Carl Tacy passed away at the age of 87 last week. His passing made me think of how indebted I was to that kind and thoughtful man who just also happened to be a heckuva basketball coach. But when I got to know him it was years after the good folks of Pulaski had already known him. He was the head basketball coach of the 1962 state champion Pulaski High Orioles.
I had been told about Coach Tacy and his team winning the state title two or three times over the years, but when that happened I was 15 years old and living in the southern West Virginia coalfields, and didn’t know a thing about it. But it was a big deal and a bit of research makes it obvious of how important and how much pride old Pulaski High and the town had in that accomplishment.
It’s been 58 years now, and a lot of the people involved are gone, and the ones left don’t get to relive that great experience because most of the people don’t know anything about it. Time moves on, but we should always take time to remember. I think it’s very important. Coach Tacy was a very important man to Pulaski High. He led a group of young men to a great accomplishment, and that will never die. Tacy is gone, so are some of the players, but the memory is not. Neither is the memory of that team.
School Board Chairman Timmy Hurst informs me there is a framed picture that hangs on the wall at old Pulaski High of that team and Coach Tacy. With the opening of the new middle school coming what happens to that picture? Hurst says shortly it will be added to the trophy case at Pulaski County High School in the lobby of the basketball facility. Outstanding. As it should be.
My father used to tell me during important intervals in my life that the most important things you will ever do is what you leave behind, not what you take with you. When we all leave, how do the people left behind feel about you, what do they remember? Tacy leaves a ton of memories behind to thousands and thousands of people. From old Pulaski High, to Bassett, to Ferrum, to Marshall University, and to his final station at Wake forest.
Tacy was immaculate. He was always “dressed to the nines.” He always wore a white button-down dress shirt with a tie. It was double starched. When he walked into a room for any sort of press gathering he would remove his suit coat, take his time to fold it so he could lay it over the back of his chair and be assured there would be no wrinkles. His shoes always glistened. He looked like he went to the barber shop every morning. I never heard Carl use a word of profanity. Never heard him make a negative remark about anything or anybody. Even when he questioned an official, he kind of did it politely.
I knew nothing about that state title team, but Tacy was very meaningful to me in later years, and I’ll explain why, but first, let’s talk about that 1962 Pulaski state championship team. And for those guys on that team who are still around, congratulations to you. Things like that never go away. You are special and will always be a part of a special memory.
The 1962 Orioles finished with a 23-3 record. The team was led by a dynamic guard duo of David Hurd and Freddy Myers. Jim and Gary Wright were tough inside players, good rebounders. Other players were Ronnie Powers, Ron Melton, Bobby Lemons and Sammy Buchannon.
On the road to the state title they took the measure of Christiansburg and Blacksburg. In the state semi-final they knocked off Martinsville, 80-68 on the road. Then came the state championship game against Handley High of Winchester. The Wright brothers were strong inside, and Hurd and Myers put up most of the points in a 48-41 struggle to win the title. Hurd hit the big shots on his way to a 21-point game. The lefty was a dead eye shot from the perimeter. Myers added 11, and the town and old Pulaski High celebrated.
Tacy came to Pulaski out of Randolph County, West Virginia. It was his first coaching job. Then it was to Bassett, then Ferrum, and then Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. This is where I became aware of Coach Tacy.
Marshall was having a heckuva season under his direction and were playing in the NIT in 1969. Back then teams chose between the NIT and NCAA. It wasn’t like it is now. Some of the very best teams in the land played in the NIT.
Back in the coalfields they somehow managed to get the Marshall games televised, and though the state is almost totally West Virginia University oriented, it was a big deal. The state was pulling for the green of the Thundering Herd. Tacy had a great team, in this opinion still the best team in Marshall history. Dan D’Antoni was a dynamic point guard out of Mullens, Bob Redd was a good swing player, and the best was long forward George Stone. On the doorstep of the title game, Marquette knocked Marshall out.
