The defeats started to pile up and the head coach left his college team, driven off by the stress of the job. Malaise threatened to infect players and fans. The team was down to seven scholarship players.

That was last season at Loyola Marymount University. The once-proud Lions of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were in danger of getting caught in another California mudslide.

Then Max Good took over. The Maine native who coached the Maine Central Institute prep team at the peak of its glory 10 years ago was handed a new challenge.

Old friend Bill Bayno had asked Good to join him at Loyola Marymount for the 2008-09 season. When Bayno had to walk away, Good moved up one spot. After nearly 30 years as a head coach, an interim designation was now in front of his title.

What this Jesuit school really wanted was the next-best thing to a savior.

”We won three of our last six games,” says Good. ”The only games we won all year. Our players kept their heads up and never backed down. At first they did it with a lot of urging. Keep grinding. I told them, we’ll win.”

Three wins measured against 28 losses doesn’t always produce hope. Good knew better.

He insists that you look in the rear-view mirror with him. It’s the best way to appreciate what’s happening now. The Lions are 15-13 and with two games to play, chasing fourth place in the West Coast Conference. The top four teams get a bye in the conference tourney.

Last week, Gonzaga came into Loyola Marymount’s small arena and lost. Good, looking at the next game on the schedule, said winning was only less miserable than losing.

Saturday night, Portland State flew down the California coast to Los Angeles and lost 77-68 in overtime. The 3,844 fans in Gersten Pavilion were in an uproar. Good’s approach of downplaying the Gonzaga win had worked. He was afraid of the emotional letdown.

In beating Gonzaga, the Lions defeated a ranked team for the first time in 20 years, or since Gathers and Kimble played for Paul Westhead. Gathers died of an abnormal heartbeat in the conference tournament that year. Loyola Marymount’s opponent that day was Portland State. Twenty years after his passing, the memory of Gathers is everywhere in Southern California.

”Three or four times a game you’ll hear the cheer ”This is Hank’s House,” said Nick Finn, a sophomore from San Diego and a new Good fan. ”It’s getting crazy. Last year they had such a bad record, no one went to the games. This year I’m excited. What’s happening here is something to brag about.”

In beating Portland State, Loyola Marymount took the sting out of a 40-point loss to the same team earlier in the season. ”We went through a life-altering experience on the flight there,” said Good. ”One of our players passed out. He’s been through test after test and it may have been from dehydration, but it affected all of us.”

Something also happened in the days before Saturday’s game. The team’s head trainer saw point guard Vernon Teel squinting at a television during a postgame meal. An eye exam revealed his eyesight was 20-50. He got his contact lens Friday and scored 24 points the next day, including eight in overtime.

Good things will happen.

”As coaches, we’re all two good players from being on the pedestal and two bad players from being fired,” said Good. ”As well as these kids have played, it won’t be a great year unless we accomplish our goals. I want to get to 20 wins. I want to get into the postseason.”

There are no seniors on this team. Expectations are already high for next year.

Good left Bryant University when Bayno beckoned. Good took Bryant into the postseason five of the seven seasons he coached. The team reached the Division II final in 2004-05. Bryant has since moved up to Division I.

”I had no intentions of leaving Bryant,” said Good. ”I had no intentions of becoming a head coach (again).”

Loyola Marymount didn’t form a search committee. Good’s approach last season earned him a multiyear contract as far as Athletic Director Bill Husak was concerned.

Some wanted a hungry assistant coach hired to rebuild the program. Husak saw a hungry 68-year-old who knew how to build a program.

”With age comes wisdom,” said Husak. ”Having seen Max work, his steady hand and his experience were his strengths. In my mind it was a no-brainer.”

Good simply laughs. ”It’s a small campus here, right on the Pacific Ocean. Smaller classes, no football. Our players are very visible.

”I know everyone’s ecstatic (at the turnaround). Hell, I’m Clint Eastwood. At our age we can’t do it anymore, but we know how.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]