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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Good steak a perk for former coach
Kickin' back with Brad Gilbert
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published August 28, 2005
When Andy Roddick claimed the 2003 U.S. Open, one of the first people he hugged after rushing into the stands was his coach, Brad Gilbert. It was a high point in Gilbert's tennis life, but not the only one. During the past 23 years, the California native has made his mark as a player and coach. He turned pro in 1982 and won 519 matches, 20 titles and more than $5.5-million with a grind-it-out style that made him one of the most respected players on tour. As a coach, he guided Andre Agassi out of a career-worst funk and Roddick to his lone major championship. Today, Gilbert, who lives in San Rafael, Calif., is a commentator for ESPN. He recently talked with Times staff writer Keith Niebuhr.
Coaching or playing, take your pick.
It's hard to say I prefer one over the other. I loved to play. I love when you're playing because you have the ability to take something from someone and they have a chance to take it from you. And I like the coaching. It's not the same physically, but there's nothing like getting someone prepared and seeing things go right. I loved playing, and I never thought I'd love coaching as much but I grew to love it every bit as much.
Talk about the book you wrote, Winning Ugly.
It's funny. I did that in 1992, and a lot of people think I did it after I started coaching Andre (Agassi). But I didn't. Actually, I was trying to teach people how to get more mileage out of their games. It was geared toward the club player. A lot of club players underestimated their ability to get a little better.
You know Andre like few others. What kind of guy is he in private?
Honestly, he's just such a quality guy. Beyond anything else, he's one of the coolest guys ever to hang out with. He's a good guy to have a beer with. He gets it. He really gets it. And the man can cook a steak like nobody.
I interviewed him last year and he actually bragged about his steak-cooking skills. What's his secret?
The man is crazy. He'll be marinating a steak for two days. Twenty years from now, I could see him on a cooking channel. He really loves cooking. He's a regular guy. He goes to the market and drives himself. He likes football. He does everything normal. Everything you think you like, he likes the same thing. And he can cook like a genius.
Before you got to know Andre, what were your impressions of him?
It's funny. When Andre first burst onto the scene in 1986 and my contemporaries were watching him, many of them looked at his two-tone hair and earrings and all they were doing was saying bad things without knowing him. And I was saying, "Hey, for 120 pounds, how good is this guy?" A lot of guys were talking about his appearance and I was like, "Who gives a s--- about that?" When I was on the 1989 Davis Cup team with Andre, I really got to know him. Everybody thought this and that, but I couldn't believe how bright he was.
What one player in history would you want to coach?
Obviously, it would be a sheer dream, because the guy looks like an unbelievably great guy as well ... and that's Roger Federer. I don't know him that well, but I see him in the locker room and he's nice to everybody. He plays with such class and dignity. And his talent is limitless.
What players did you idolize as a child?
As a kid my idols weren't tennis players. They were James Bond, Reggie Jackson and Rick Barry. I grew up in Oakland and was a huge A's, Warriors and Raiders fan. But one player I loved more than any as a kid - and if he wasn't playing tennis, he would have been an Oakland Raider - was Ilie Nastase. I don't know if I patterned my game after anyone. I was always a blue-collar player just trying to win some matches.
During telecasts, you don't seem afraid to speak your mind ... unlike many announcers.
I'm just trying to be myself. I feel like I understand strategy. And I'm trying to explain to people what I see. If I didn't do that, I'd be just like everybody else.
If another coaching spot is offered, will Brad Gilbert listen?
Well, I've had lots of opportunities, and I've turned down lots of offers. I've got to feel like the situation is right for me and the other person before I jump into it. I'm 44. I have a wife and three kids. It's got to be right for them as well. When I do full-time coaching, it's a 200-day-a-year job. That means being on the road. It's a big commitment. Right now, I'm firmly committed to ESPN for the next three years.
How difficult is it when a coach-player relationship ends?
You've got to just pick up your bootstraps and move on. With Andre, we'd been together for eight years and we had a great run. We're still great friends. We decided that together, and maybe at the end it was good for him to have another voice to motivate him. With Andy, that was his doing. I still felt like we had a lot left to do but he didn't. After two days, my wife kicked me and said, "You've got to get going." Then ESPN called, and now I've got a great situation there.