Greg Hansen: Story of ex-UA AD Strack, 90, a good one

2013-03-01T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Story of ex-UA AD Strack, 90, a good oneGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Dave Strack says his memory isn't what it used to be, but then he comes up with this blockbuster:

"Do you know we wanted to hire Joe Paterno and not Bo Schembechler at Michigan? Ha, ha, ha, ha. It's true. Not many people know that."

Strack is sitting on the edge of his bed three days before his 90th birthday. He is wearing Michigan colors, maize and blue, but on this day he is talking about his term as Arizona's athletic director, 1972-83.

"People wanted me to hire Jerry Tarkanian when we moved into McKale Center," he says. "But I hired Fred Snowden. It wasn't about breaking the color barrier, it was because I believed Fred could rebuild our basketball program faster than Tark could. And he did, too. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

"He got (Eric) Money and Coniel (Norman), and it was built, almost overnight."

These are historically significant men in college sports, Bo and Tark. Their names still carry meaning, four decades later, and so, too, does the name Dave Strack.

He lives alone in a retirement village in Rancho Vistoso, but he has not lost his identity. When you ask a man at the front desk for directions to Strack's room at the sprawling Splendido complex, he does not check the roster.

"Next building, second floor, first door on the right," he says. "That's Coach Strack's room."

Someone has erected a placard that says COACH at his door, next to a laminated photograph of the Michigan team Strack coached to the 1965 national championship game.

"My memory's not good," he says. "I don't remember much about that game. Gail Goodrich. He was pretty special. Check it out. I think he scored 40.

It checks. Goodrich scored 42, and John Wooden won his second national championship game.

Dave Strack, the son of a traveling salesman from Shortridge, Ind., became Michigan's basketball captain and, from 1962 to 1968, coached his alma mater to a pair of Final Fours and three consecutive Big Ten championships.

He might have coached forever had coaches been paid at the silly-money rate they are being paid today, but in the late '60s, when he was making about $15,000 at Michigan, he saw a greater career opportunity as an athletic director. So he became UM's assistant AD for three years and arrived at Arizona in 1972, calling the shots for the greatest decade in school history: opening McKale Center, expanding Arizona Stadium, building Kindall/Sancet Stadium and moving the Wildcats from the WAC to the Pac-10.

"I think people tend to forget what Dave accomplished here," said Bob Bockrath, who was Strack's top assistant at Arizona and later athletic director at Cal, Texas Tech and Alabama. "He was a good administrator, a good guy. It was an eventful time."

Strack approved the hiring of the two most enduring figures of the Arizona athletic department: senior associate ADs Rocky LaRose and John Perrin. That's quite a legacy. He hired Jim Young, Larry Smith and promoted future Hall of Fame coaches Dave Murray and Rick LaRose.

And, sure, over 11 years, he missed a few, too. Who doesn't? His hire of football coach Tony Mason was a bust that led to a term in the NCAA jail. And his final hire, basketball coach Ben Lindsey, doesn't require comment. Lindsey was 4-24 in his only UA season.

"The good far out-weighed the bad," says Bockrath.

Three weeks ago, Strack took a shuttle from Rancho Vistoso to McKale Center so that he would watch the Cal-Arizona game. The ticket to that game remains tacked to a wallboard above his bed, next to a prominent MICHIGAN banner.

Strack sat in almost total anonymity that night, a guest of UA athletic director Greg Byrne. Being on hand for the 40th anniversary of the arena was a gesture that Strack appreciated.

"I'll take some credit for moving Arizona out of the doldrums," he says, chuckling. "Do you agree with that?"

(We do.)

"We were at Bear Down Gym when I got here. That's where my office was, too. It was bad when I got here, very bad. Basketball was sort of a stepchild when I got here. It's not that way any longer, ha, ha, ha, ha."

It's a shame Strack didn't write a book of his career; he was at Michigan during the Bo and Woody days, coached against Wooden in the Final Four, and pulled the trigger on Arizona's move to the Pac-10 when rival Arizona State was reluctant to do so.

His memory comes and goes, and his health has been better, but the coach in him kicks in as he watches ESPN highlights of Minnesota's victory over No. 1 Indiana.

"I really like Indiana," he says. "But I'd like them a lot better if they had someone like Gail Goodrich."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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