From breakfast, a book emerges

It began over eggs and hash browns at a nondescript eatery in Corvallis.

“So,” I prodded Rick Coutin, “you’ve got to tell us about the night Dick Harter tripped you.”

Thus launched the seed for “Mad Hoops,” my just-released chronicle of the most controversial basketball program in the history of the Pac-12/10/8 – Dick Harter’s Kamikaze Kids of Oregon, from 1971-78.

This blog, which I’ve titled “Floor Burns and Flashbacks,” will be a regular feature of the website, and will typically focus on two things – updates and recollections of prominent figures in the Kamikaze Kids era, especially former players; and memorable moments in that seven-season dive-a-palooza. But I thought it worthwhile today to provide a bit of the book’s genesis and some other observations about the process of generating Mad Hoops.

In late October, 2016, I was in Corvallis, visiting my wife’s family and about to take in the Washington State-Oregon State football game (where I experienced first-hand the madness of sitting there, freezing in a stadium seat at 10:30 on a Saturday night, idling during one of those incessant three-minute TV timeouts).

That morning, I gathered with some old friends – Darrell Aune, the ex-Oregon State radio play-by-play broadcaster; Rod Commons, longtime WSU sports information director and before that, an assistant SID at Oregon State; and Dave Evenson, a Corvallis resident for decades and a regular at OSU athletic events.

  And one more guy: Rick Coutin, a good friend of Evenson. I’d known Coutin passingly over the years, but we never kept in touch. He was the OSU cheerleader at the epicenter of The Most Outrageous Thing Harter Ever Did (at least the most outrageous thing we know about).

As I detail in the book, Coutin was handed the Chancellor’s Trophy by OSU athletic director Jim Barratt on a March night at Gill Coliseum in 1974. Barratt wanted Coutin to present OSU coach Ralph Miller the cup when the Beavers had finished off Oregon and won the bauble signifying that they’d taken the season series from the Ducks. Coutin concluded that it didn’t make a lot of sense to wait until game’s end, when much of the crowd would be filing out, and besides, would Ralph Miller really be that enthused about the Chancellor’s Trophy? (Having spent a lot of my early professional life around Ralph, I can pretty much vouch for the notion that says he wouldn’t.)

Of course, Coutin then made unwitting history, by jogging along the perimeter of the court, hoisting the trophy high and letting the fans exult in it. That bacchanal came to an abrupt end when Harter stuck out his leg and tripped Coutin intentionally.

At breakfast in Corvallis, Coutin was only too willing to recount what happened, and that he had kept Harter’s brief letter of apology. That launched our group into telling Dick Harter stories.

Weeks after, I was part of an occasional coffee gathering with a couple of old Seattle Times cohorts, Mark Akins and Craig Smith. Akins had been a student at Oregon during the height of the Harter years, and remembered rushing downstairs from his residence on University Street in Eugene on signing day for national letters of intent to try to beat his housemates to the Eugene Register-Guard, my old paper in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Naturally, that prompted more Harter/Oregon stories, including the cockamamie night when he ordered the baskets measured at Washington State’s old Bohler Gym.

That solidified it. Clearly, this was a book that needed to happen. Had the era occurred a decade or 15 years after it did, it would have been too soon. But we’re now approaching half a century since those electric nights at McArthur Court, and there are a lot of people unaware of the era. Those who are, seem to thirst at the retelling.

The book was originally going to be out late in 2019. Then I settled upon late 2020, happy for a little more measured pace. Or maybe it was the fact the experience was pleasurable enough to want to draw out, thanks to the fact many of the Kamikaze Kids have stayed in the Northwest, and were easily interviewed in person. An added delight was the fact that several Oregon athletic administrators of that time were similarly alive, nearby and receptive. Their perspective was pivotal.

For me, the whole thing was a happy walk down memory lane, seasoned by the wisdom of players who, in some measure, can’t quite believe what they were a part of. I hope the book succeeds in taking you back there.