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Tips from Early Zags’ Basketball Coach Claude McGrath

Posted on February 19, 2013 in: @Gonzaga, A Look Back, Alumni, Feature Stories, Spotlight
Early Zags Basketball Coach McGrath Reached 100 Wins First

Coach Claude McGrath and the Gonzaga Basketball Team for 1938-39. Photo courtesy of Gonzaga University Archives.

 “We must be all for one and one for all” – Gonzaga University men’s basketball Coach Claude McGrath (1939).

By Stephanie Plowman
Special Collections Librarian

SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University has had many successful men’s basketball coaches since the University began competing in the intercollegiate sport in 1906. The first coach to reach 100 wins was Claude F. McGrath (1904-89).

Born in Spokane, McGrath graduated from North Central High School in 1925 and enrolled at Gonzaga that fall. He played quarterback on Gonzaga’s varsity football team for four years and played baseball for two years. McGrath was a member of the G Club (for varsity letter-winners) for all four years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1929.

McGrath served as an assistant football coach at Gonzaga from 1931-37 and, in 1939, became athletic director. He was Gonzaga’s basketball coach from 1933-42, and from 1946-49. In his 12 years as basketball coach, Gonzaga won 129 games and lost 133. McGrath resigned as basketball coach and athletic director in 1949 to go into private business.

Much of McGrath’s success in basketball came from his coaching philosophy. Family members of Vince Stroyan, who played for McGrath from 1937-40, donated to the Gonzaga University Archives a copy of the “Basketball Notes” written by McGrath from 1939. This 15-page typed booklet, which McGrath had given to his players, contains his thoughts on many aspects of basketball and good sportsmanship.

Following are some of Coach McGrath’s coaching tips:

General Hints

  • Don’t dribble when you can pass
  • Make every shot count
  • Play the game with all your might
  • Be alert, wide-awake, aggressive
  • Never lose confidence in yourself
  • Always treat your opponent with respect
  • Do not commit fouls; it gives your opponent a chance to score a free point, perhaps two. Many games are won or lost by one point. If you want to foul and give points away, change your uniform and play with your opponents.


  • Do not try to evade the rules; play cleanly and fairly and you will never regret it
  • Do not allow an opponent to get your ‘goat’ by talking to you in an ungentlemanly way
  • It is better to lose than to play in an unsportsmanlike way
  • Do not argue with the officials or with the spectators at any time

Foul Shots

  • Shoot at least 100 free-throws every day.

Playing Center

  • Be a kangaroo but an alert kangaroo
  • Be in the play more than any man on the team
  • Don’t loaf or get lazy when jumping

Playing Guard

  • Get the ball as it comes off the backboard. It is yours if you have the courage.
  • Size up your man and discover his strong points and his weaknesses.
  • Play the ball, not the man, so as to keep from fouling.
  • Don’t ever get discouraged as the going gets tough. Try all the harder and be calm and sure. Deadly guards have often the stabilizing influence of success.

Playing Forward

  • If you are fortunate to secure several goals during the game, be sure that you, personally, thank those players for their teamwork in passing the ball to you for the play.
  • Don’t ever get caught doing nothing on either defense or offense. You can at least move. Movement causes confusion to your opponent.
  • Don’t blame some teammate for not passing the ball to you. Get out and hustle for the leather.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you cut and don’t receive a pass, as your teammate may not have seen you. Keep on cutting.

The Ideal Team

On the last page of his booklet, Coach McGrath describes the ideal team:

“We want no ‘one man’ players, no ‘stars.’ We want a team made up of five boys, each of whom is a forward, guard, and center combined; in other words, each boy should be able to score, out-jump or out-smart an opponent, or prevent the opposing team from scoring as the occasion demands. No chain is stronger than its weakest link, no team stronger than its poorest boy…. We must be ‘all for one’ and ‘one for all’ with every boy giving his dead-level best – every minute of the game. We want a squad of fighters afraid of no club, not ‘cocky,’ not ‘conceited,’ a team that plays hard, plays fair, but plays to win, always remembering that ‘a team that won’t be licked, can’t be licked’…. Summing up, remember: ‘It’s not the coach, nor the captain, nor the stars that make the goal; but the teamwork of every player.’ ”

Written nearly 75 years ago, these words might also describe the current Gonzaga University basketball team and its ethos of unselfishness and focus on teamwork.

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