Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: Northern Colorado's George Sage

    
October 5th, 2011
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Northern Colorado head coach Dr. George Sage. In five seasons in Greeley Dr. Sage went 95-36 and led the Bears to four conference titles. Dr. Sage also played baseball and basketball at UNC, with one of his achievements being a win in the 1955 College World Series over USC.

Jon Teitel: You played basketball and baseball at UNC (including a 6-hitter in a 2-1 win over USC in the 1955 College World Series). Which sport did you enjoy more, and which one were you better at?

Dr. George Sage: I was better at baseball but I liked them both in their separate seasons. I liked having the ability to play both and learn from some great coaches. In my four seasons on the diamond we went to the College World Series three times.

JT: Why did you decide to go into coaching, and what did it mean to you to become coach at your alma mater?

GS: I grew up in north Denver (which was considered a working-class area), and all the kids played sports. Some of my friends wanted to join the Army after high school so I decided to join them. I played baseball and basketball at Fort Jackson before getting shipped out to Korea. I just wanted to continue with basketball and figured that coaching would be a good way to do so.

JT: You won four league titles in six years as basketball coach at UNC. How were you able to have so much success in such a short period of time?

GS: I started out coaching in Chandler, AZ and then moved to UCLA to get a graduate degree. I got put in the same office as one of John Wooden's assistants. I became head coach at Pomona for four years, but after the UNC coach retired they contacted me and I moved to Greeley, CO.

JT: What are your memories of the 1964 Division II Tournament (you lost to Southeast Missouri St. by four and then gave up 116 points to Lamar)?

GS: It was the first national tourney UNC had ever played in, so it was a big deal back on campus. I just remember that there was so much excitement.

JT: What are your memories of the 1966 Division II Tournament (you lost to North Dakota)?

GS: To get there we had to fly through Minneapolis. It was snowing very hard and as soon as we got into Minneapolis they closed the airport, so we had to sleep over and then take a train the next day. Phil Jackson was an All-American for North Dakota and quite a force. What is embedded in the memory of all of our players is that our center outplayed Jackson even though we lost. Our center was an expert at the mechanics of offense and defense even though he was not as skilled as Jackson.

JT: In 1967 your team set a school scoring record in a 130-106 win over Colorado Mines. How were you able to score so many points that night, and do you think anyone will ever break that record?

GS: The main reason it was that high a score is because Colorado Mines was a good fast-break team.

JT: One of your players was future coach Don Meyer. What was he like as a player, and what do you think made him such a great coach after his playing days were over?

GS: He was a freshman during my first year, and also happened to be an All-American baseball player. He loved baseball but knew he could not make it to the major leagues. From his very 1st year he kept inquiring as to why I made certain decisions because he was intent on learning how to be a coach. He was like a coach for us out on the floor. When we would call a timeout he would come into the huddle and mention a key thing that would turn out to be exactly what we needed to do. He was very much on top of strategy, tactics, etc. He did not want to coach high school basketball, just college basketball. He asked if he could coach our freshman team while getting his masters degree, so I told him he could do that. I suggested he try something called "sponsored mobility", where you played and coached for a high-profile coach who would sponsor you to go coach elsewhere. He wanted to go to UCLA but I knew that Wooden would not take graduate assistants. I called Jack Gardner at UT to see if he would help out Meyer, and Meyer said he would get another masters degree if he could work for Gardner.

JT: You wrote a book called "Power and Ideology in American Sport". What was it about, and why are sports so important in our society?

GS: I had always been interested in social sciences. After six years at UNC I had a young family and like the school a lot. In order to give my family some security I figured that I had to either become a Division I coach or get another degree. I was co-author of another book called "Sociology of North American Sport" that is going into its ninth edition.

JT: UNC has a "Dr. George Sage Scholar Athlete Award" that is given to the graduating male senior athlete with the highest GPA. What does it mean to you to have an award named after you, and what importance do you place on academics?

GS: It is quite an honor. When I was an undergraduate we had a coach who died from cancer, and my senior year I won the award that was named after him. They later stopped giving out the award but about a decade ago our athletic director decided to re-institute the award and name it after me. It is one of the most humbling things that has ever happened to me and one of the things I am the proudest of.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?

GS: It is the same thing that I have told my two sons, three grandsons and one granddaughter: you know your last name is Sage, but it is just an acronym. It stands for "Set A Good Example". I just hope people think that I set a good example for my players.

Dr. Sage is also on my list of best coaches in Big Sky history.

Eastern Washington: WB "Red" Reese (1930-1942, 1945-1964) 473-298, 12 conference titles
Idaho State: Jim Killingsworth (1971-1977) 163-109, 2 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY
Montana: Blaine Taylor (1991-1998) 141-66, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Montana State: G Ott Romney (1922-1928) 144-31, 5 conference titles
Northern Arizona: Mike Adras (1999-present) 177-149, 1 NCAA tourney, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Northern Colorado: George Sage (1963-1969) 95-36, 4 conference titles
Portland State: Ken Edwards (1972-1978) 94-63
Sacramento State: Jerome Jenkins (2000-2008) 80-147
Weber State: Neil McCarthy (1974-1985) 205-105, 4 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 3-time conference COY