Sunday afternoon, Pat Tyson was perched in front of a TV rooting for Kentucky’s men’s basketball team to upset North Carolina.
As far as he was concerned, it would have made this weekend’s already perfect Final Four even better.
“I would have been the only coach in America with three schools in the Final Four,” Tyson said. “Pretty cool for a Tacoma boy. But we’ll take two.”
Tyson was a cross country star at Oregon in the early 1970s and coached a season there in 2005. He was the distance running coach at Kentucky in 2006-07. And he’s coached cross country and track at Gonzaga since 2008.
Tyson, a Lincoln High graduate, knows exactly how he wants the Final Four to unfold. “Gonzaga No. 1, Oregon No. 2,” he said.
Gonzaga plays South Carolina on Saturday at 3:09 p.m. in Phoenix followed by Oregon’s game against North Carolina.
“I’m right here amongst these guys (Gonzaga) in the athletic department,” Tyson, 66, said. “It’s hard not to like them. It’s hard not to put them No. 1.”
Tyson has loved basketball as long as he loved running. As a track star at Lincoln High, he remembers hurrying from a meet in Edmonds to Seattle in 1968 to watch the Abes play Spokane’s Central Valley for the state title. The Abes lost 62-48.
I couldn’t root for the Ducks here (at Gonzaga). Unless, of course, it’s football season.
Pat Tyson, Oregon graduate and Gonzaga track and cross country coach.
As a student at the University of Oregon, his work study program required him to help during games at McArthur Court. “I brought the water down to the visitor’s locker room,” he said. “I wasn’t the one that was told to crank the heat, but I think they put the visiting team in the hottest possible room.”
Tyson said he met legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. And Tyson and his roommate – iconic distance runner Steve Prefontaine – attended Oregon’s upset of Bill Walton and UCLA in 1974.
Tyson went on to become one of Washington’s most accomplished high school coaches. He won 14 state cross country titles (Two at Shorecrest and 12 at Spokane’s Mead High) in 23 years.
He followed basketball in those days before the Zags’ 1999 rise to prominence, but didn’t follow the Bulldogs closely. However, he still crossed paths with several future Zags.
14 State high school team cross country titles won by Pat Tyson-coached teams. Two at Shorecrest and 12 at Spokane’s Mead High.
Former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison was a student in Tyson’s 9th grade Northwest History class at Mead High. And when Tyson taught junior high classes in the Shoreline School District, current Gonzaga special assistant Ken Bone was a student.
Tyson says Gonzaga’s basketball success has spilled over to the track and cross country teams. It gives him a recruiting tool other West Coast Conference programs don’t have, even if he has other obstacles to deal with (no track on campus and fewer scholarships than rivals Portland and BYU).
“I try to get recruits to come in January and February and I take to them to the Kennel (McCarthey Athletic Center) and let them feel that experience,” Tyson said. “They want to be part of that.”
Tyson will coach the Zags at a track meet in Los Angeles on Friday then return home and watch Saturday’s Final Four games on campus.
“If you can’t be at the games, there’s probably no better place to be than on campus,” Tyson said.
And should his dream of a Ducks-Zags title game come true, he won’t feel the least bit guilty rooting against his alma mater.
“It’s about where you are at and those relationships,” Tyson said. “I couldn’t root for the Ducks here. Unless, of course, it’s football season.”