A few days ago I wore a T-shirt from the 2002 Lake Erie Cross Country Invitational and Kiwanis Cross Country Club Challenge. Those races were held on the course laid out by Bob Dulak, who had been the cross country coach at Kent State-Ashtabula, and the members of his one of his teams from a couple decades earlier. The course, which was written up in a national running magazine, eventually became known as the Legend, and the "The Legend" is written large across the front of T-shirt. A woman stopped me in the hall that day and asked, "Are you the Legend?" The answer to that question is an unequivocal no. But the question, "Are you the Legend?" brought back memories of another Legend.
This is a column I wrote about that other Legend for the Star Beacon. It appeared in the paper on December 28, 2008.
Most of the time, newspaper articles are no place for inside jokes. Occasionally, however, they worm their way in, and the next thing you know, it’s no longer an inside joke. That’s what happened with an incident involving Jefferson girls basketball coach Rod Holmes and his counterpart at SS. John and Paul, Nick Iarocci.
Around the office, we refer to Holmes as “Hot Rod.” When speaking of Iarocci, we often call him “St. Nick,” but among his wider circle of friends and colleagues, Iarocci is known as Rock. If Iarocci is Rock, then Holmes must be Boulder. He is, after all, a more imposing sight. If the two starred in a Christmas movie, Holmes would play Santa, and Iarocci would be the mischievous elf.
But that has nothing to do with the joke.
It might be going too far to call Holmes laconic, but the man doesn’t squander words. Ask him a question, and he’ll answer it. He does have a sharp wit. Once, bemoaning his team’s lack of height, he said, “We wouldn’t have anyone over six feet, even if one of my assistant coaches stood on the other’s shoulders.” He just threw the remark out there, and it was up to you to figure out Holmes was talking about Jon “Little Red Man” Hall and Don McCormack.
On the other hand, it is accurate to talk about the garrulous Iarocci or the voluble Iarocci. Ask Iarocci a question, and he’ll answer it along with several as yet unasked queries. And when Iarocci wants you to laugh, his face tells you it’s time to laugh. But that has nothing to do with the joke.
When the Falcons are playing, Holmes sits on the bench, stone faced and unflappable. He sometimes gives directions to his players, but he seldom yells. And unless an official makes what Holmes deems to be an egregious error, he doesn’t yell at them, either. Instead, he discretely makes barbed comments as they pass by his seat on the bench.
Iarocci does not have what they call a poker face, and he’s almost never quiet during a game. Like a man who has had too much coffee, Iarocci never sits for long. He looks out at the action, his eyes grow large and he yells, “Not there! Not there!” to one of his girls. Then the official blows his whistle, and Iarocci says, “No! No! You’ve got to be kidding me.” But that doesn’t have anything to do with the joke.
When it comes to talking with the press, Holmes is very businesslike. He’s never curt or brusque with the members of the Fourth Estate, but he’s not likely to give them more than they asked for. The only exception coming when he’s pretty sure the writer completely missed a matter of some importance.
Iarocci relishes his time with the press. Even after a defeat, Iarocci never gives a short interview. He can be very quotable, and he enjoys being quoted. And that has everything to do with the joke.
After a game a few years ago, Iarocci made a comment to a reporter about what an honor it was to be coaching a game on the same floor as “the legendary Rod Holmes.” The remark found its way into the paper. Then “legendary” somehow became attached to Holmes’ name almost every time it appeared in the paper.
And then, people in the community began to use the term. At the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation, old friends and opposing coaches routinely referred to Holmes as “The Legend.” His players, even those former Jefferson stars who traveled great distances to be there, talked about their “legendary coach.” His current players were sometimes a little shy, but the word “legend” sometimes got into their remarks, too.
On Tuesday, Iarocci and Holmes will gather their teams for a game in Falcon Gym for the first time since “The Legend” became just about Holmes’ sir name.
So, what started as an inside joke is now common knowledge. But, if someone is referred to as a “legendary coach,” the assumption is that the coach has had a long, successful and storied career.
As usual, Iarocci hit the nail on the head.