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How did the team get through the tragedy on Day 1?
I think it had to do with the fact that our guys were an experienced group of guys that were incredibly mature. I think they were able to empathize with Hugh and be there for Hugh and at the same time being able to put the distraction behind them and focus on the task at hand. I thought that was incredibly remarkable. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that many of them had been to multiple Olympics.
They were professionals. A lot of times professional athletes are self-reliant by nature. I think the guys were self reliant and mature and were able to get past the distraction and continue to focus on their goal.
The second thing was how we managed the staff. We’d actually done it without Hugh before. The summer before for the Pan Ams, Lloy (Ball) was considering coming back. So Hugh wanted to stay back in Anaheim with a group of veterans and work with Lloy. So we made the decision during early summer of 2007 that we were going to take a young group of players to Pan Ams and Ron (Larsen) was going to be the head coach. So we kind of had this staff that ended up being almost the identical staff that we had at the Olympics when Hugh was gone.
I guess as coaches you always want to prepare your team for contingencies. You obviously never have the chance to prepare for the contingency that the head coach won’t be there. But we actually had unintentionally done that.
Did you find out right away or did you hear it on TV?
We found out pretty much right away. It was the day after the Opening Ceremonies. We were training and Rob Browning comes in and says ‘Hugh you have a phone call.’ Hugh leaves and he was gone for a little while. Hugh comes walking back in and he walks up to me and I go ‘hey is everything OK?’ and he goes ‘No.’ I don’t know how to describe the look on his face. Something I hadn’t seen before. He walked past me, grabbed his bag and left. He didn’t say anything to anyone else. Didn’t say anything to the staff or the team, he just left.
We kept practicing and after practice was over, Rob pulled the staff aside. At that point we knew that his in-laws had been attacked and we didn’t know much else. Then we get the whole team together. The head guy from the USOC was there, they had a security team there and they had a sports psychologist there. They had clearly mobilized. And they announced it to the team and that’s kind of how it was handled.
Obviously the first concern besides for Hugh and his family was their own families. Many of them hadn’t arrived yet. What wasn’t really known was what kind of event was this? Was this a terrorist attack? Do I need to call my family and tell them not to come? That was the first conversation. But they apparently had a pretty good idea of that right off the bat. They were pretty adamant right from the start that this was not a terrorist attack so they must have been able to figure out who this guy was and what his deal was pretty quickly. So that had only been maybe three hours after the incident that we were notified.
The USOC was wonderful. I mean a lot of families had gotten some cheap hotels in uncertain areas of the city and people were worried about their families. The USOC had blocked off all kinds of rooms in some better hotels and were able to move families into those hotels and just alleviate those concerns. I can’t say enough about how the USOC handled the whole incident. They were wonderful.
Did you know when Hugh was coming back?
That evening we had a conference call with Hugh and the team, let the team know what was going on. At that point, we didn’t know if he was going to come back or not. We had a pretty good crew there. The game plans had kind of been done. We’d get into a room, kind of take a look at the game plan and make sure everything was dialed in. The system for how we prepared game plans, how we presented them to the team and how we prepared them for matches didn’t change.
What was it like when Hugh did return?
In general, I think he tried to get back to business as usual as best he could. I don’t think there was any doubt that he was quite distracted about the rest of life. But I think it was reassuring for the guys to have him on the bench there no matter what his state. I think toward the end he was able to deal with the guys, he is a mature guy. He was able to put what was going on off the court away for a little while, focus on the task at hand and do a great job down the stretch.