Thursday, August 6, 2009

The New Guy

The Department of Athletics had a reception last night to honor former coaches Bill Tierney (men's lacrosse) and Kathy Sell (women's tennis), who left after this past academic year to go in different directions. Tierney, of course, is the Hall-of-Fame coach who won six NCAA titles and 14 Ivy League titles in 22 years here, while Sell spent five years building the women's tennis program into the 2009 Ivy champion.

During the reception, TigerBlog was talking with several people, one of whom asked if Jon Kurian's wife was expecting. Kurian works in the business office here.

Anyway, it was one of those etiquette moments that TigerBlog doesn't quite know how to handle. Here was Mrs. Kurian, clearly appearing to be a mother-to-be, and yet Mr. Kurian hadn't said anything. You certainly can't walk up and say "so, congratulations," and have it not be the case. Or, as Oscar said (through Will Smith's voice) in the classic "Shark Tale" movie: "'Sorry' is when you step on somebody's fin at the theatre. Yeah, that's 'sorry.' 'Sorry' is when you ask somebody 'Hey, when's the baby due?' and it turns out the person's just fat! No, this is as far away from 'sorry' as you can possibly get."

The whole issue became moot moments later, when Kurian confirmed what was somewhat obvious. The baby is due in the winter. Contrast that with Kellie Staples, the director of the Princeton Varsity Club. Staples was there last night, despite the fact that her baby is due this weekend. And on the other side of the room was Craig Sachson, who works here at TigerBlog HQ, with his wife and daughter Madelyn, who just turned one.

Why bring these three Princeton people up? The whole event started TigerBlog thinking about all of the people who have come and gone during his 15 years here and of the people who have stayed around.

Take Kurian, for instance. When he came to Princeton seven years ago, he was a grad student in need of a 350-hour internship to finish his degree. TB remembers clearly the meeting in which the comment was made that we didn't want to "spend 400 hours figuring out what this kid can do for 350 hours." Or, even more directly, that we weren't looking for a "350 hour pain in the butt."

When Kurian first started working here, there were a host of people in the department with the same first name, though most had the "h" in it: John Thompson, John Mack, John Cornell. Somewhere along the line, Kurian was dubbed "The New Guy," a nickname that stuck for years. Even after his 350 hours were done, Kurian bounced around the department in any number of capacities before landing on the payroll and eventually finding a home in the business office.

Staples came here from Charles River College of Cambridge a few years ago with a boyfriend who still worked at the school. Eventually, he came to work here too, and now they're married with a child due any second.

Sachson worked at the Trenton Times, and TigerBlog had heard good things about him and read good stories by him. When there was an opening here, TB called Sachson and basically offered him the job, despite no direct experience or even interest in the position. That was 11 years ago. Since then, he's worked here, moved to the College in Ithaca not named Ithaca College for two years and come back here for seven more now.

Would TigerBlog have wagered his Yoo-Hoo money that any of those three, let alone all three, would endure here for the long-term?

Even the two featured guests at last night's event have different stories. Tierney came here when Ronald Reagan was still President. Put another way, Sell stayed for five years; Tierney stayed for five Presidents.

Gary Walters started here the same day that TigerBlog did back in 1994. Only seven head coaches remain from before Walters arrived: women's swimming coach Susan Teeter, men's swimming coach Rob Orr, men's track and field coach Fred Samara, women's track and field coach Peter Farrell, men's squash coach Bob Callahan, women's squash coach Gail Ramsay and women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer. Everybody else has been hired by Walters.

Why do some put down roots here while the overwhelming majority come and go? Some of it is circumstance. Some of it is inertia. There are any number of factors at play here.

TigerBlog was reading what's left of the Trenton Times this morning over his Corn Flakes when he came upon John Nalbone's story from New Jersey Athletic Conference football media day. TB has great memories of his days covering the NJAC of the late ’80s and early ’90s, when Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) had some great teams and great players. The coach at TSC then had started out as the head coach at age 23; today Eric Hamilton is still the coach of the Lions. He also is one of TB's all-time favorites, and when TB read his name in Nalbone's story, he chuckled and thought "that guy's still there."

TB has heard the same comment from athletes who come back to games or Reunions and stop in and say hello. "Still here?" they say.

Back on TigerBlog's first day in the newspaper business, back in 1983, Jack McCaffery, who had gotten TB his job at the Trenton Times, warned that TB better be careful, because "once you get the black ink in your blood, you never get it out."

TigerBlog thinks back to that comment often here, surrounded by those who have stayed for years in a business that is often transient. We all have our reasons for still being here, but part of it is definitely is that we buy into what goes on here.

In other words, we all have the black ink in our blood, with a little orange mixed with it.

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