His friends and colleagues all called him “Shy” — most of his players “Coach Shy.” At heart, Larry Shyatt is anything but that. In fact, sometimes he can be a ham, but never on the basketball court. Stick a cold beer in his hand, get him way from the court, however, and Shyatt can morph into a standup comic.
For seven years he rode shotgun with his friend Billy Donovan — what a ride it was! — always lurking there on the bench at his elbow with a piece of defensive strategy, well-placed or spoken, but never in an obtrusive way. In fact, I can’t think of a half dozen times in the 253 games they coached together that I remember seeing Shyatt as an intrusive figure in a huddle. He seemed to blend into the background like basketball camouflage in a semi-quiet but effective way.
His specialty being defense, Shyatt seemed the perfect match for Billy D, his low-key temperament and wacky sense of humor an antidote for those highly pressurized moments; his basketball intelligence and defensive genius were huge assets on the fly.
Filling that spot on the bench or in the huddle for Billy D. is going to be a daunting task, because basketball wasn’t the only bond between the two men. It probably won’t hit Donovan until next season when he turns around on the court and doesn’t see his longtime friend and sidekick.
As has been the case over the years when Donovan assistants John Pelphry, Donnie Jones, Anthony Grant, Matt McCall, etc. have gone on to bigger and better things, Donovan will adjust. Seems logical that Billy would turn to his close friend Pelphry, now out at Arkansas, as a possible replacement. In a certain way, he’ll miss Shy as much as any of them.
If nothing else, having an older head and former head coach at his behest on the bench was always a plus. And it won’t be the same without Shy’s sense of humor.
* * *
What I remember most about Shy, now that he’s packing up and moving west to become head coach of Wyoming again, are his cowboys boots, the cold beer in his hand, an impish smile and his priceless parody of the old Johnny Carson Karnak character which he adapted to “Shynak The Magnificent.”
Only those at the Ocala Gator Tipoff Club were privileged to see Shynak’s act with his partner in crime and Ed McMahon wannabe Augie Greiner Jr.
Turns out, Shy loves a good joke almost as much as he loves seeing his defensive unit put the clamp on an SEC rival.
He could find humor in most anything.
For instance, when Chandler Parsons made the miracle 75-foot shot to beat N.C. State two years ago, Shyatt promptly told a group of boosters that he had been assigned as “the shooting coach” that night by Donovan.
Another particular night, just after Donovan had accepted the job as Magic coach and then changed his mind despite the enormous pay raise, Shynak seemed on is game with his razor sharp wit. He wore a towel around his head, wrapped like a turbin, and was draped in a white sheet as he held an envelope to his head, about to reference the amount of money his boss had just turned down to come back to Florida.
Shynak The Magnificent drew a hush over the crowd.
“Twenty-seven point five million or twenty-one million,” said Shyatt, ripping the end off the envelope and blowing it open.
“Twenty-seven point five million or twenty-one million,” Greiner mimicked in his best McMahon imitation.
“I think I just said that,” shot back Shyatt, flinging the white sheet over his shoulder.
Pause. Punch line.
“What’s the difference between stinking rich and just plain filthy rich?”
Belly laughs around, with some 360 people in the Ocala Hilton knowing the opening act had just gotten underway in what promised to be another fun, light-hearted evening at the Ocala Gator Tipoff Club’s annual dinner. As it always was with Shy.
That was just one of several potshots that he’d fire at his boss in a sort of semi-roasting of Donovan, who took it in good-naturedly. It sort of made me wonder that night: How many other assistant coaches could get away with saying stuff like that about their boss?
That’s the kind of relationship the two men have had.
Now two friends must part.
* * *
“For me personally there’s both an excitement and sadness,” Donovan said after the announcement Thursday. “Larry is one of my closest friends and his impact here at Florida over the last seven years has been immeasurable.”
Donovan called Shyatt, “One of the great minds in basketball and he deserves this opportunity.”
In turn, Shyatt had mixed emotions about leaving, but at 60 knew this was probably going to be his last shot to be a head coach again. So he and his wife Pam are packing up and heading west.
“I’ve spent seven great years at the University of Florida helping to build a championship-caliber program, and this is one of the only places I would have considered leaving for,” Shyatt said in his parting statement.
Now it’s Shyatt’s time to say goodbye to the warm climes of Florida in favor of the beautiful raw landscape of the Rocky Mountain West, hard against the Laramie River on the plains where the wintry wind can cut a Cowboy in half on a frigid January day and the summer sunsets can take your breath away.
But a place where he can wear those Cowboy boots every day.
I’d also venture a guess that Larry Shyatt will be leaving his turbin and his Shynak character behind this time. They have served him well. As has he his boss and friend Billy Donovan.