CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- YOU MAY HAVE seen clips this week of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano. ESPN networks have been highlighting the Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research initiative over a two-week span.
Former University of Charleston football coach Tony DeMeo, however, has not seen the clips.
He can't bring himself to do so. He just can't.
"I saw his speech once, live," DeMeo said. "I can't watch it. Even the stuff about him, I can't watch. It's so sad."
Especially when the fight with cancer was fought by a close friend.
Which Valvano was to DeMeo.
See, back in 1975, DeMeo was the nation's youngest college football coach at the tender age of 25. ("I was hardly shaving," DeMeo said. "If I wasn't Italian, I probably wouldn't have been.")
DeMeo was the football coach at Iona College. The basketball coach was another of Italian heritage: Valvano.
"He was really a special guy," DeMeo said on Thursday. "He was a big part of my beginnings in football. That sounds strange, but it was true. We were both hired in '75. We had cubicles beside each other. We got to know each other very well. I learned a ton from him."
Through the years, many of us have, as well, on the topic of cancer awareness. Of course, we came to know Valvano when he led North Carolina State to an improbable NCAA tournament championship in 1983. We remember him running onto the court after Lorenzo Charles caught an air ball of a shot by Dereck Whittenburg (who later, in 1993-94, served as an assistant coach at WVU) and dunked to secure the title game win. We remember him searching for someone to hug. (Consider they'd beaten a Houston team that had two future Hall of Fame inductees in Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.)
Since Valvano's death in 1993, though, we know him more in regard to cancer awareness - especially though The Speech. Twenty years ago, Valvano, ravaged with cancer, made his famous plea to not "ever give up" during the first ESPY Award ceremony.
DeMeo remembers him differently.
"He taught me a lot," said the resident of South Hills in Charleston. "He taught me the strategy of managing a game. He told me my job as a coach was to put the players in a position to win at the end of the game. He said it didn't matter what style you use to do that. But just get them there. He said to be flexible. I took that with me my whole career."
DeMeo's career was one that stretched over decades, including head coaching stops at UC, Washburn, Mercyhurst and Iona.
He was an assistant at schools like Temple, James Madison, Penn, Richmond and Murray State.