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Former players salute collegiate Hall-of-Famer Glen Tuckett for 90th birthday celebration

FILE: Glen and Jo Tuckett listen during the memorial as family, friends and former team members gather to honor former BYU football coach Lavell Edwards at a memorial service at the Provo Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
FILE: Glen and Jo Tuckett listen during the memorial as family, friends and former team members gather to honor former BYU football coach Lavell Edwards at a memorial service at the Provo Convention Center on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Glen Tuckett turns 90 this year, and at a reception honoring his legacy, more than a hundred of his former BYU baseball players patiently took turns shaking his hand, thanking him for his impact on their lives.

They traded stories and fading memories and saluted their leader last weekend.

It was a moment frozen in time. A reminder, he would say, of his Camelot.

Tuckett led BYU to the College World Series in 1968 and 1971, became BYU’s athletic director in the school’s glory years of football and golf, a big stadium expansion and was hired as athletic director by Alabama in 1995 to keep its football program from the NCAA death penalty.

A master teacher, orator, successful administrator and baseball coach, his army of successful post-BYU baseball men are legion. You see them everywhere, and they all have tales to tell.

Only four men have coached BYU’s baseball program since 1959, and all four were present: Gary Pullins, now retired and driving a tractor on a ranch in Texas, Vance Law, infield coordinator for the Chicago White Sox, and Mike Littlewood, current head coach who proudly watched the school install turf on the picturesque Larry Miller Field this summer.

Players came from as far as Hawaii, Arizona and California. They included Wally Joyner and record 16-inning pitcher Peter Kendrick, now with Lockheed in Arlington, Texas.

“He changed my life,” said Dane Iorg, a 10-year Major League veteran who played in two World Series, including a game-winning hit in the sixth game of the 1985 series for Kansas City. “I could never call him Glen or Brother Tuckett. It was always Coach,” he said.

Iorg used letters of the alphabet to rattle off traits Tuckett was famous for, including his signature slang word to describe something unbelievably bad he’d just seen. The word is “jeezo beezo.”

That word became a term of endearment to Tuckett’s players.

When Iorg played for Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, announcer Jack Buck came up to Iorg and asked him why Herzog liked him so much. “He likes you so much you could play for him until you are 50.” “I don’t know why,” answered Iorg.

Iorg thought for a while and realized it was because of Tuckett, the way he had taught him to practice, to work, to take to the field, to hustle, to approach his craft as a player. “The things he taught us were unbelievable, and it was fun.”

In his seven years with the Cardinals, Iorg kept using the phrase “jeezo peezo.” Pretty soon his teammates started using it. Cardinals players then started calling Iorg “Jeezo Peezo” and it became his nickname. One day Herzog came in the clubhouse and asked, “What’s this Jeezo Peezo stuff?”

So, said Iorg, Tuckett became widely quoted in Major League circles. “I loved it,” said Iorg.

Iorg said Tuckett was one of a kind. He never missed a practice and until former Pittsburgh Cy Young winner Vernon Law joined his staff in the early '70s, he did it alone. For a long time, Tuckett was the only coach working the Cougar program. He coached the pitchers, the infielders, was the batting coach and outfield expert. When he needed medical help, he tapped into the late Rod Kimball. Today, BYU has a staff of five people for coaches/operations with an additional support staff of nine.

Back in the day, Tuckett’s BYU baseball recruiting budget was $300 a year. He had to watch his phone calls and travel and bringing in a recruit for an official visit took creative planning.

“His knowledge of baseball was incredible,” said Iorg. “He knew the game and he knew how to coach it.”

Today, Tuckett remains a consistent figure in the lives of his players, attending weddings and mission farewells, and Littlewood welcomes him to practices and games. “He’s frequently there, and when I talk to him, he tells me things about my players I didn’t even know myself.”

Doug Howard said he might write a book about Tuckett’s College World Series teams. “I played for Stan Watts in basketball and the agreement was I could play baseball after the season. Tuckett got me for free. It was a remarkable experience for me.”

Tuckett’s legacy is a long and weighty one.

It is sad that most all of Tuckett’s contemporaries in BYU’s athletic department have passed, including the legendary healer Kimball, long-time assistant Pete Witbeck and peers who won national titles like football coach LaVell Edwards, golf coach Karl Tucker, track coach Clarence Robison and volleyball coach Carl McGown.

This 90 plateau is a big deal.

Let’s hope his run passes 100.