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Struck Strikes Out: Head up, Mac, your dues are paid

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Although I can't claim to be a longtime friend because we ran in quite different circles, suffice it to say that I'm a proud acquaintance of Iowa State Cyclone football coach Dan McCarney.

No, we're not bosom buddies, but if our paths ever crossed (and they have on more than a few occasions), he would say, "Hey there, Struck," and I would respond "How's it going, Mac?"

At least I would have said that until last Wednesday when McCarney resigned at ISU after 12 devoted years of running against the wind trying to build a suitable football program in a wonderfull city called Ames that just happens to be situated smack-dab between Iowa City and Lincoln, Neb.

Today, "How's it going, Mac? would simply not be an appropriate greeting when we all know "it" obviously is going pretty lousy right now.

I first met Dan McCarney on a cold winter night back in the mid-1970s when he and legendary Iowa Hawkeyes football coach Hayden Fry flew into the Cherokee airport to recruit a prized area player who had all the physical skills Division 1 programs crave. I was tipped off by a phone call from the airport and was at the airport when the University of Iowa plane landed.

As the two men scurried inside out of the wintry weather, I introduced myself as the Cherokee Daily Times sports editor. I told them I wanted to do a story on their trip to Cherokee. At that time in my youth I stood about 6-4, played a lot of sports, was in great physical condition, and weighed about a six-pack over 200 pounds. Fry came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders and said, "My goodness, Boy, do you have any eligibility left?"

We visited for a while before Fry and McCarney, one of Hayden's top assistants, took off to visit the recruit, after getting directions to the player's home verified by me.

"When we get back, we could use a cold one before we fly back to Iowa City," quipped McCarney on the way out. "It's been a long day."

I went back to the office (we worked nights then because the Daily Times was an afternoon newspaper) and hurriedly got the next day's pages done. I then grabbed a few cold ones and went to the airport. When they returned, we shared some Hawkeye football stories during an informal social hour, and they both asked me to keep them informed of any promising area football players who might make the grade in the Big Ten.

Too soon, the pilot signaled through the windows that the plane was fueled up, warmed up, and it was time for the return trip. We shared handshakes and backslaps and said our goodbyes. End of story.

In the old days, I used to periodically go to the Iowa Hawkeye basketball and football media days where we'd play golf at Finkbine and eat free food. Each time, I would run into Mac and we'd exchange our customary greetings.

A few years later, Mac, then in his third year as head coach at ISU after five years as an assistant at Wisconsin and 13 at Iowa, came to Cherokee to "visit" with then Braves' football coach Bill Messerole. Because personal visits were not allowed by NCAA rules at that time of year, I knew the real reason Mac was in town was to talk about and possibly accidentally, run into Cherokee senior lineman Clint Harrison (a solid 6-6, 290 pounds).

We (Mac, Bill and I) were visiting in the coaches' office at WHS when Clint just happened to walk by to ask his coach something. As Clint filled up the doorway with his sizeable frame, McCarney stood up, his eyes as big as dinner plates, and uttered, "You're...You're supposed to be FAT! I thought you would be FAT! But you're not FAT! My goodness!"

Bill introduced Mac to Clint, asked me to take some photos for posterity and that was the end of that after Clint ultimately elected to play football at Morningside College and then later transferred to Western Illinois University after the Mustangs moved down from Division II athletics.

Through the years, I went to a handful of Cyclone home football games where I roamed the sidelines with camera and, despite his being one of the most intense sideline coaches I've ever seen, Mac would see me and nod his head with a silent "Hey there, Struck" while always nervously adjusting his headphones.

All told, Dan McCarney is one of the most passionate, caring, dedicated, determined, hard-working coaches I've ever known. But you're always running in sand at "small" Big-Time schools like Iowa State, while other coaches in the top programs are running on solid ground.

Mac made it work at ISU and took the program to rare heights (see tenures of Johnny Majors and Earle Bruce), AND, to the chagrin of many, had a knack of beating his old team, the acclaimed Hawkeyes.

But it's always, "What have you done for me lately?" and Mac's train finally ran off the tracks. He was running out of bullets. This proud "I'm first gonna out-work you, and then I'm gonna beat you" warrior finally saw Hope disappearing.

Hope, that magical elixer that wakes you each morning hell-bent to dive head-first into the rigors of your labor of love. If Hope is leaving, grab your hat and coat and follow it out the door. The party's over. And Faith and Charity won't win many football games or put the fannies in the seats.

Dan McCarney will land on his feet, don't kid yourself. The rumors are already out there. He's going to Iowa as defensive coordinator. He's going to the University of Miami with his former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez. He's going to the NFL.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, I know one thing - Dan McCarney will be successful because of all he brings to the table each and every day.

And if our paths ever cross again - and I pray that they do - he'll say, "Hey there, Struck," and I'll say, "How's it going, Mac?" this time knowing that its going pretty good for a man so very deserving.

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