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Arnold’s coaching passion runs in blood, bloodlines

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FRANK ARNOLD REMEMBERS the day a few years ago when his son Gib was trying to decide what to do with his future. "Whatever you do, do it with a passion," Arnold advised him. Gib replied, "Well, the only passion I have is in coaching."

Uh, boy, thought Arnold. Great. He gave his son's choice his blessing, but not without some reservations. Here was a father who understood this passion for coaching as well as its hazards.He knew what it was to take a team to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He knew what it was to be castigated by fans. He knew what it was to coach future NBA players. He knew what it was to be fired by a school after eight years on the job. And here was his son telling him he had to coach.

"I endorsed it," says Arnold. "He'll do well."

Gib, an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount, called his father last week to tell him that Loyola head coach John Oliver had resigned. Translation: Gib was out of a job.

But, wait, a few days later Loyola asked Gib to remain as an assistant.

Welcome to the up-and-down world of the coaching profession.

"He's going to be a very good coach," says Arnold. "He has a people-person gift that Old Pop never had. He gets along well with people."

If Old Pop had such a gift, he might be coaching today. Arnold was the head basketball coach at BYU during its glory days, from 1975-83. He won conference championships and NCAA tournament berths, but he didn't win anybody's heart. He was forced to resign, which is a polite way of saying he was fired.

Sound familiar?

Arnold, who lives in Mesa, Ariz., watched from afar as history repeated itself last December, when his one-time assistant Roger Reid was fired by BYU. Like Arnold, Reid won three conference championships and lasted eight years, but he skipped the charm school. Some universities overlook this oversight (Indiana and Bobby Knight come to mind), but not BYU. Arnold called Reid to commiserate.

"I told him welcome to the club," says Arnold. "I feel very bad for him. I told him the sun's going to come up."

Arnold should know. He was devastated when he was forced to leave the bench. He bided his time for a year in the BYU physical education department, served as executive director of the sports program at Green Valley resort, then coached the University of Hawaii for two years before he was canned again. After 30 years as a coach, he left the profession for good.

Arnold now works for Franklin Quest in sales and training and is playing a major role in the company's move into the athletic world. Arnold provides training for college and professional coaches and administrators in the management of time and stress.

"All coaches face the same thing," says Arnold. "There is a tremendous demand on their time, and there is stress. All coaches live in a world of stress."

When Arnold makes a presentation to NBA or NHL coaches on stress, he speaks from experience. "A lot of coaches are quiet and calm on the outside and churning on the inside," he says. "I let it out. I didn't sit calmly on the bench. What I've learned is that things such as referees aren't the stress; it's the way we choose to react to them that's stress. My reaction was stress."

Stressed, outspoken and temperamental, Arnold tended to alienate people despite a fine 137-94 coaching record at BYU that included three conference championships. He is remembered as well for his outbursts and PR gaffes as well as for his Danny Ainge-led teams.

He made headlines for calling Wyoming fans "despicable." In the uproar, no one seemed to notice that what he said was true. Long after a game had ended in El Paso, a female fan was yelling foul things at Arnold, when the coach yelled to the lady's husband, "Do you really sleep with her?!"

His only real flaws were honesty and a tendency to speak his mind, never mind tact. A future diplomat he wasn't. He criticized players publicly, then said, 'Bless his heart.' Like Reid, he faced a near player mutiny. BYU tried to help Arnold by engaging a PR consultant, just as the school would do for Reid one day.

Frank Arnold was Roger Reid before there was Roger Reid, likable in person but misunderstood in public.

Arnold makes it clear that he is happy in his current occupation. He never realized how easy life was outside of the coaching environment, he is saying. Sure, he still faces stress in the corporate world, but he no longer has 23,000 people, plus the media, watching, criticizing and second-guessing his work.

People are too emotional about sports, he is saying. It's just a doggone game. He is rolling now. Coaches know more about the game than anyone in the stands. It's their life. They study it, the same way a lawyer studies law.

Yes, Arnold likes his current job, he is telling you again. Still, he adds, he'd rather be coaching. All anyone remembers is that he resigned, but that was only a small fraction of the experience. "I love it," he says. "I'd do it all over again. This is not nearly as much fun as coaching. I have a passion for coaching."

Doug Robinson can be reached by e-mail at Drob@desnews.com