Frank McLaughlin is a master salesman. Some even said when he first arrived (in the fall of 1977) that he had missed his calling, that he should forget coaching and go make a mint in Arizona real estate or at a used-car dealership.
But Frank McLaughlin is not a miracle worker--the product he must sell is Harvard basketball, and in many ways it represents a more formidable challenge than the other career options outlined above. More importantly, he could use some support from fickle fans, stodgy alumni, and adamant administrators.
The ledger shows a 19-36 record after two years. The friendly sportswriter will shrug off the first year (11-15, 7-7 Ivy) by saying that McLaughlin inherited a fecund crop from his predecessor.
This year, McLaughlin cleaned house and paid for it dearly (8-21, 6-8 Ivies). His final inheritance from the previous era--a brutal schedule and an "If it's Tuesday, it must be Winnemucca" West Coast road trip--left his troops in a state of moral and physical decline.
So let's say that the slate has been wiped clean for McLaughlin. Now what? To begin with, some of the frazzled freshmen will no doubt emerge as supersophs' next season. McLaughlin has been marketed effectively on NBC-TV's national in a story on former Notre Dame assistant coaches) and regional singing the praises of his Rhodes all-Ivy guard Glenn Fine) college hoop broadcasts.
Indeed, the selling of Harvard basketball is beginning to get a little uncomfortable for some rival coaches. One envious coach even stooped so low as to anonymously send copies of a critical piece on McLaughlin's coaching abilities by John Donley in the Crimson) to selected recruits.
But despite the positive publicity, it will take nothing short of a Herculean effort by McLaughlin to overcome a pitiful recruiting budget and an inadequate IAB-eyesore. According to well-informed sources, Harvard's total athletic recruiting budget is equal to one-third of the football recruiting budget of another Ivy League school.
A couple of months ago, President Derek Bok and McLaughlin were engaged in deep conversation at a reception for Friends of Harvard Basketball. McLaughlin apologized for losing to Bok's alma mater (Stanford, 103-81). Bok, in the ineffable style that has become his trademark, just smiled and said essentially nothing of consequence.
And therein lies the biggest problem of all. Harvard's hoopsters have received little support from the Cambridge community. And those fans who do negotiate the IAB stairs) without dropping from the heart strain and altitude) have nothing left in them to root. Where else but at Harvard could the "Bermuda Shoot" and the play of a pint-sized midget-leaguer draw more crowd reaction than an electrifying dunk shot?