For the Love of the Game

For the Love of the Game McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2004 > Fall 2004 > For the Love of the Game

For the Love of the Game

Kevin O’Neill, BEd’79/


These days, if you are looking for job security, don't consider becoming a coach in the National Basketball Association. Just ask Kevin O'Neill, BEd'79, who fell victim to the tough job market this past year, when he was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Toronto Raptors on April 16, after only one season.

It may not be much consolation, but O'Neill wasn't the only one fired this season. In the eat-their-young world of pro sports, there is no job security for coaches. If the team doesn't perform, it's not the high-priced players who get the boot. In the NBA's Eastern Conference, nine of the 15 coaches were fired or had resigned by season's end, and two didn't make it past the first month.

Rumours were circulating in the media that O'Neill would be dismissed weeks before the announcement was made. A statement of support by Raptors' general manager Glen Grunwald was followed within days by the news that Grunwald's contract would not be renewed. At a time when the team was struggling to make the playoffs, press reports quoted "multiple sources" as saying that O'Neill's intense and abrasive coaching style had turned his team against him.

O'Neill fired back a response to what he saw as cheap shots and bad timing. "Whatever people are saying, without putting their name on it, to me that's just chickenshit. I don't mind putting my name on any quote I ever say," he asserted in an online TSN report. "Here we are in a playoff run and this kind of petty stuff is making news?... Am I abrasive? If working hard is abrasive, then I'm abrasive."

O'Neill's approach to the game has always been epitomized by a tireless work ethic. His punishing intensity was evident even during O'Neill's days playing point guard for the McGill Redmen. Larry Gibson played with O'Neill almost 30 years ago on the 1975-76 varsity basketball team and has remained friends with the competitive coach ever since.

"My roommate, Jim Gallogly, named him 'Mad Dog' for no particular reason except that Kevin only knew one speed and one direction - straight ahead and as fast as he could go," recalls Gibson.

Gibson now runs a consulting business in Rhode Island, but despite the miles, his friendship with O'Neill remains as strong as the dramatic incident that initially drew them together. "Kevin and I have been best of friends since we met in Montreal," says Gibson. "Our friendship truly bonded when, one evening, my roommates and Kevin were clowning around outside a building on campus. My friend Paul pushed Kevin and he stumbled backwards, hitting a retainer wall and falling backwards over the wall towards the sidewalk 20 feet below. I was sitting on the wall at the time and as Kevin fell over backwards I reached and, amazingly, caught his ankle. I held on until my roommates could help me pull him back up. We were best friends from that point forward."

Gibson played only one year of varsity basketball while doing graduate work at McGill, but he made the most of his court time. The team went from last place in the Quebec conference to the playoffs, thanks in large part to Gibson, who led the country in scoring with a 30-point-per-game average. While Gibson started as shooting guard, the rookie O'Neill was a role player off the bench. He was a heart and hustle player on a veteran McGill squad - a hard-nosed defender on the court, but a soft-spoken gentleman off it.

"Kevin's playing style can best be characterized as a smart, play-making point guard," Gibson says. "He was not a big scorer but knew how to get the ball to the right people in the spots on the floor where they could be effective."

"I was never a great player by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved playing and I still love the game," O'Neill adds. "I was kind of forced to play defence because I wasn't very good offensively. You've got to find a way to get on the court."

Caption follows

Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors following a slam dunk and taking a breather on the bench with teammates.

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