid. He was Power Forward all the way and that’s what he played from middle school through college. I was a shooting guard/small forward. I always had a good shot, and the ability to get open for it. I wound up being 6’4”, tall enough to switch between the 2 and 3 spots. I handled the ball okay but not well enough to play Point except in an emergency, and I was a shooter not a passer. Oh, Dave got to 6'6".
In high school Dave went through girl friends like other guys go through sweat socks. He was a big, good looking guy and he was a terrific flirt. But after a girl went out with him a couple of times she was done. He was just too volatile. I never heard that he forced himself on anyone and I don’t think he would do that, but I doubt he had much finesse, and he likely had even less patience.
He had a dim outlook, too.
“Red, it ain’t ever gonna happen for us. Don’t matter how good we are we’re just assholes from Cranston. Duke don’t want us; UCLA don’t want us. We’ll be lucky if URI takes us!”
He was right, but URI did take both of us after we won the state title our senior year at Cranston High. He became a starter as a sophomore and I did as a junior. We roomed together all through college.
We won the conference our senior year and even won our first round NCAA game. Then we got demolished by Syracuse in the 2nd round.
All through college Dave was a really good player, tough as hell, a good rebounder and a better defender. He didn’t score a lot but he did get key baskets fairly often. I was the shooter on the team, and in a lot of ways the star, although that didn’t mean anything to me. Dave and I were co-captains our senior year and that meant a lot.
Off the court his luck with women stayed the same; he dated lots of them but never seemed to have a relationship that lasted.
He never drank until senior year. He never should have started. Alcohol made him even more belligerent and morose than he already was. I can’t even count the number of times I talked him out of fights. Too often I didn’t. He was so big and strong that most guys would back down but when they didn’t it could get ugly very quickly.
We both wound up back at good old Cranston High, me as a history teacher, Dave as a P. E. teacher. He got the head basketball coaching job and I was his assistant. We did well. After a rocky first year we won the league four straight times.
That got him the head coaching job at Nichols College, Div. II. Again, I went with him. We both kept our teaching jobs at Cranston High though.
He got married during his third year at Nichols. He found a woman he couldn’t drive away. After 4 ½ months of marriage he… drove her away.
Then this past spring Bryant fired their head coach. Dave had complied a 91-36 record at Nichols, had won the conference each of the last four years, and had gotten to the Div. II finals or semifinals three of the four years. He never won it all though.
“That’s us, Red, we get there but we don’t get the friggin’ gold ring. Just the way it is. We’ll get ta the big time, you watch, but we’ll never get one a those cushy jobs like Kentucky or Texas, or even UConn, and we’ll never win it all. You’ll see.”
No one ever called Dave Pollyanna.
Anyway, Bryant offered him the job. He told them he would only take it if I got to go along as his #1. After some discussion that’s the way it turned out. Hey, we’re full time basketball coaches at a Div. I school at the tender age of 35! Not bad.
Rhode Island is a small state. Neither of us moved. Dave has an apartment in Cranston, and my wife and I have a small home a couple streets away. Oh, I got married at 28. My wife Jean and I have a boy, Bobby, 3 years old, and a girl, Sandy, 11 months. Jean’s a nurse at the hospital in Cranston.
Jean feels sorry for Dave and has a good effect on him. She’s two years younger but she really is kind of a mother figure. She can get him to hang his head and look embarrassed the way no one else ever could. Dave’s own mother was an alcoholic. She died when he was 15. His dad wasn’t much better. Dave kind of raised himself. He says if it wasn’t for his grandmother he never would have made it. She died when he was 19. He didn’t have brothers and sisters, so Jean and I, and the kids are his only family. He loves the kids and they love him. We have him over for all the holidays, and he’s usually here a couple nights a week. We do a lot of our work here. That may change now that there are two other assistants. We’ll see.
Okay, basketball, coming right up!