Jerry DiPaola is the Tribune-Review high school sports editor. He can
As a player at North Catholic, Rob Carmody always knew that Don Graham
would leave an indelible mark as coach of the boys basketball team.
As an assistant, sitting next to Graham on the North Catholic bench,
Carmody learned Graham's impact could be a little painful -- especially if
you weren't paying attention.
Graham, 83, died Saturday at Passavant Hospital in McCandless after a bout
with pancreatic cancer, giving Carmody and many others who played for and
coached with and against him an opportunity to relive memories of the
coach who won more games than anyone else in Pennsylvania (801 of 1,237).
One day in the mid-1990s, Carmody, who was 22 at the time, was coaching
the North Catholic junior varsity team in Pittsburgh while Graham took the
varsity to a tournament in Somerset. Carmody barely arrived in time for
the varsity game, thinking he might have to settle for a seat in the
stands. He was surprised when he saw an unoccupied chair beside Graham.
He gladly took it, hoping to learn at Graham's elbow. Instead, he got
something else from the heel of his shoe.
"Two minutes into the game," Carmody said, "coach Graham got up and
started stomping his feet to make a point. Unfortunately, my toes got in
the way. I found out why that seat was always available."
Carmody's pain didn't last, but Graham's impact on those fortunate enough
to get close to him endures 61 years after he started coaching and a
decade after he retired.
Asked what he learned from Graham, current North Catholic coach Dave Long,
who was on his staff for 20 years, said, "Only everything I know."
Graham began his coaching career in 1948, shortly after earning a
bachelor's degree from Pitt. He taught mathematics, science and physical
education at North Catholic, also serving as guidance counselor and
athletic director. He won three state Catholic championships and 10
section titles after North Catholic joined the WPIAL. He retired after the
He is a member of the Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, North Catholic
and WPIAL halls of fame, and he received a lifetime achievement award from
the Western Pennsylvania Basketball Coaches Association.
During his time with Graham, Long said he was struck by his mind.
"The big thing that jumped into my mind," Long said, "is his ability to
recall each and every team, down to the specific personnel. I always
encouraged him to sit down and take a few moments and write a historical
account of what went on up at Troy Hill, with the basketball team and in
Carmody visited Graham in the hospital Thursday, and said, "He was as
sharp as he could be."
"We talked about the state playoff game in 1989 against Steel Valley. It
was unbelieveable. He could remember every play like it just happened the
Central Catholic coach Chuck Crummie said he laughs when coaches talk
about the difficulty of trying to operate against a matchup zone and
defend against the popular penetration-and-kick-out offenses of today --
strategies Graham developed decades ago.
"I say, 'You know, you should have been playing against North Catholic
years ago,' " Crummie said.
But Graham didn't emphasize gimmicks.
"He trained his kids how to play, as opposed to how to learn plays,"
Carmody said Graham's lessons stretched far beyond the court.
"The basketball stuff was only a very small part of what he taught you,"
said Carmody, now the head coach at Mars. "The bigger thing was what you
expected your kids to be like before a game, your expectations in the
classroom, how they handled themselves away from the court.
"He was really driven to win basketball games, but never, ever was there a
sense of blame. It was, 'What can we do to get better?' "
Said Crummie: "He always wanted his teams to reflect what he reflected and
that was being under control," he said.
Pittsburgh Mayor and North Catholic graduate Luke Ravenstahl played point
guard as a freshman late in Graham's career.
"I would characterize him in the latter half of his career as a quiet
coach, someone who led by example," Ravenstahl said. "He wasn't a yeller
or a screamer, but a teacher. That's what we all appreciated."
Carmody said Graham became "the kick in the rear" that led him into
"When I think about coach Graham, the first thing I think about is class.
Everyone was greeted with a handshake. Everyone was greeted with respect.
"He was North Catholic. He is North Catholic."
Born and raised on the North Side, Donald "Red" Graham is survived by his
wife Lois Dorsch Graham, sons Donald of McCandless and Michael of Franklin
Park, a daughter Maureen Carroll of Horsham, six grandchildren, including
Matt Carroll of the Dallas Mavericks, and one great-grandchild.
Matt Carroll, who played at Notre Dame, often called his grandfather when
he had a bad game.
"When the Dallas games were televised in this area, my Dad and my mother
would critique the game," said Graham's son Donald. "And if Dad didn't
approve of a move that Matt made, he'd either call or e-mail after the
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Sperling Funeral Home, 700
Blazier Drive, McCandless. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.
Monday and Tuesday. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m.
Wednesday at St. Alexis Roman Catholic Church, 10090 Old Perry Highway,
Wexford. Burial will be at Holy Savior Cemetery, 4629 Bakerstown Road,