I have been fortunate to have had great relationships with all but just a few of my administrators and athletic directors. Most of my administrators were great people. Louie Golden was one of the great ones but I had to mature and develop some wisdom to see it. When some of these stories were taking place it did not seem so. It was never smooth sailing and some people might have thought Louie’s first name was either “f@#$%^&” or “g#$%^&n” as in that “F@#$%^& Golden!” You might have thought I had the same first name.
For those who do not know who Louie Golden is, he began his career as a head basketball coach at Beck High School during the days of full and token segregation. In 1970 at mid-year, full desegregation was implemented during semester break and Louie lost a basketball team so good its players were purposely split among four area high schools. All four schools made the state playoffs and a previously mediocre Wade Hampton team went on to play for the State Championship. Louie went on to win state championships at both Riverside and Southside High Schools. If you count his days at Beck, Louie retired with over seven hundred victories, five state championships, and another four upper-state championships. In 1993 he was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. As an athletic director, Louie started the program at Riverside from scratch and retired with nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the athletic account. He was a success by any standard of measurement.
Because I had been in the area for about fifteen years, I was familiar with Louie. I had also heard many stories about his obsession with saving money, his eating habits and the accusations of recruitment. Money and eating I can attest to but will not go into the recruitment of players because I don’t know for sure anything illegal took place. Despite all of the stories that I had heard about “Big Boy”, nothing in my life or any other life prepared me for him. Three or four inches taller and a good and conservative seventy pounds heavier, he reminded me of a big brown jovial bear. When you talked to Louie you got the idea he wasn’t the brightest light on the tree. It was an act. Louie cultivated his sometimes laughable persona the same way John Wayne cultivated his trademark walk. Louie’s attitude about spending money or the lack thereof, grew as a result of his childhood. Louie had grown up in St. Mathews, outside of Orangeburg, and like most black youths from the area and the time period, he grew up poor. Growing up poor would cause an economic philosophy to develop that could be said to be miserly or downright frugal. His wife Betty will swear it wasn’t just about spending school money.
When he became athletic director at Riverside, Louie was given an athletic budget of zero “monies”. No equipment, no uniforms and no start-up money. Louie had to go into debt up to his eyeballs and as he told me later felt he had been put there as a “token” who was expected to fail. The “Greenville County Way” was to pay coaches stipends and to put down fertilizer on fields and not much else. At Riverside, topsoil was bulldozed off of what would become fields, fences and a press box put up, stands erected and that was it. You could not play a football game without a whole lot of equipment. Somehow Louie was able to get it. Louie begged, borrowed and went into debt but somehow kept his head above water. There was an unconfirmed story that he gave the golf team a dozen balls that were labeled “Fished from the Finest Lakes in South Carolina.” I would say Louie fooled the powers that were and became the success they were not expecting.
Because of Louie’s childhood and Riverside’s indebtedness, to say Louie squeezed a penny is like saying a two hundred and seventy-pound hungry anaconda is giving you a little hug. You never got anything from Louie without a battle. The process seemed like begging and forcing you to beg for money was Louie’s way of finding out how much you wanted something. It was tiresome and more than just a little demeaning. I have this mental picture of Oliver asking “More Please.” I don’t know how many times I heard “Miller you likes to spend too many monies.” That is the way Louie said it. “Monies” with a face all scrunched up like those gross little babies in a bottle. Some people quit asking, some people went to raising funds to support their own programs, some people seethed in anger, while others openly battled him. As far as Louie was concerned the first three actions were great. They did not cost him anything. If you opted for battle he was going to make you give up a pound of flesh.
As a basketball coach he was extraordinary. He could teach the game in simple, uncomplicated terms, was a great game manager and motivator. Louie also understood people and knew which buttons to push. The late Steve Kahler told a story about Louie cutting his C team. Kahler had so many kids trying out he needed help. Louie came in and brought the kids trying out together. He asked who the best seventh grader was. Fingers pointed at one of the kids. Then he asked the eighth and ninth graders who could beat him one on one. Hands went up. Louie turned to those who hadn’t raised their hands and said: “You’re cut!” That took about thirty seconds and took care of too many kids to work with. Louie did not get one phone call from a disgruntled parent.
After a bad scrimmage, instead of the normal film breakdown, Louie loaded his team on a van and told them they were going to get fitted for shoes. He drove them toward Duncan lecturing them about running the flex offense, playing with hustle on defense and not working hard enough to be in shape. Five miles out on a rural highway between Greer and Duncan, Louie pulled the van over, ordered them all ot of the van. He told them they better be back for the official start of practice and anyone who didn’t was cut. All of them got back and they went on to win another state championship for Louie and Riverside High School. I do not think he could get away that in today’s legal climate.
Humor aside, you have to give Louie credit for what he accomplished. He took kids at a predominantly white, economically entitled school and was successful. He then went to predominantly black, economically depressed school and was successful. Louie even took a girls’ team that had not won in over a decade and took them to the playoffs. Why? Obviously he knew basketball. Most importantly, he coached kids and never put the game ahead of them, which is a testament to his character.
This is an excerpt from “Winning Was Never the Only Thing” which can be purchased at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM