One Final Homecoming|
Texas Tech graduate Gary Blair will make his final return to Lubbock as a Big 12 opponent Wednesday night.
January 31, 2012
by Britton Drown
When Gary Blair (Texas Tech '72, '74) arrives in Lubbock to prepare for Wednesday's showdown between No. 25 Texas Tech and his No. 18 Aggies, he will do something that has become a tradition upon returning home.
The humble head coach, who won a national championship at Texas A&M just last season, will rent a personal vehicle and drive about the city of Lubbock. He'll stroll past City Bank Arena, formerly Lubbock Municipal Coliseum, where he often stood in line several hours before freshmen and varsity basketball games.
It's the very same arena that he often refereed intramural basketball games, and as he recalls, was the place where he at one time felt the most pressure in his life. With more than 5,000 people piling into the gym for the varsity basketball game that would follow, he officiated a fierce intramural game between Phi Delta Theta and the `Moon Rangers'.
"The Moon Rangers, an independent team, upset the Phi Delts--the `Jocks'," Blair says with a laugh. "There wasn't a Phi Delt around that liked me after that ballgame. That was pressure."
The stories of his time in Lubbock come flooding back to the A&M head coach as he reminisces about the time he spent as a student at Texas Tech, the school where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1972 and later with a master's degree in 1974.
"When I come to Lubbock," Blair said. "I feel good."
Blair and his Aggies will return to Texas Tech for the final time as conference opponents Wednesday night. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. inside the United Spirit Arena. For Blair, the annual Texas Tech game is a trip, and a match up, that he has looked forward to every season since taking over the A&M program in 2003.
"We have had great matches every time we come to Lubbock," Blair said. "And we have had great matches when they come here to College Station. I am going to miss the rivalries."
Those rivalries have become cherished stories in themselves, and through the years Blair and Texas Tech head coach Kristy Curry have built upon a relationship that will last well beyond Texas A&M's departure from the Big 12 Conference.
The longtime friendship between the two coaches began when Curry assisted with Blair's basketball camps at Stephen F. Austin. In 1991, Blair informed Tulane head coach Candi Harvey, a former assistant coach to Blair, about Curry and her coaching potential.
Harvey eventually hired Curry to her first assistant coaching position prior to the 1991-92 season.
"I wouldn't be in this business today if it wasn't for Coach Blair," Curry said.
Yes, Wednesday's final battle between Texas Tech and Texas A&M as conference rivals will certainly have a special meaning to both head coaches.
"It's everything," Blair added.
So as Blair makes his final trip to Lubbock as a Big 12 opponent on Wednesday, he will first take his traditional stroll around the city he grew so close to once more.
"Life turns a page," he said. "And you just have to go on."
For Blair, he will continue coaching the Aggies as they make their move to the Southeastern Conference beginning next season. In February, he will be inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 2011 Class.
But he stressed it won't necessarily be the final time that he will face his alma mater in a basketball game, even if not in Lubbock. As Blair points out, the two programs are on the upswing. The Lady Raiders reached the NCAA Tournament last season, and both squads looked primed to do the same this year.
"You never know when it is going to happen again," Blair said. "So you never say goodbye. Hopefully we will see each other again somewhere down the line."