As coincidence would have it, I was doing some painting when I heard the news last week that Glen Tuckett had died.
Kerri, my wife, had this great idea that my home office needed to be painted. (After a mere 16 years.) We were applying green painters tape to protect the wood surfaces when I walked into the closet. There are places there only a contortionist would ever be able to see, and a small contortionist at that. Why bother taping in there?
Then I thought about Glen Tuckett and a story he used to tell when he gave talks.
In the story, he’s painting and comes to a similar out-of-the-way spot. ‘Who’s going to see if I blow it off?’ he thinks to himself. Then he thinks of his dad. His dad might look under there, and even if he didn’t, he’d expect the parts you couldn’t readily see to be as buttoned-down as the parts you could.
So he painted the underside.
And I taped the closet.
* * *
I’m sure Glen Tuckett had no idea the influence that story had on me. He was the baseball coach and then athletic director at BYU; I was a newspaper writer who wrote about sports during his tenure. He was not always the easiest interview back in the day. He didn’t suffer fools gladly (umpires or journalists) and was careful with his words, particularly if he thought you might be delving into something that could be considered negative.
But he was always fair and honest, a straightforward, no-nonsense man’s man with a sense of humor honed on the athletic fields that were his domain. (As Gary Pullins, one of his ballplayers, recounted this week, among Tuckett’s many one-liner gems was this one: “You know, Wally Joyner is the only player we ever had who was really as good as his mother said he was.”)
Tuckett — “Coach” to anyone who knew him more than a little bit — lived the kind of life little kids dream of. He stayed immersed in sports until the day he died. After starring in baseball at Murray High School, he played pro baseball for seven years in the minor leagues. If he’d had his way, he would have played forever, but a .245 batting average eventually sent him into coaching, first at West High School, then to BYU. In 17 seasons he won 445 games for a .634 winning percentage and 11 division championships, at a cold-weather school no less, and qualified for the College World Series three times — something that hasn’t been accomplished even once since.
As BYU’s athletic director for another 17 years, from 1976 to 1993, he presided over BYU’s golden era: a run of success that included national championships in football and golf, an appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament’s Elite Eight, perennial conference titles in wrestling, baseball, tennis, track and field, and other sports, and a bowl game every year but one. No one has made BYU athletics shine like Glen Tuckett.
He retired in 1993 when he was 65, then served an Latter-day Saint mission with his wife, Jo, followed by an 18-month run as interim athletic director at the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide had landed in the NCAA doghouse for recruiting violations and Tuckett was called in to right the ship, which he did.
* * *
It was in his retirement, so called, that he influenced me the most. We’d developed a friendship through the years, but as with most people you’ve known because of your work, retirement tends to put an end to that.
But periodically, over the past 25 years, I’d look down at my phone and see “Glen Tuckett” on the caller I.D.
“This is Glen Tuckett,” he’d say, as if anyone else could sound like him, “Just wanted to call and tell you nice job on your story today.”
He’d leave his message on voicemail if I didn’t pick up, always ending with, “You don’t have to call me back. Just keep up the good work.” When I did answer, we’d talk for a few minutes, catching up and touching on other topics.
Every time I hung up, I felt better.
Maybe it was all that positivity, but he didn’t seem to age. Less than two months ago, on Sept. 10, a mere three months from turning 94, he hosted a 50-year reunion for his 1971 team that went to the College World Series. Later that month, Pullins, who replaced Tuckett as BYU’s baseball coach and won a school-record 913 games in 23 years, came through Provo and they met at a drive-in in Orem for peach milkshakes. “He was still driving at age 93 and I didn’t see any cars moving out of the way to miss him,” related Pullins. “Still lucid and happy.”
On Oct. 26, Tuckett watched one of coach Mike Littlewood’s BYU baseball practices. He came home that night, turned on the TV and was watching the National League Championship Series game between the Dodgers and Braves when he suffered a stroke. Four days later he had rounded third and was headed home to the big dugout in the sky.
“He’s going to be missed by everyone. He was always such a support, such a fan,” said Vance Law, a former player who went on to spend 11 years in the big leagues before coming back to BYU to replace Pullins as baseball coach. Law recalled often looking up at baseball practice when he was coaching the Cougars to see Tuckett watching from the sidelines. “I’d tell the players, ‘When he’s in the stands, there’s nobody walking on this field. Let’s make sure that we hustle,” he remembered. “I hoped we did that anyway, but he always made you want to do your best.”
Whether anyone was looking or not.