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|| News Item: Posted 2008-01-29

What Makes The Job 'Fun'
Jack Gruber was able to make real pictures of coach Eddie Sutton and his USF basketball team.

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

USF basketball coach Eddie Sutton
People ask me all the time about what I like most about my job.

Saturday night would be the answer.

On Wednesday, I had an assignment to photograph long-time college basketball head coach Eddie Sutton at the University of San Francisco War Memorial Gym. Nothing special, just ten or fifteen minutes to make a portrait of the coach as he nears 800 career wins.

Sutton came out of retirement in December to replace Jessie Evans as the interim head coach of the University of San Francisco's basketball team. A game against nationally ranked St. Mary's was just days away.

I wanted to be sure to get what I needed quickly and not take up too much of the coach's time. Usually on assignments like this, when someone's time is controlled or limited, I keep the small talk to a minimum. But while photographing Coach Sutton sitting on the wooden bleachers of the old War Memorial gym, there just wasn't anything hurried or rushed. There was lots of talk about past Oklahoma State teams and the days coaching at University of Kentucky. It was almost like catching up with an old friend, not one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history.

When the coach learned my grandmother was a long-time UK fan, he made a point to get her name and address to personally send her a signed photo from his days as the Kentucky coach. He wasn't looking to influence anything I was doing for the paper. He genuinely just wanted to do something nice for a long time fan.

It is definitely getting tougher and tougher finding those "fly on the wall" opportunities these days. More and more people have their guards up or employ people whose job is to put up even higher walls limiting access--what I like to call "weeding out the real pictures."

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

USF basketball coach Eddie Sutton with his team in the locker room.
Later, realizing they would probably be looking to limit any distractions prior to the game with nationally ranked St. Mary's on Saturday, I took a shot and contacted USF sports information directly Ryan McCrary and asked if I could spend a little behind the scenes time with the coach. I promised I would blend in if I could get just a bit of time with the players and coach prior to the game to make a few nice pictures to go along with the portrait and story in the paper. Any time that my presence became a problem, just give the word and I would make myself scarce.

McCrary called back saying he would talk to the coach and was optimistic something could be arranged.

I am just so used to the limits on access to people and events these days that what happened Saturday night caught me completely off guard.

When I showed up at the front door of the War Memorial, I found SID McCrary after students yelled out for him. Holding a USF credential for me in his hand, McCrary was himself searching for Coach Sutton for a pre-game television interview. We found the coach already being interviewed by former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, and McCrary told me I was good to go and to have fun.

And that is just what happened. For the next four hours, I had a lot of fun making real pictures of Coach Sutton and his USF team.

This kind of hospitality just doesn't happen every day.

I was able to shadow Coach Sutton and the team in the halls, on the court and in the locker room. I made real pictures of real people with the kind of access we all wish for every day. Most amazingly, not once did any security person or official question or doubt me waiting in the wings while making pictures.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

USF basketball coach Eddie Sutton signs autographs for children in his office after they lost to St. Mary's.
Then one of the most remarkable things I have seen in a very long time happened following the USF's 79-57 loss to the #24 ranked St. Mary's. This loss held Sutton one win short of the 800 mark. After talking to his team about the many disappointments and the too few highlights of the game, Sutton left the locker room alone, headed up the stairs and walked through dozens of USF fans waiting in the hall.

I have seen this many times in many arenas and stadiums. Frustrated fans watch as players and coaches just pass by in a hurry. Once in a while, a player may take the time to sign an autograph or wave, but most do not.

As Sutton walked past the gathering of fans after the tough loss to St. Mary's, I expected him to just keep moving through the crowd. Instead of stopping to sign autographs in the hallway though, Sutton asked that everyone follow him back to his office and he would sign anything the kids wanted in the comfort of his office. I think most of the people standing in the hall thought they didn't hear the coach correctly and were startled by the request.

For the next twenty minutes, coach Eddie Sutton, one of the five winningest coaches in NCAA men's basketball history, sat in his office chair chatting with fans and supporters. Surrounded by dozens of kids, he signed basketballs, programs and placards with the number 800 printed on the front.

Yep, Saturday night was a fun night.

Here is a link to the story that ran in USA TODAY:

Here is a link to a photo gallery showcasing all of Gruber's pictures from this story:

(Jack Gruber is a staff photographer with USA TODAY based in the San Francisco Bay area. You can visit Jack's member page here:

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