Tony Ingle’s mouth was moving that day, words flowing out like spit off a schnauzer’s tongue over a full feed bowl.
He was sad, but energetic, beat down, but fired up.
And he was unemployed, the coach having been dumped by BYU after attempting to rescue the school’s basketball program. The rescue, commenced the year before, had not gone well.
Ingle was the poor soul who took over for Roger Reid at BYU 24 years ago, after the head coach was chucked out the door by way of a 1-6 start and some dumb public comments. A longtime Reid assistant, Ingle agreed when asked by BYU athletic director Rondo Fehlberg to go ahead and guide the Cougars’ ship through the troubled waters of the remainder of that season, and he piloted it to an 0-19 finish.
He got blamed for that, even though he insisted before he took the wheel that he not be blamed because he was pretty sure what everyone was sure of — the going would be rough. And now, after he had been discarded, he was talking — not so much bitterly, rather ruefully — about what went wrong and how he was done wrong by BYU.
Why bring that up now? Ingle died on Monday from complications of COVID-19, died far too early at the age of 68. But his words, spoken in his soft Georgia drawl, from that day live on. Few coaches ever talked like he did, so forthrightly, so candidly, so homespun-ly. I visited him at his home in Orem in January, 1998, and what he said resonated, some of it funny, some of it sorrowful, some of it exaggerated, some of it spot on, all of it memorable.
Here’s a sampling:
• “Roger shot the horse. I had to drag it across the finish line.”
• “Coaching at BYU was a natural form of birth control because my wife and I couldn’t mess around at night. We were always too tired.”
• “Nobody wants to be E.J. Smith, captain of the Titanic.”
• “What Rondo really was asking me was, ‘Tony, do you want to run through a burning house and see if you can make it out alive?’ I’m not totally crazy, but if there’s someone in that burning house who I love, then that’s a different story. I loved the school, the team, the players. I wanted to save them. That’s why I did it.”
Ingle told Fehlberg he felt like, in taking the job, he was committing, as he said it, “professional suicide,” and he begged the AD not to hold him responsible for the wreck that was imminent. But … he was.
• “The scriptures tell us not to judge, but through all of this I learned a new word — ‘evaluate.’ They evaluated. I should have made sure the administrators had done their homework and talked to the people I had worked for and with before. Anybody who ever hired me as a head coach has never regretted it. But I was never a serious candidate here.”
• “I loved them more than they loved me. That’s what I want on my tombstone: ‘I loved you more than you loved me. … I told you I was sick.’ They weren’t out to get me, they were trying to do the best thing, but doing your best and doing what is right are two different things.”
Ingle swore that day that he wasn’t mad.
• “A wise man once said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ For me, it’s the same thing.”
• “Another wise man once said, ‘Wrong thinking creates vices, right thinking creates virtues.’”
• “A good friend of mine once said, ‘We don’t believe in revenge. We do believe in paying our debts.’”
• “I say: I did the best I could under the circumstances. … I feel like I saved everyone else, but killed me.”
Ingle went on to take a job as a scout for the Utah Jazz, and later became the head coach at Kennesaw State, where he stayed for 11 seasons, winning a Division II national championship. He then went to his his alma mater Dalton State and coached for another five years, winning an NAIA national title. His head coaching record was 140-99.
Ingle got a paltry severance from BYU, so paltry he was forced to take out a loan to pay his bills and sell some of his furniture while he searched for job opportunities elsewhere. He said no big deal, he had grown up poor and battled his way through hardships of many kinds, including a birth defect that ravaged one side of his face, requiring five surgeries. He would battle on, again. Basketball was what he loved, coaching it, and that is what he would look to do.
• “BYU asked me to keep the amount [of the severance] confidential. I took one look at it and told them, ‘Don’t worry, I’m ashamed of it, too.’”
• “The highlight of my day now is having a bowel movement.”
• “Vincent Van Gogh said, ‘If someone tells you that you can’t paint worth a darn, stick your paint brush in the paint and keep painting until you prove otherwise.’ Well, he said something like that.”
• “Everyone has a fragile self-esteem. But when you’re born with a face deformity, you grow up in humble surroundings, you get whipped by your daddy, and the only thing you have in your life as a youngster is basketball, then, yeah, you miss it.”
• “I know a lot of people like me because as soon as I walk into the room, they know they’re not the ugliest one there. I know I was ugly and poor. Basketball was my self-esteem, as a player and coach. It was a place I could go to build relationships, learn principles and dream my dreams.”
Ingle said he was writing a self-help book, a sketch of a mix of hoop and religion, called “The H Factor.” It focused on 13 H-words: heaven, heart, head, hear, hands, hope, habits, health, honor, humility, harmony, happy and home.
He read aloud a few verses from the book and said, “It’s good, isn’t it? Does that show deep thought or what?”
• “You gotta think big, dream big.”
• “Reality is what’s in the heart and soul of a person. I can coach at any level. … You’re coaching people and I know people. I have the ability to inspire, to pull everyone together. I’ve done it. I can do it. Nobody’s going to force me to think different.”
• “BYU may have taken away my job, they may have ripped out my heart, but they did not take my dream. Life is short, serious and frail. … learn from it, laugh at it, and live it well. That’s what I say.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.