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Bill Mulligan, basketball coach and quote machine

January 13, 2010 | 11:33 am

Bill Mulligan was a good basketball coach. But he was a great quote.

Mulligan, who died Tuesday at age 79, enlivened any gym he walked into. Going through a large stack of old stories from The Times and other Orange County papers during his coaching career, the one-liners jump off the page.

UC Irvine, where he coached for 11 seasons, once lost a televised game and Mulligan found a silver lining: "This was a good game to be on TV. Now every kid in Orange County and L.A. will say, 'I want to go to Irvine. They really need players.'"

Here's how he explained the transfer of Scott Brooks, now an NBA coach, from Texas Christian to UCI: "He'd still be at TCU except he hated the state of Texas. He liked the program. He just hated the state."

And Mulligan's view of high school classmate Bob Newhart: "In four years I never heard him say one funny thing."

And on and on and on.

I first saw him at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, which under his guidance became a dominant community college program. The Gauchos not only won, but they were fun to watch unless you like low-scoring, defensive battles. It didn't hurt to have Kevin Magee, a terrific player who followed Mulligan to Irvine.

And Mulligan turned Irvine from a sleepy program into a real show.

Tex Winter, who before he invented the triangle offense used by Phil Jackson with the Bulls and Lakers, was Cal State Long Beach coach when The Times' Mike Littwin asked him in 1981 about Mulligan's style.

"He runs as good a fast break as anyone in the country but it's a little unique. Most teams who run work for the 15-foot jump shot or the layup. His teams hold up and shoot from 25."

So what's wrong with that? Mulligan and his teams were never boring.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Bill Mulligan on the bench at Saddleback College in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times