Former Kansas University football coach and fan favorite Don Fambrough remembers well the first time the hand of Mike McCoy relieved him of so much stress.
"I had a hell of a time recruiting him," Fambrough said Sunday of the offensive lineman from Hiawatha. "It was snowing and sleeting. I was staying at the Big Chief Motel. There was a gap of six inches between my door and the floor. Room full of snow."
Recruiting trips can be like family vacations. Sometimes everything goes great. Other times the equivalent of a looping, "Are we almost there?" sums up the trip.
"I went in for the home visit and tried everything I could to get a reaction from his mom," Fambrough said. "I told her, 'Our school is up on a mountain, and there are no allergies in that mountain air. We've got Potter Lake, and when we get tired of practice, we just jump in the lake and go for a swim.' Nothing. Didn't even get a smile out of her. She wanted her boy to go to Dartmouth."
Fambrough felt like a comedian bombing on stage. When he ran out of words, which is saying something, he said his goodbyes.
"I was getting in the car, and I felt an arm around my shoulder," Fambrough recalled. "Mike said, 'Coach, I'm coming to Kansas. I'll take care of momma.' The skies parted. The snow stopped. The stars came out. I had a great night of sleep at the Big Chief Motel."
Whether the skies parted, the snow stopped and the stars came out is beside the point. It was the beginning of a coach-player relationship that blossomed into a strong friendship. Fambrough has many such bonds with former players who check in with him regularly and thoroughly enjoy his company.
The same hand McCoy placed on Fambrough's shoulder on a snowy Hiawatha night will come to the ball coach's rescue again today. McCoy, a Topeka-based orthopedic surgeon, is scheduled to perform knee-replacement surgery on Fambrough at 3 p.m. Coach Fam said he expects to spend the entire week in Stormont-Vail Regional Medical Center, located at 1500 SW 10th Ave., Topeka, KS, 66604.
His spirits were good Sunday, and, as usual, he was bragging about his alma mater.
"I visited the hospital last week," Fambrough said. "There are a lot of KU people there, and our people are so proud of what we've accomplished. Sometimes some of us don't really realize what we did. We had one helluva year in football and basketball. I'm proud of that debate team, too. And I'm proud of that band, too. We've got to get some scholarship money for that band. When I found out Missouri had more band members than KU, I wanted to put my house on the market to raise money for the band."
The football team's 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory make Fambrough especially proud. He has been a big Mark Mangino-backer from Day 1.
"We didn't have that much talent last year, but we had determination and desire, and the coach won't tolerate anything else," Fambrough said. "These kids know if they come to Kansas they have to play with that type of attitude. And people who hire these kids later on know it, too."
He's selling KU just as hard now as when he slept so peacefully in the Big Chief Motel.