Behind Every Good Coach
John MacLeod’s wife, Carol, recalls a coach’s life in basketball
Carol and John helped host the 1975 All-Star Game in Phoenix at this dinner.
(Courtesy of Carol MacLeod)
Posted: April 17, 2012
No offense to Al Bianchi, John MacLeod’s long-time assistant coach, but there is one other assistant who means a little bit extra to the Phoenix Suns’ former head coach.
Carol MacLeod met John during his first year with the Suns. After Carol’s brother played Cupid, the two arranged a first date while the Suns were in New York for a couple of exhibition games at Madison Square Garden. Carol, at the time, was an actress in the city.
This was long before the 707 career wins John compiled while an NBA head coach; long before the couple imagined days Wednesday, when the coach will be inducted into the Phoenix Suns “Ring of Honor”; long before the two had been married for 38 years.
Following a first date at the theater, the Suns’ coach asked Carol if she would do a little volunteer work and keep track of the shot chart for one of the games. The coach’s future wife was with the team the next night, and she constructed a shot chart in which she admitted to recording one shot per sheet of paper.
John was then handed just over 80 sheets of paper at the end of the game. Carol recalled a straight-faced coach who thanked her for the report.
“It wasn’t until after we were married that I saw a real shot chart,” Carol said. “I went right to him to ask him why he didn’t laugh at me. He told me that he laughed plenty once he got back to the hotel.”
The first meeting in New York impressed Carol enough to continue dating John, and the two arranged for another cross-country visit. Soon, the coach’s wife would see why he was about to embark upon a legendary career in which he became the longest-tenured Suns coach after 14 years at the helm.
In Phoenix, Carol saw that John lived amongst books about coaching. She said that bookshelves were piled high with the manuals he had been reading through since he had coached the sport to high schoolers in Kentucky and his native Indiana. Upon closer inspection, Carol noticed the fastidious nature of her soon-to-be husband.
The MacLeods are seen here in front of
their first house in Phoenix.
(Courtesy of Carol MacLeod)
Bookmarks stuck out from numerous pages. John’s handwriting covered some parts of the text to signify important passages or notes. At that point, Carol took note of something about John that she believed to be true during the entire time she knew him as a head coach.
“First of all, he was very dedicated,” Carol said. “John was very organized because he loved what he did. It was a passion as well as a profession.”
When they met, MacLeod had just been hired away from the University of Oklahoma, where he had been the head coach from 1967-73. At that time, the Suns were just attempting to establish themselves in the city and the NBA.
As a first-year NBA coach, MacCleod was trying to do the same with his career. Before MacLeod took over the team, Suns General Manager Jerry Colangelo had been through four coaches in five years – including two stints in which he had coached the team himself.
The Suns had only been to the playoffs once in seven years, and MacLeod’s first two seasons went without adding to that total. But then the fate of the franchise and the coach changed during the 1975-76 season.
The team finished 42-40 in the regular season, but it all came together in the second half to make the playoffs. The improbable run continued as the “Sunderalla Suns” charged all the way into the NBA Finals before eventually losing to the famed Boston Celtics.
Suddenly Carol was watching the city of Phoenix grasp ahold of her husband’s team. She heard, through neighborhood windows, the growing sound of more people listening to basketball.
What unfolded that season in front of Carol, turned out to be a signature moment for her husband, the Suns and its relationship with Phoenix.
“He had a team, a real team,” she said. “There were wonderful players, but, more than that, they were a team. They were these people who just molded together to provide something great to the NBA and the city of Phoenix.
“I think it was kind of a great moment in sports.”
It was the start of something special for John in Phoenix, and it ensured the MacLeod family a long life in the basketball world.
One thing that helped Carol cope with the NBA lifestyle was her own background in the theater.
“I think his profession was interesting to me, because I could understand a lot of the things he was going through,” she said. “If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between being a coach and being an actress: the need to prepare is just like studying a script; there is the need to practice, which is similar to rehearsing; and then there is having to deal with the highs and lows of your performance.”
The coach’s wife described John as someone who aimed to not be over-emotional. Carol was proud he didn’t “rant and rave” at a player in public. Instead, she thought John liked to manage his team privately, so as to achieve more cohesion.
His personality as a coach reminded her of the man she met in New York.
“What really impressed me was that he didn’t have ‘lines.’ What you see is what you get with John,” Carol said. “I think the players respected him, too, for that kind of attitude.”
Now, after all the time spent coaching – all the wins and losses, all the moves to different NBA cities that the MacLeod family made – Carol is glad that John will be honored by the Suns. Although, she admits, the Ring of Honor ceremony may mean a little more to her and the MacLeod children than to the coach himself.
“There were a lot of tears over the years when your husband is in this profession,” Carol said. “There was a lot of changing places and addresses, and you had to learn about a loved one having to deal with the public eye. But you grow from that, you do, and it’s nice to see a father and a husband who will now be honored by the team he loved, in the city he loved.”