CELEBRATING COACH SQUIRES AT 80

Talking Points with Coach Bill Squires

This Saturday, November 24, 2012 friends of Coach Bill Squires will gather at Boston College from noon till 3 pm for an 80th birthday celebration. From far out on the California coast, a toast and fond salute to the coach who famously led Boston State College and the Greater Boston Track Club during a career that carried many a runner and team to national and international titles, all with no budget or home track, while revolutionizing marathon training with athletes like Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Greg Meyer, Bob Hodge and Dick Beardsley.

But it wasn’t the Xs and Os of his training programs that made Coach Squires a New England running legend, or that earned him the Bill Bowerman Award from the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2002. It was much more than what he said.

How to best explain it?

Well, I guess I could go back to the early `80s and take you on the drive with the coach and New Zealand Olympian Kevin Ryan as we headed from Boston to New York for the Millrose Games, the drive that got the coach talking about his “date” with Hollywood starlet Natalie Wood – or as coach called her, “Natley”, in his clipped Arlington, Mass. born accent.

As the coach told it, the date had been arranged by Photo Play, or some such Hollywood magazine.  Squires was a miler at Notre Dame at the time, and he and another athlete in L.A. for the NCAA Championships were to escort Ms. Wood and Annette Funicello, the ex-Mousketeer, on a date for publicity purposes.

I could go on and tell you about Coach’s reaction after Kevin Ryan caustically remarked from behind the wheel, “Huh. No way a beautiful woman like that would go out with an ugly prick like you,” said as he downed another Foster’s while zooming at 80+ down I-84, and yet uncannily knowing when to slow down for a soon passing state trooper.

“ME-E?!! ” exclaimed the coach riding shotgun, his voice rising two octaves, accent straining in startled indignation. “I was handsome : six feet tall, 160 pounds, blawnnd crew cut hayuh (sic), 100 push ups a day – I had definition in my bawdy!  Are you kiddin’ me!!???”

I was left in a puddle of hysterics in the backseat.

Or, I could regale you with Coach’s story (again indignantly told on the same drive) about how he used to pee in his college dorm room sink in the dead of night, because he didn’t want to pad down the hall to the communal men’s room.  And how after his roommate complained to the good fathers of Notre Dame about the coach’s indecorous behavior, how the coach proceeded to present a paper at his disciplinary hearing detailing the disinfectant properties of urine as utilized by soldiers in the Boer War as a weapon’s cleaner.  And yet, notwithstanding this uncontested testimony, how the coach was firmly instructed never again to use his sink for anything beyond hands and face washing and tooth brushing, and that included no weapon’s cleaning.

Sure, I could do that, but why go back that far? Instead, I take you to the lobby of the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay this past April 13th, the weekend of the Boston Marathon. I was at my usual mid-lobby perch waiting for potential sources to come scuttling by. And there was the coach, and we got to chatting. His engines were already revving, his syntax waging battle with his fast-tripping thoughts as I engaged him on his now famous long-surge marathon technique, a method he perfected during his days with the Greater Boston Track Club in the 1970s and `80s. And this, by the way, is an exact transcription of the coach’s train of thought, a train that somehow stayed on its rails despite the snake pit of syntactical sidetracks, digressions, loops and spurs that the coach engineered.

“IT’S LIKE JELLYBEANS”

“Our numbers were between nine and 12,” began the coach, as always, in mid-thought. “I had Lydiard at my house one day, and he almost pissed his pants. They had, they could run, yours was going – hill training!”

(And he points at me, eyebrows raised to a meaningful height, as if that would somehow make this latest formulation clear. It was classic Squires. But after so many years I was adept at following through the circuitous journey).

“His thing was strength, strength, strength. The athletes he had were, in a way, all they were were strength, because all they were doing was speed away from him, because he didn’t know speed. He wasn’t a speed man. He was just strength. And, and, and I said, I said ‘you didn’t do enough flat, semi-flat work’. And he goes, ‘Is that what I was missing?’  Well, I said, ‘If so’.  And he said, ‘I always wanted to be known as a marathon man, and everyone knows me as a ‘– “but he wasn’t a 5000-meter man!”

(Needless to say, I was concentrating as hard as I could to keep up. But maintaining my composure, I contributed.)

“And now everybody goes back and uses Lydiard’s program to prep for the marathon, because it’s a strength-based program.”

To which the coach quickly added: “And then you go from altitude to sea-level, and it’s like, like, like jellybeans.”

(It’s like what??)

“Oh, I can figure out anyone,” Coach instantly transitioned without prompting. “I figured out Shorter. I know your tendencies. I know what you do. And all you have to do is put it into reading, or whatever, and I can do – I can!”

