Pondering gut feelings, kids and good buddies

By Mack Thweatt | Published Saturday, June 11, 2016

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This story starts before the beginning of the 1979-80 school year. I was head coach at Alvord High School, and we needed a basketball coach.

Mack Thweatt

Mack Thweatt

Of the people that applied for the job, the one that for some reason stood out to me had no experience teaching or coaching. He had played on a state championship basketball team, served a stint in the Air Force and then worked in construction while completing his college degree.

When asked why he wanted to get into coaching, he simply replied it was the only thing he ever really wanted to do.

Sometimes you make decisions based on what is basically a “gut feeling.” That is what I did in this case. He got the job. I honestly don’t remember even talking to anyone else about the position.

That was my introduction to Mike Curran. It marked the beginning of a friendship that would last from then until just a few weeks ago.

A few things were obvious from the beginning. The first and most important was that he was in it for the kids. He realized they were kids and were going to make mistakes, but he instinctively knew whether they would benefit more from a pat on the back or a boot in the butt. Coach Curran was adept at doing either.

His rapport with students enabled him to relate to both athletes and non-athletes. His penchant for playing jokes and tricks on students, as well as coworkers, became well-known early – and no one was exempt.

In a small school like Alvord, you don’t coach just one sport; you coach, or help coach, many or all of them. We coached together for about 10 years.

During one of those years, he and I wound up being the only two coaches, and we had all the sports in junior high and high school. To say that we spent a lot of time together that year would, at the very least, be somewhat of an understatement. But we made it through that year and even managed to throw in a good bit of hunting, fishing and trapping like we always did. On occasion our wives weren’t pleased, but we also survived that.

Coach Curran’s last few months were hard. Cancer is an uncaring disease that can take even the strongest. Trying to beat it is never a fair fight, and seldom do you come out on top.

Coach Curran lost his fight just short of a month ago.

If there is such a thing as a “good” visitation or funeral, Coach Curran had one. His influence on kids was obvious as the visitation resembled a reunion of those he was involved with during his time coaching. The outstanding thing was there was a lot more laughter by those remembering him than there were tears, and I can assure you that is the way he would have wanted it. The service involved many of his ex-students telling of his impact on them.

My wife and I went to see Coach and his wife a few weeks before he went into the hospital the last time. We had a nice visit, talked about old times and enjoyed several laughs in those few hours.

We went to see them again after he had to return to the hospital. He was somewhat “in and out” of it while we were there, and we talked a little and visited with his family some. When his wife roused him to tell him we were leaving, he said he and I had been “best buddies.” I have never had a greater compliment.

I wanted to talk a little bit more, but after he said that, I had trouble saying anything. I did manage to tell him to stay with it and get better so we could do some more fishing and hunting.

He raised his head, looked me in the eye and said, “I’ll hang in there as long as I can.” Holding back most of my tears, I told him, “That’s all you can do, man.”

We left hoping against hope for a better outcome, but deep down we knew. He did hang in there for another five days.

I’ve heard many times that a true friend is one that, even though you may go long periods of time without seeing each other, you pick up right where you left off. I had a true friend.

Rest in peace, good buddy. You most assuredly deserve to.

Mack Thweatt is a Messenger photographer and retired coach and teacher.

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