Turnovers … by Alan B. Gibson

Posted October 10, 2018 at 8:34 am

I felt like I had been kicked in the chest by a mule – yes, while I haven’t felt that force myself, I have seen first-hand the damage a mule kick can do to a human chest.

That was my first sensation upon hearing the news last Tuesday evening that Ronnie Guffey had suffered a major heart-attack and had died at his home in Murray, Kentucky.

I sat on my back deck, staring at Janie, who had come out to deliver the news to me after receiving a phone call just a few minutes earlier.

Ronnie Guffey, or “Guff” as most of us close to the CCHS basketball program referred to him, came to coach our Lady Bulldog program for the 1988-89 season, and was an immediate success, leading our Lady Dawgs to a 16th District Championship that first season – the first 16th District championship that we had claimed since the 1979-80 season.

He moved down a seat or two, taking up the assistant coach’s position for a few seasons, then also moved over to coach the boys’ basketball program for a few years to become the head coach for the Bulldogs.

When you have spent as much time sitting to the immediate left of the head coach as I have down through the years, you grow close, usually become great friends, and can fill a book with volumes and volumes of stories and anecdotes.

Speaking Guff was a learned art. Guff would fill a conversation with grunts and groans, moans and spits and newcomers would often look around to get some help from someone else as to what it was that he was trying to convey to them in conversation.

I still remember the first time we met. Sitting at my office one day in late summer of 1988, then Principal David Warinner called to tell me he had the new coach in his office and would I want to come out for an interview opportunity. Getting home late that afternoon, Janie asked me where I had been, and after learning I had been interviewing the new coach, she quickly asked – “What did he have to say?”

“I don’t have a clue what he said” I replied.

A couple of seasons later, after a pre-season interview, I drove to the house, and clearly I was visibly upset and Janie asked me what was wrong. “I’ve been interviewing Guff about the basketball season” I replied, to which she followed up with little chuckle and a follow-up remark – “Huh, how’d that go?” “I understood everything he said” I answered – and we were then both a little scared.

The fact that Guff didn’t speak as clearly as the rest of the free world wasn’t lost on him either, and he was always able to laugh at his own diction himself. One night I called him over to my table as he made his way back to his seat after one of those referee tongue lashings at mid court he often delivered when things weren’t being called to suit him. “Whumpgth” was his reply, which translated into “what do you want now?” “Guff, if that official had a clue what all you just said to him, he would have just thrown you out of the gym.” Guff left with his head back and one of those big rolling laughs and the game went on.

While Guffey usually had things around his program and on his bench fully under control, there were a few times when things went on that he wasn’t aware of until later. Sometimes sooner – sometimes later. Looking back on some of those instances can only make us close to the program chuckle.

Guffey had no idea for many years that myself and another good friend of mine who also left us too soon, Darin Palacky, had a nightly pool bet at home games as to which one of us could come closest to the time when Guff would take his wristwatch off and cram it into his pocket. Most nights, the 2:15 mark of the second quarter would earn me a bag of popcorn.

Another instance not everyone knows about is the night Guffey had a good strong drink while he was on the bench. After another of those mid-court episodes and with Guffey returning back to his position, I looked over to see Assistant Coach Jennifer Lee Preston standing up beside her leader, pounding him on the back as he bent over, head between his knees and his face as red as it could be. I went over to help and noticed that all the while, Jennifer was having a hard time striking Guff in the back, because she was laughing so hard. Seemed one of the girls playing that night had just had her ears pierced, and a occasional dab on the ear lobe with some rubbing alcohol was prescribed. Yep, Guff found the cup of alcohol and gave it a chug to quench his thirst.

Smoking cigarettes was always one of his demons, and the man could absolutely suck the paper flat on a cigarette when he was upset. One afternoon after delivering the basketball posters to his office, and while working on my own pre-season publication, Big Blue Preview, my son Brett, who was still in middle school at the time, came into the office and looked down at the team photo we were using for both and gave a little chuckle, asking what I was going to do with that photo. As the conversation went on, Brett pointed to a few of the players sitting on the floor and explained to me that we couldn’t use that photo because those girls are “giving you the finger.”

Sure enough, and off to the gym with photo in hand I headed. Interrupting Guff’s practice was bad enough, but convincing him to follow me into his office immediately, was even harder. After pointing out the offending fingers, I stood by calmly, only to watch Guff go through not one, but two cigarettes before he was able to speak at all, and when the words did come out, being completely fluent in speaking Guff by then, I wasn’t even able to make heads or tails out of his remarks. The next day, when I returned to his office to see what he wanted to do about those posters, I quickly could see what his “fix” to the problem was. Sitting there in his office floor, with ink erasers in hand and posters spread out all over the floor, were the offenders, removing the ink from the photos around their knees. “Gupmphokgsn” Guff said as he looked up from his desk with that little smirk on his face – translation: “Gonna be okay, Gibson.”

Guffey was a good coach. He was a good father and husband, and he was a good friend.

With all of the funny stories about Guff and his antics around the court that was swapped back and forth last week at the funeral home, there is something else that I need to say about my friend, Guffey.

When he was coaching the boys’ team for Clinton County, my son, Brett, who works with us now at the Clinton County News and also grew close, was playing, then later was a manager for the Bulldogs – traveling with and hanging out with the team and coaches at home games, at games the next county over, at games in Louisville and Lexington, and even at games in Florida.

But there wasn’t a single time while Brett was on the road that I was not able to lay my head down on my pillow at night and go to sleep, because I knew that as long as Guff was in charge of my son’s well being, he was going to be taken care of at least as well as Guffey would be taking care of his own son. For a parent to be able to make that statement about another adult – well, Guffey was all of those things I just mentioned, but he was also a good man. I’m going to miss my friend, Ronnie Guffey.