“You can?” I asked, my brow knitting furiously. “So what did you find out about Frank Shorter?”

“Okay. Here’s what it was. His father was an army officer, and he moved to altitude when he was a junior in high school. (He did?)  The guy – I knew the guy, a nice Irish guy who was uh, uh, his, uh, college coach – Giegengack. Who, out of the old things – and a nice man, great guy, nice guy – but he wasn’t a sophisticated guy to understand, you know, what Shorter couldn’t do, and know the tendencies of what people can and can’t do.

“So what it was was, Frank had the Ivy League – was the best situation anyone would want to do to be able to get altitude training.”

“It was?”

“You worked the summer, three and a half months. You got your cross country season, then the Ivy League. That’s almost four weeks – months – where the namby pambies go with Nanny and Daddy and they take – Okay? Longer than we had; two weeks we have around here (he meant months). So just as you’re coming off altitude ready for the outdoor season – and with outdoor season? Then you’re ready for partial of your indoor season. This was me!  Nobody told me, but I had to figure it out.”

Figure what out?

“So what he was – and then for some damn reason he got in with those guys and his training and everything was shot, cause I asked him one day – I forget what I did – I said, ‘Your, your, uh, training hasn’t been too fit down in Florida,’ – and (Jack) Bachelor was a very good coach. I think he could’ve been one of America’s very best coaches. A very good runner, too, very strong guy – I mean, kinda awkwardly built, he was so tall. And then, ah, and then, then I go, ‘Well, Jesus, uh, you know.’  So he goes, ‘no’.

(As young Catholic students we were still taught to diagram sentences. But I challenge anyone to deconstruct that baby.)

“So he was the one who pushed him to Denver to get back to an altitude base. Then he moved from there to Albuquerque – No, not Albuquerque, Boulder.

“I’m tellin’ ya, I was a millionaire when I was 36 years-old. And nobody knew it.  Cut the shit, will ya!  I mean I’m goin’ down as the biggest wacko that you ever met, and you know what?  I’m so friggin’, goddamn bright – Oh! Oh! And here’s the number one dingleheimer!”

Just then Bill Rodgers, Coach’s number one exemplar (or in this case, dingleheimer) comes walking up heading for the evening’s marathon function at the hotel.

“No, no,” pivoted Squires, “you don’t have to bend down and kiss the ring. You probably couldn’t get down there anymore, anyway. I’m giving the guppy here a load of the facts of life where Wacko doesn’t know. I’d eat you guys for freakin’ lunch. I used to sit there, and I’d laugh. And one person said, ‘Why don’t your guys do more work?’ I said, ‘I want more work, balls to the wall, in the effin’ race!’”

(Then, in a rising voice mimicking the person he remembers asking him the question, the audience grew with the arrival of another one of Coach’s former standouts, Freddie Doyle and his wife Joy.)

“…`Oh, we should be doin’ – and I won’t tell you who said it – but when he said it, I’m goin, ‘you’re so smaht (sic).  You, you can go up a one-way street backwards’. “

Coaching Legends: Lydiard & Squires

By now I was reeling, Billy was appropriately spaced, and Freddie and Joy were just taking it all in with ‘glad-to-see-nothing’s-changed’ smiles.

Well, we all had this function to attend, so pretty soon we drifted off into the swelling crowd.  But there you have it, a small sample of the ageless legend that is Coach Bill Squires.

The Wack, as we endearingly called him, had a way of expressing himself that might have left Strunk & White twisting in their Elements of Style graves, but somehow it never clouded his meaning to his athletes.  But that’s the thing, you don’t explain magic, you simply enjoy the show.

And though we kidded him mercilessly – and they will again on Saturday at B.C. – his coaching was no trick. Results speak for themselves. No matter what assignment he took on, his athletes and programs thrived and won.  As another legendary coach, Arthur Lydiard, wrote in a blurb for Squires’ book Speed With Endurance that Bill wrote with Bruce Lehane, “Coach Squires is undoubtedly one of the greatest marathon coaches the US has ever seen and indeed one of the best in the world.”

What’s more, Coach made it fun and memorable.  And his runners – “guppies” and “sturdlies” alike- loved him for it, both at the time, and for the rest of their lives.

So Happy birthday, Coach. Heck of a legacy, any way you care to describe it.

END

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29 comments on “CELEBRATING COACH SQUIRES AT 80

  1. Avjean, Don says:

    Hi Toni,

    Please give Billy my best as I remember him as a kid when my grandfather William “Doc” McCarty coached him at Arlington High in the fifties. As well as the many times he would meet us as we crossed the finish line in Boston always with a congratulation and a smile and possibly followed by a beer or two with Tommy Leonard.

    Be well my friend!

    Don

    Don Avjean
    CBS OUTDOOR
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    1233 W. Monroe
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  2. Van townsend says:

    Geesh, you nailed Coach’s rambling non sequiter syntax!
    I was a Williams soccer player-turned runner when Squires found me at Falmouth and changed my life: true mentor and advisor fir life. PLEASE tell him Happy Octo from Van. He’s helped me to coach five Footlocker Finalists from a small squad in Tennessee. A true legend, that Wack!

  3. MIke Roche says:

    Toni, thanks for capturing “Coachspeak” for posterity. I don’t think a Rosetta Stone exists that can help in translation. Wish you were coming to Boston for the festivities.

  4. Kim Wrinkle says:

    I love Coach Bill Squires! Many don’t realize that Coach allowed me, the only Texan ever, to join GBTC in the late 70’s (I still have my singlet somewhere to prove it!). He coached me via phone and mail from 1978- 1986, then periodically when I returned to racing in the late 90’s. My 1982 PR of 2:23:15 at the Nike-OTC Marathon was all on Squires training. To this day, in my own coaching, I use Bill Squires training. More than the training, I love the man. I can’t count the times he allowed me to crash in his apartment when I would travel to Boston for races. He would fascinate me with running tales and wisdom; I never tire of hearing his whimsical style of story-telling. I so wish I could join the select gang of friends, runners, and well-wishers this weekend. At the very least, Tony, please share this post with Coach and with all in attendance.
    Sincerely,
    Kim Wrinkle

  5. Hodgie says:

    Classic wack speak.

  6. Sean Doyle says:

    Great price! Celebrating Torpey’s favorite coach and mentor, Squires. Salud!

  7. Randall King says:

    @
    sean Doyle, both Torpey and Coach Squires have been infuences in my life. First bill as ayoung spriter out of Medford high school he pulled me aside one day and said if you train real hard you could be great. I was a sophmore and train hard I did and great I beacame. through out the years he and i would speak share stories and ideas of coaching, Trorpey recruitedme out of high school and was the main factor in me starting my collee career at Maryland. though I ended up transfering to Villanova he and I stayed close until his passing. R.I.P

    I wish Bill well and pray he has many more days to come.

    Randall King

  8. Richard A. Johnson says:

    I was fortunate enough to have attended the cross country camp that Coach Squires ran at Stonehill College in August 1973. As a shy private school kid (Lawrence Academy) this was my first chance to run with the big dogs and Coach and Bruce Lehane were great teachers and took time to help me plan a season of workouts while guiding me towards my long term goal of running in college. Later, while running at Bates I’d see Coach on a regular basis and he was unfailingly kind and completely supportive save for the time we beat Boston State in a quad meet in Lewiston in October 1975 at which time he broke a clipboard against a telephone pole near the finish line while railing against someone or thing that got his Irish up. He later just looked at me and observed, “Dickie….Ya know, I shouldn’t have done that….this has been a bad day..but I’m still proud of ya.” Coach remains the Casey Stengel of the running world, a champion of champions whose wisdom, insight, humor, and fractured syntax inform and delight those of us who’ve had the privilege to know him. The ripples of his expertise and influence extend from the rousing victories of the GBTC, the world class exploits of Boston Billy &The Rookie all the way to Galen Rupp and the miracle in London…… Three Cheers and Countless Blessings for The Coach on his 80th

  9. Geoff Hennessy says:

    Toni,
    Great stuff. As both a former athlete and student of Coach you are spot on with his ongoing massacre of the English language. I had the privilege of more than one car ride or jog to Castle Island while coaching with him at UMass Boston. He could end a story and pick it up the next day exactly where he left off. I’ll never forget my valiant attempt at breaking 2:00 in the 800 up at Dartmouth while a member of the GBTC. My time was 2:00.3 and Billy comes over and says “Helluva half but you woulda broken two if you handn’t kept lookin’ over at the goddam clock!” Indeed, in those days the time clock was on the far side, not the finish line like it is now. The next year I was successful. Didn’t look.

  10. billy clark says:

    There was nothing like being part of a conversation with Coach at the Eliot Lounge where Billy would pick up on a topic of mutual interest and offer his philosphical, historical, political, and technical analyses all in the same same sentence. And if he seemed to think you understood what he was about to say – he had the uncanny ability to change topic in mid-sentence. Cheers to my best “hurdles” coach. Happy Birthday.

  11. Ken says:

    I went to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT and ran XC and Track there. Coach Squires was the Boston St coach at that time. Whenever we were at the same meet, he always came over to our team and thanked us for our service to the country. He always had a big smile on his face and would cheer us on during the race.

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