It's just another game. UMass, vs. Harvard, at the IAB. Both teams have been there before. Nothing special about it at all.
And that's just what the coaches of the two teams will you. Harvard basketball coach Frank McLaughlin says there's nothing extraordinary about this afternoon's game, and his brother Tom--who guides the Massachusetts squad--definitely agrees. "It's nothing special, and I really mean that," Frank says. "It's just another game." Tom--at 30 years, four years his junior--echoes the thought. "It makes no difference whether it's my brother or my mother or anybody coaching the other team. I look at it the same way."
This ambivalence might seem a bit unusual, and the woman who knows them both best--their mother--says there must be something else to their feelings about the game. "They've always been very close," Mrs. Margaret McLaughlin says, "but they have to understand that one of them has to lose on Saturday."
And if Mrs. McLaughlin only hints at the special tension this game must present to both McLaughlin brothers, Notre Dame head coach Digger Phelps--under whom both Frank and Tom served as assistant coaches (at different times)--is much more explicit.
"They're lying," he says. "They want to beat each others' brains out. They're just being nice to each other, and they'll be nice to each other until the jump ball."
After that, apparently, anything goes, as even Tom admits. "Saturday afternoon about 4:00 the relationship might be a little tense, but it's over. One of us will win, and the other will lost."
Dick Dibiaso--Stanford's head coach and a man who has worked with and stayed close to both McLaughlins--also doubts that they are being quite true to their emotions: "I think it will be different [than coaching any other game]. The difference will be in the emotional preparation that the two coaches will have," the Stanford coach says.
"I think that after the game they will with hindsight say yes, it was different. Maybe now," he goes on, "since they haven't experienced it, they don't realize."
This afternoon's game will be the first time the two have coached against each other, and the real closeness between them--which seems to have been fostered rather than hurt by the four-year age difference--will allow--and even force--them to compete intensely and then to forget.
This tight friendship between the two is easily evident; married within two weeks of each other about six years ago, the two were each others' best men. Similarities in personality and attitudes--particularly toward their families--also illustrate the closeness that permeates the McLaughlin clan. The chance to be closer to his family was a significant benefit of Tom's decision last spring to leave Notre Dame for the UMass job: "We're two brothers and we're very close. We're both very family-oriented (Frank used exactly the same phrase), and its nice to be in the same state so our two families can be together." (Frank and his wife, Susan, have two girls, while Tom and his wife, Debbie, have a son and are expecting another child in April.)
Their similarities come out also in their relations with the players they coach. Both consider the chance to form close relationships with the players one of the most satisfying aspects of the job. "The biggest problem I have is that I'm too concerned about the players as individuals...Maybe coaching it's a lot easier not to get involved with the kids. not as meaningful."
His younger brother agrees. "The person the players will spend the most time with--and a lot of professors don't like to hear this--is the basketball coach, and he has the most influence. He can educate his players about everything." And like Frank, he enjoys that part of his work.
"We're alike in any way two brothers are alike," Tom sums up, "but there are differences."
Tome McLaughlin, for instance, is generally considered the more emotional and outspoken of the pair, at least during games. "Frankie's emotion is more inner," Tom says, "He's much more logical than I am. I can snap." Frank agrees: "He shows his anger a lot more. If I get upset I don't show it as much...I think it's silly to get upset."
"I'm enthusiastic, I try to get the most out of the players. I get emotionally into the game," Tom adds.
Mrs. McLaughlin--who as of Thursday hoped to make the trip up from the Bronx for the game--doesn't agree at all. "I think I'm the emotional one, they're both very quiet."
But a mother's biased observations aside, much of this difference between them may be traced to good oldfashioned sibling rivalry. "I think I had better athletic talent than him," frank says, "but he was a fierce competitor." Tom will say almost the same thing--"I had to work harder in a lot of ways. Frank is more of a natural athlete." even Mrs. McLaughlin concurs, "Frankie was a very good guard, He was very exciting. But that's just a mother talking," she laughs. (But perhaps it is noteworthy that she cites another son as the best athlete of the bunch).
In their relationship there has always been an element of Tom trying to equal Frank's example. "I looked up to him a lot. He was the one who talked me into coaching. I have him to blame for this mess. He's the one to blame for Saturday," Tom says, obliquely.
And as Tom has adjusted to his new position at UMass, he has clearly valued Frank's advice and consolation, just as he has throughout his career. But he won't let that intimidate him this afternoon. "Frankie still dominates the show, he'll keep his younger brother in place," Phelps says. "But Tommy'll have fire in his eyes tomorrow. He'll want to beat Frankie."