Before Dan Monson and then Mark Few turned Gonzaga into a household name every March, Dan Fitzgerald recruited John Stockton to the tiny Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash., and led the Zags to their first NCAA Tournament bid in 1995. Fitzgerald (left) died of a heart attack Tuesday at 67 and I can tell you first-hand he was quite a character.
Fitzgerald, who had Monson and Few on his staff as assistants, was a big man with the booming bluster that reminded you of a West Coast version of ex-Vermont impresario Tom Brennan. He brought Gonzaga to the Aud in 1993 for the Canisius College Classic, a one-year try to get a Big 4 tourney going that never was renewed because St. Bonaventure wouldn't play. The Zags got beat the first night by Canisius and lost the second night to a winless Niagara team that was on the way to a five-win season.
Niagara won that game, 63-61, thanks largely to a 21-6 edge in free throws. Fitzgerald -- who had yelled for all to hear, "I came 3,000 miles for this?" during one point of the first-round game against Canisius -- was wild all night. I was covering the Canisius-UB championship game but made sure to stop into his press conference after the consolation tilt and I wasn't disappointed.
The tiny Aud press room was full of stat people and Canisius workers getting prepped for the next game but they all stopped in their tracks when Fitzgerald bolted into the room and stood by one wall. He got asked a couple cursory questions and gave a couple cursory answers before he just started ranting.
"In my 28 years of coaching, I've never been critical of officials, but this was the worst I've ever seen," he roared. "The stats speak for themselves. We made seven more shots, but 15 less foul shots. My advice for my colleagues in the West: Stay the hell out of Buffalo."
Fitzgerald asked if anyone had any more questions. No one did and he left, crumbling the stat sheet and tossing it against the wall in the hall on the way out the door. Gonzaga has never been back. Classic stuff.
AP file photo: Fitzgerald in 1997.
taggedBig 4 | Canisius | College basketball | Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference | NCAA Tournament | Niagara