How Tony Ingle, feeling the burden of being BYU’s interim head coach, issued an unexpected assist
Deseret News sports writer Jeff Call was a little shocked when Ingle made his way to him on press row. It was after all, his home debut as BYU’s interim head coach. Certainly, he had more important things to do, and think about, than talking to an aspiring sports writer.
Whenever I’d see then-Deseret News sports editor John Robinson, I asked him if there were any job openings on the sports staff.
The answer was always the same — there wasn’t much turnover and there were no immediate plans to hire anyone.
I grew up reading the Deseret News and for a time, as a kid, I even delivered the Deseret News as a part-time job.
But in the mid-1990s, as a father with a wife and a child, I was seeking full-time employment. I was an aspiring sports writer with a few years of experience.
Then one day, I got my break.
Robinson called me and said that because most of the Deseret News’ sports staff would be in Dallas to cover BYU’s first-ever New Year’s Day football game at the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State, he was short-handed.
Would I be available to cover the BYU-San Diego State basketball game on New Year’s Eve afternoon at the Marriott Center?
My memory of my reaction is a little hazy — either I was speechless or I accepted the offer before he finished speaking. He was offering me $25, I think, for this freelance job. But this wasn’t about the money. It was a chance to see my byline in the Deseret News for the first time — and, probably, the only time. Perhaps this was an audition.
That’s why Dec. 31, 1996, will always be a memorable day for me.
Not only was this a great opportunity for me, but this wouldn’t be an ordinary game or ordinary circumstances.
At the time, BYU had a 1-8 record and there was a distinct feeling that things for this team might not get better anytime soon.
There were plenty of distractions, such as, who would be the Cougars’ head coach? Could Ingle turn things around and be considered as a serious candidate?
On the opposite sideline, coaching for San Diego State, was Fred Trenkle, who was viewed as a candidate to take over at BYU.
Anyway, armed with plenty of storylines, I showed up early at the Marriott Center in anticipation of writing my article for the Deseret News. Though I had been covering BYU basketball games for a few years, on that day, I was feeling nervous and unsettled. This could be my one and only opportunity to write for the Deseret News and I didn’t want to squander it.
But I received a calming influence from an unexpected source.
During warmups, Ingle walked to the bench and saw me sitting alone on press row with my notepad and pen.
It was the first time that I had seen him since he had been named interim head coach. Ingle had always been nice to me and accommodating. Always respectful, quotable and funny.
I was a little shocked, though, when he made his way to me on press row. Here it was, his debut as BYU’s interim head coach. Certainly, he had more important things to do, and think about, than talk to me.
Ingle asked me how I was doing. I excitedly told him I was covering this game for the Deseret News.
“Jeff, you made it to the big time,” he joked, prompting me to laugh.
Then he gave me words of encouragement and told me how genuinely happy he was for me. And he thanked me for showing up. It was as if he were hired to give me a little pregame speech. He helped me relax.
As he talked, I was taken aback. In my little world, this Deseret News gig was indeed a big deal. But compared to what Ingle had been going through over the last few weeks, it wasn’t that important.
Yet Ingle made me feel like I was important, undeservedly so. He selflessly acted as though I were BYU’s interim coach or something.
I was just there to chronicle this game. His future and livelihood was at stake.
In a smaller way, I guess mine was, too, and, looking back, maybe Ingle understood that.
As most sports writers will tell you, when we cover games, we don’t root for teams, we root for good stories.
And that day, BYU and San Diego State delivered. It was an intense game that went into overtime. The Aztecs won, 89-86. The Cougars fell to 1-9 as part of what would become a disastrous 1-25 season.
After the season, BYU officials hired Steve Cleveland to lead the program and Ingle was let go unceremoniously, without any thanks for the way he graciously handled an arduous situation amid the worst season in BYU basketball history. All while dealing with circumstances out of his control.
To me, that experience sums up Tony Ingle — a man that truly cared about people, including the little people like me.
It was gratifying, in later years, to see Ingle win a couple of national championships, at Kennesaw State (Division II) in 2004 and Dalton State (NAIA) in 2015. He also earned Division II and NAIA national coach of the year honors, respectively, after those seasons.
Some eight months after I wrote my first story for the Deseret News, I was hired for a full-time position by the Deseret News. I’ve been here ever since.
But I’ve never forgotten that little pep talk from Tony Ingle on that fateful day in my career.
Ingle died last January from COVID-19. I realized when I learned the sad news that I never got to thank him for that. Until now. Thanks, Tony. I’ll always remember the big assist you gave me before a basketball game.