They knew the day would come and they braced themselves for it years ago.
Players who hit and caught, laughed and cried under former BYU baseball coach Glen Tuckett gathered in a room under LaVell Edwards Stadium three years ago for his 90th birthday. They returned again last September to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BYU’s 1971 trip to the College World Series.
That they enjoyed those moments, the latest just last month, was a golden blessing to say a long goodbye. Tuckett would have turned 94 in December.
A remarkable force in both national and local sports history for half a century, Tuckett passed away early Tuesday following a stroke the week before. He was a Hall of Fame baseball coach and athletic director at BYU, and was the interim athletic director at Alabama when the Crimson Tide was in a ditch back in the late 1990s.
Tuckett was BYU’s Yoda. He was a walking quote machine. Everyone wanted him to speak at their retirement ceremony, give the toast at their wedding, deliver the eulogy at their funeral.
Tuckett, who always credited others, was instrumental in expanding BYU’s football stadium, setting the stage financially for bringing in teams like Texas, Penn State, USC and Notre Dame. His positions on almost every NCAA committee gave BYU and the state of Utah a valued voice at the table.
He remembered when he was hired as BYU’s baseball coach in the ’50s, then school vice president Ben Lewis told him: “Don’t go over your budget, don’t cheat, and don’t lose.”
He became BYU’s athletic director in 1976 and remained in that position until he retired in 1994.
If he’d been athletic director when the Big Eight expanded to 12 schools in the late ’90s, he’d have had the clout and contacts to give BYU a great chance to be included. He would have verbally danced with Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who lobbied for her alma mater Baylor. He’d have charmed her into inclusion.
Tuckett was on a first-name, golf foursome-level contact with college football giants and BCS pirates Roy Kramer and Mike Slive. He sat on councils with the big hitters of college sports. He coached Dane Iorg, Jack Morris and an army of men who credit him for making them responsible, successful fathers and husbands.
He had the Midas touch when it came to relationships. He remembered names. He made people feel important and elevated. He had a habit of sending notes in small envelopes to people. Inside, in his own handwriting, he’d dish out praise, gratitude or simply thanks.
I have a few of those notes and they’re golden.
When he retired as BYU’s athletic director at age 65, I wrote the following in a column in the Provo Daily Herald: “Tuckett can be a real bulldog. He has stared down umpires, verbally spanked infielders and had his share of battles with staffers. But God also blessed Glen Tuckett with the gift of a 14-carat tongue. And when he turns it on, snakes dance ... and things that twinkle blink off and on.”
Jeff Call, my colleague at the Deseret News, shared some of his experiences with Tuckett over the years — as outsiders required to delve into BYU’s inner workings, Tuckett was always a reporter’s friend.
“I admired the legendary Glen Tuckett for a lot of reasons — his optimism, his sense of humor, his loyalty,” said Call. “He also taught me about the importance of relationships. When I was a student at BYU in the early 1990s, I was writing a paper for my journalism class about BYU football scheduling.
“I wasn’t a sports writer at the time but I figured I’d go to the source, so I naively asked Glen, through his secretary, if I could interview him for a few minutes on the topic. He agreed. At the time, he was the athletic director at BYU.
“He gave me an hour in his office and he treated me like I was a respected sports writer or something. At the end, he provided me with a printout of BYU’s schedules for the next 10-15 years. We talked about how he scheduled Notre Dame and he told me, ‘I said when we get Notre Dame on the schedule, they should bronze me and send me back to Murray.’
“As we talked about scheduling big games against high-profile opponents, he told me it was all about relationships, establishing friendships with other ADs, like Notre Dame’s. Glen’s relationships throughout college football were what helped BYU schedule big games — and LaVell Edwards won a lot of those big games and put BYU football on the map. Those games and wins are what laid the foundation for BYU earning an invitation to the Big 12. Most people probably don’t realize it, but Glen Tuckett’s fingerprints are all over that Big 12 invitation.
“Besides that, he was kind and always looking to help others and build their confidence. On a personal level, he did that for me. The last time I talked to Glen was a couple of months ago. He called me out of the blue to thank me for writing stories about coach Tony Ingle. That’s Glen. He understood the value of relationships. So many people, and BYU’s athletic department, benefited because of that.”
Tuckett loved his family, his four daughters. I knew his wife Josephine just a bit and was aware of Glen taking her to dialysis for years three times a week. He lost his beloved Jo last June. I knew his daughter Shannon very well and she inherited the class, dignity and positive attitude of her father.
Tuckett could quote the great ones, be it Shakespeare, Plato, Yogi Berra, Vince Lombardi or John Wooden. He knew Broadway plays and quotable lines. He quoted scripture and power brokers of present and past. He told stories that made sense and related to his topic of the moment. He wasn’t perfect, but he knew many people who were close or thought they were.
He was as well-read a man as a man could be.
The passing of Tuckett closes a chapter on what will be remembered as the glory days of BYU athletics. It was the time of LaVell Edwards’ long string of WAC championships and bowl trips, an expanded stadium, All-Americans, and a Heisman winner. Tuckett was poolside in Honolulu the day Ty Detmer was awarded that coveted trophy.
He outlived many of his contemporaries in the BYU sports tapestry, Edwards, golf coach Karl Tucker, his longtime assistant Pete Witbeck, track coach Clarence Robison, wrestling coach Fred Davis, trainers Eddie Kimball and George Curtis, Tony Ingle, Dick Felt, Stan Watts, and many, many others.
“He changed my life,” said Iorg, a 10-year Major League veteran who played in two World Series, which included 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.
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.”
Tucket used to react to questionable player play by using the non-swear word jeexo peezo. It became a term of endearment with his teams and they’d go around saying it all the time, echoing their coach.
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.
He will be remembered for a lot of milestones in both his personal and professional life, but the greatest monument, the one that will last through pandemics, change of presidents, the ever-evolving door of coaches and athletes at BYU is the people he impacted, the lives he touched.
He taught the great lesson that you do not need to move mountains to make a difference in this life. It doesn’t take a committee, a marketing department, a study or poll. Most of the time all that is needed is a few well-placed words, a letter, a phone call, remembering a name.
Rest in peace, coach. You deserve a new place in the lineup.