But the success at Marshall resulted in Tacy getting the job at Wake Forest and becoming a part of ACC Basketball in its absolute heyday. It was 1978. I was traveling across the country with Virginia Tech football and basketball. During this stretch, Charlie Moir’s basketball program was the most successful for the Hokies. It was a good time, Wayne Robinson, Les Henson, Jeff Schneider and Dale Solomon. It was the Metro Conference which was greatly underrated. It included Louisville who won the national title with Darrell Griffith, Cincinnati, Florida State, Tulane, Memphis and St. Louis. The travel schedule was a sportswriter’s dream. I got three or four days every year on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, more great jazz and fun on Beale Street in Memphis, saw the Golden Arch in St. Louis, and it was always nice in the winter in Tallahassee.
One night, Wake Forest was coming to Blacksburg, and won handily. The Deacons under Tacy were on a big roll. Skip Brown was a great point guard and power forward Rod Griffin was one of the best players in the nation. Later on, he had the great little package called Mugsy Bogues. But after the game I just wanted to make sure I stopped by to see Coach Tacy and mention to him how much I enjoyed that Marshall team.
Into the Wake locker room I go and introduce myself and mention that team and inform him I was from West Virginia too. Tacy lit up like a Christmas Tree. We sat down on a bench; things were not as formal then as now. He told me about every one of those players, where they were and how they were doing. He loved talking about that team, and said it was the best he ever had, until the last couple of years at Wake. We talked for about a half hour and I had to go. I was on deadline. He laughed and said, “We didn’t say a thing about tonight’s game.” And we didn’t, but it wasn’t necessary.
Tacy asked if I ever tried to run “Tobacco Road.” That’s what they called the ACC back then, at least the Carolina based schools. I said no, and I would love to, but I was so involved with my local high school and Tech, I just didn’t have much time, but I’d love to slip down to Winston-Salem whenever I could. I was younger and loved to go back in those days. He took my card. I felt that was it.
About a week later I got a large envelope in the mail from Wake Forest Athletics. It contained total ACC Press Credentials. I could go to any ACC school for any athletic event anytime I wanted to. I couldn’t believe that he remembered and did that for me. It included a special private code number for the media. I could pick up the phone on Tuesday morning, call that number and say I need a seat on press row for the Tar Heel-NC State game in Chapel Hill that night. I walked into Carmichael Auditorium and there’s my seat with my name on it on press row. I got to see the team of Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins play from press row 12 times. All because of Carl Tacy.
It was boom time. Lefty Driesell was at Maryland and so was Tom McMillian and Len Elmore. Norm Sloan had David Thompson, Tom Burleson and Monty Towe. Wake was loaded, and then that bunch of Tar Heels. I had to pinch myself on a number of occasions. Ironically during this period, Duke was not much of a factor, and for his first two years, fans were hollering for Coach K’s scalp.
I had Metro credentials too, and AP as well, but that ACC just topped it off, and until I decided to get off the road, and stay at home with the family, I was living a dream. I saw what most still considered the greatest time in the history of the ACC. Not to mention how much I enjoyed the Metro as well. Over a period of years, I went to every Metro Conference Tournament, two ACC’s, seven NCAA regionals, and two Final Fours. Some of it would have happened anyway, but I am so indebted because of the kindness of Carl Tacy. He certainly never knew how much it meant to me, but it had a dramatic effect on my life.
Just one example. I was in the Greensboro Coliseum. It was the Final Four. It was the NCAA semi-final round. UCLA and Bill Walton were bringing a huge winning streak and a ton of national championships to meet the Wolfpack of N.C. State. Because of my ACC credentials I was sitting floor level, foul line extended. I noticed that Sports Illustrated was sitting two rows behind me. I thought if they only knew.
The game started and in the first minute Walton got the ball down on the low block and whirled with his patented spinning hook shot. He first had to get it over the 7-ft. Burleson, but then from the backside across the lane came a flying Thompson and he batted Walton’s shot about five rows up over my head. I knew at that moment this was going to be special. I also quietly in my mind said thank you Carl. Jordan is the best player I ever saw. I would rate Thompson the next best college player I ever saw, then Worthy, I loved Griffin during his years at Wake, and one of my favorites was Griffith from Louisville.
This great country we live in offers opportunity to all who wish to take a shot at it. I often remind myself how lucky I have been over the years. I went places, met people, and saw major events that as a youngster I would have never dreamed big enough to imagine it. I’m indebted to a variety of people for different reasons. One of those people is Carl Tacy. I will always remember, and always be thankful.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot