The Seattle area lost two great coaches and men Friday, Marv Harshman and Frosty Westering. Harshman, who coached men's basketball at Washington, Washington State and Pacific Lutheran, died at the age of 95. Westering, the successful football coach at PLU, was 85.
Marv Harshman and Frosty Westering are probably sharing a good laugh in heaven right now.
Can you see Frosty greeting the old basketball coach with his trademark “Attaway” cheer? Can you see Marv responding to the old football coach with his typical genuine candor?
And when the oddity of this sad day in local sports hits them, can you see the two icons offering each other shrugs, declaring that it just happened to be their time at the same time and expressing relief, not disappointment, that one person didn’t dominate all the fuss?
That’s one way to rationalize what happened Friday, when our breathless sports chatter about heroes and villains and Tigers and whales was twice interrupted by news of loss. First word spread that Harshman had died at age 95. Then we learned Westering, 85, was also gone.
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Twice the pain.
Twice the void.
But twice the perspective, too.
Harshman and Westering were inducted into the Puget Sound Sports Hall of Fame on the same day (Jan. 23, 2004), and now they exit this world on the same day, leaving behind a similar message.
You will remember them most for being so outstanding at their jobs. Harshman won 637 games in his career and entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985. For 40 years, he led teams in this region, coaching at his alma mater, Pacific Lutheran (1945-58), Washington State (1958-71) and Washington (1971-85). Westering is one of 11 college football coaches who have won 300 games. He had a career record of 302-96-7, and 261 of those victories came at PLU, where he won four national championships during a 32-year run.
But for all the impressive numbers on their coaching resumes, Harshman and Westering became unforgettable members of this community because of who they were as people.
It’s interesting: I never had the pleasure of watching Harshman and Westering coach their teams. Their careers were over when I arrived seven years ago. But during my time in Seattle, it has been impossible to cover sports in this region without coming across the footsteps they left and learning lessons about how they made their impact. The respect and love that follow both men is as amazing as it is sincere. You feel their impact in listening to stories from fans, former players, family members and even media members who covered their heyday.
Their greatness lies in personal achievement, but also in the influence they’ve had on so many. Over the next few days, you will hear a familiar phrase about both coaches: Great coach, even better man. They’re simple words that both would cherish. And both made their mark in their own style.
Westering was a man who could tilt any room he entered. He was a big personality but also a humble man whose teams managed to win with class. He challenged his players’ minds as much as their bodies, and despite commanding so much respect, Forrest Westering always told people to call him by his Frosty nickname.
Harshman was, as former player and current Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar said, “a legendary person.” He’s the rarest of the rare — a HuskyCoug (or CougHusky) — a man who coached both programs and maintains the respect of both fan bases. Harshman wasn’t polarizing; he was too sincere to inspire mixed emotions.
He coached during a special era of West Coast basketball, with UCLA’s John Wooden, California’s Pete Newell, Oregon State’s Ralph Miller and Slats Gill among the legendary coaches he competed against.
My last interview with Harshman was in 2010, after Wooden died. He talked of how their friendship evolved, and he spoke of mortality, knowing well that he didn’t have many years left. Wooden and Newell had passed, and Harshman knew he wouldn’t live forever. It was incredible to realize how at peace Harshman was. He called Wooden a gentleman and said using that word was the greatest way you could honor the coach.
Three years later, it is appropriate to honor Harshman in the same manner. He was a gentleman. And so was Westering. And this community is grateful that both chose to spend the bulk of their lives investing in the region, developing young men and entertaining with both their high-caliber teams and high-character personalities.
Friday was one of the saddest in recent memory. But the passing of Harshman and Westering gives us another opportunity to celebrate their greatness.
Here’s hoping that somewhere they’re blushing together.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer