For years I was known far and wide as the luckiest beat guy in the ACC, if not all of college basketball.
Read the lead quote in Conor O’Neill’s superb piece on Ryan Odom making the NCAA Tournament as head coach at Maryland-Baltimore County and you’ll understand why.
Covering Wake teams coached by Dave Odom for the Winston-Salem Journal was far more than an honor and a privilege. The Deacons, if you can remember back that far, were a force to be reckoned with in the ACC wars, good enough to win back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996 and make it to post-season play the last 11 of the 12 years Odom called the shots.
But it was the pleasure of covering Dave Odom that made my cohorts so jealous, and understandably so. In all my years on the beat, I never met a sportswriter who didn’t think the world of Dave Odom.
And here’s why. People like getting treated like people. And Dave Odom would not only treat us sportswriters like people, he’d treat us like friends he was happy to see.
There are plenty of coaches in the business who charm the socks off a room while they’re on the podium behind the mic. They’re funny, engaging, light-hearted and self-effacing.
But follow them down the hall and they’re chewing out their media relations director for letting the post-game conference run on too long.
Dave was different in every way. The only problem of covering Dave was that his post-game conferences would run so long that deadlines could become a real problem.
The best games were the day games, when we had plenty of time. We’d all ask Dave questions in the post-game, then we’d follow him across the hall to the locker room and crowd around while he would hold court another 45 minutes amidst the heat baum, tape and left-over trays of sliced oranges and grapes.
Eventually we’d make it back to the work room and start in on our stories, and here would come Dave walking through asking if everybody had what they needed.
And that would be win or lose. What a joy those days were.
I’ve often wondered if the worst mistake Ron Wellman ever made at Wake was to let Dave Odom get away to South Carolina.
Yeah, I remember Butler. I was in Kansas City that day to see the Deacons trailing the Bulldogs 43-10 at half. And I know that Wellman made a great hire in Skip Prosser, another coach who was a great honor, privilege and pleasure to cover.
But Skip, as good as he was, allowed the program to fall to depths that Wake never experienced under Odom, finishing last in the ACC at 3-13 in 2005-06 and following that up with a 5-11 mark the next season. To his credit, he appeared to have the Deacons back on the road to respectability before the bitter tragedy of his death in July 2007.
But Dave Odom fit Wake so well, and Wake was mighty lucky to have him those 12 years.
I’ve told this story before, which won’t stop me from telling it again.
Along about 1996, during the depths of the Jim Caldwell doldrums of Wake football, I covered the Deacons playing at North Carolina. I was lucky enough to run into Bill Dooley, the coach Caldwell replaced in 1993.
I’d known Dooley since my undergraduate days at North Carolina in the early 1970s and always got along with him really well. Like Odom, Dooley always knew how to treat people like people.
But I also knew that Dooley, like most coaches, was a proud individual. And I’ll never forget the smile on his face when I greeted him with “Coach Dooley, you’re looking good. And by the way, back in Winston-Salem you’re looking better and better.’’
Dave Odom, at 75, is looking good these days, as is his winsome wife Lynn. They have a house at Emerald Isle, but they also moved back to Winston. I don’t see them often, but it’s a great pleasure when I do.
Meanwhile, back at Wake, Odom’s 240 victories and two championships over 12 years are looking better and better.
Ryan Odom was 15 when Dave was named head coach at Wake. He was the young kid running around.
Tonight he’s coaching Maryland-Baltimore County in the NCAA Tournament. He’s a damn good coach, good enough to go 21-10 at Lenoir-Rhyne in 2015-16 and win 45 of his first 68 games at UMBC while directing the program back to the NCAA for the first time in 10 years.
His immediate task is daunting, in that no No. 16 seed has ever knocked off a No. 1. So no one expects him to beat Virginia tonight in Charlotte. And for the good of the ACC, the conference I covered all those years, it’s best that he doesn’t.
But knowing the Odom family as well as I do, I can’t help but be a big UMBC fan tonight.