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Karl Lindholm: A most unforgettable character: Coach Alaimo

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Posted on July 5, 2018 |
By Karl Lindholm



alaimocoachBasketball.jpg
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE HEAD Basketball coach Gerry Alaimo works with a student athlete during his tenure as coach in the 1960s. Courtesy photo

In the middle of a practice scrimmage, the coach blew a shrill whistle and gathered his minions around him at mid-court. He exhorted his boys to play with greater abandon: “Every loose ball has to be ours. Get on the floor!”

He then instructed one of us with a ball (it might have been me!) to roll it on the floor and he proceeded to demonstrate. He dove on the rolling basketball … and broke his wrist.

It was the only time any of us can remember that he called off practice early.

That was J. Gerald “Gerry” Alaimo, the coach of the Middlebury College basketball team from 1964-69, my coach. He died on May 10, at 82, in Providence, his longtime home.

In the fall of ’64, Joe McLaughlin was a senior who had played two years on the Middlebury basketball team, but had yet to meet his new coach. “I first saw Jerry in action at a football game early in the season,” Joe wrote on the extensive email chain occasioned by Gerry’s death.

“One of the refs called an outrageous penalty against Middlebury. I don’t remember whether Duke (Duke Nelson, Middlebury football coach) was protesting, but my attention was focused on a tall, crazy man who burst onto the field, gesturing wildly and shouting at the refs. Some players tried to pull him back to the sidelines, but not before he drew another penalty.

“Welcome to Middlebury, Gerry! Welcome to Gerry, Middlebury!’

Gerry Alaimo was an unforgettable character. To say that he was a breath of fresh air when he arrived in ’64 is an understatement: He was a gale-force wind.

He came to Middlebury to “turn the program around.” After some outstanding teams in the mid-1950s, Middlebury basketball had fallen on hard times, winning very few games between 1958-64.

It certainly did not happen right away. Gerry had two seasons when his team won just one game, but when his 1969 Middlebury team had ten wins, his alma mater called, and he returned to Brown University to be their coach.

Despite the numbers, Gerry succeeded at Middlebury in laying the foundation for the solid programs that followed: He upgraded the schedule, intensified recruiting, and established an ethos of hard work and spirited play. He left his successors with good players.

A big man, 6’4”, he had been a great player at Brown (pictured, #35, right), scoring 1,046 points (16th on their all-time list) and had 870 rebounds (fourth). Gerry was one of 15 players named in 2006 to the All-Century Team at Brown. He was also president of his senior class. 

He was just 28 when he came to Middlebury. We all knew if we could suit up the coach we would be a match for any team on our schedule.

Gerry was a terrific coach. Though we seldom won, we were always prepared with a winning game plan. He never acceded to our weakness. Because of our limitations, he emphasized skills development in our practices — and that benefitted many of us for years after we graduated in the quality of the men’s leagues and pickup games we happily played in.

He was close to his players, but the lines of authority were never blurred. His personality was as big as his frame: He was exuberant, impulsive, voluble, totally unpretentious and brutally frank.

After Middlebury, Gerry coached at Brown for nine years. He had some good years early (he won 17 games in ’74, second place at 11-3 in the Ivy League), but things went downhill after that. He was 4-22 in his last year, 1978.

He then joined his friend, Hall of Fame coach and administrator, Dave Gavitt, at Providence College, and served there, in various hands-on administrative roles, for the next two decades, until his retirement as Senior Associate Athletics Director in 2001. In 2011 he was inducted into the Providence College Athletics Hall of Fame.

Another of Gerry’s close friends, Bill Reynolds, the acclaimed sports columnist of the Providence Journal, wrote of Gerry, “he was big and gruff, and had no social graces. He was about as pretentious as an old sweat sock, but as loyal as an old dog lying on your front porch.

“(He had) a heart big as the gym even if he tried to disguise that fact.”

Rich Roller ’67, one of Gerry’s Middlebury players, knows that big heart and loyal nature. In the fall after his graduation, Rich was serving as a coaching assistant in football at Middlebury College before joining the Army. At Christmastime, Rich’s wife Joan, also Midd ’67, was nine months pregnant.

Gerry was in New York for the Holiday Basketball Tournament when he called Rich to inquire about the impending birth. When he discovered that Joan was in Porter Hospital about to deliver, he climbed in his car and drove to Middlebury.

Rich wrote recently, “You could have knocked me over with a feather when Gerry walked into the maternity wing (to be with) a young kid who didn’t know sh**, who had just recently graduated from college, who was about to become a father, and who was getting ready to move his family and report for active duty in two weeks.

“I can’t think of any time in my life I have been happier and more appreciative to see someone.”

Gerry spent the next two days in Middlebury to be with Rich in this time of such anxiety and uncertainty for him. He introduced Rich to the bar at the American Legion Hall.

Peter Roby was the best player on the one-win Middlebury team in 1967. After learning of Gerry’s passing, Peter wrote: “how is it possible that I played on three Midd Teams, one of which (our teammate) Paul Witteman wrote in Sports Illustrated was ‘arguably the worst college team in the country,’ and still loved the game and the experience?

 “J. Gerald Alaimo.”

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