January 21, 2010 in Sports

Friends, coaches, players, colleagues pay tribute to Dan Fitzgerald

 

“Whether you saw him on a golf course, or in a restaurant or at a basketball clinic, he just had this gregarious personality that was so welcoming. He knew so much about the game of basketball and was willing to share that knowledge freely with everyone.

“He was like Madonna or Michael. We all knew him by just one name – Fitz. And there aren’t many personalities out there that are strong enough to make that work.”

RICK STELTENPOHL, executive director of Hoopfest and local AAU basketball

“I don’t think he realized how many people looked up to him. It didn’t matter if you were a coach at a little high school in the valley, or even a junior high coach, he would invite you to his practices and then make you feel like you were the most important person there.

“And as much as people associate him with basketball, friendships and families were huge with him, too. Whenever he saw me, he would always ask, ‘How’s your wife doing?’ and ‘How’s the daughter?’ It was always family first with Fitz, and then he would delve into basketball and tell me a dozen stories to my one.”

JAMIE NILLES, West Valley High School activities director and former head coach

“Certainly, we have lost a unique individual, and I feel for his family. Over the years, Dan (Monson), Mark (Few), myself and guys that were in our circle, who knew him, had these ‘Fitz-isms’ – funny things he would say that were so unique to coaching or life – that we would use all the time and laugh about.

“The guys who played for him – no matter how they felt while they were playing – all had one common thing when their careers were over, and that was this undying, loyal love for Fitz.”

BILL GRIER, University of San Diego head coach and former GU assistant

“In the early 1990s, I called Gonzaga as an assistant coach at a small college in Southern California to see if they would play us. Coach Fitzgerald wasn’t interested in the game, but he took 10 minutes to ask me about my career and talk about people we knew in common.

“Then, when I moved to Spokane eight years later, I got a phone call, and it was Coach Fitzgerald welcoming me to town. He remembered that call from nine years earlier, which not too many Division I guys would do, because there aren’t too many everyday Division I guys like him.”

JIM HAYFORD, Whitworth University head coach

“With that Irish background, he could tell stories with the best of them. Now, I never said he was a great listener, but he was a great storyteller. And what I remember most about him was that he was the first coach to call me after I got fired at Eastern Washington and offer me a job. That meant a lot.”

JERRY KRAUSE, director of men’s basketball operations at Gonzaga University

“He deserves infinitely more credit than he’s received for laying the groundwork and foundation for what is, today, one of the preeminent college basketball programs. I think of him often as I coach my children’s basketball teams and consider how Fitz’s legacy has created such huge value for all of us who had the honor of playing for Gonzaga University under his leadership.”

NICK ZAHARIAS, former Gonzaga player (1985-87)

“I just remember the passion and intensity he went about coaching with. He just never stopped coaching – whether it was during camp or over a pizza and beer after camp had finished. When I first heard about it early this morning, I was a little bit down. But then you start thinking about the time you spent with him and how much of an impact he had on you and everyone around him, and you realize this needs to be a celebration of his life.

“I know there’s going to be a few glasses lifted in his name around Irish Catholic bars throughout the Northwest tonight, and I know that’ll bring a smile to his face. We lost a great one.”

WAYNE TINKLE, University of Montana head coach and Ferris High graduate


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