“You have to at least feel a little sad.”
I have thought about this sentence over and over again the past few days. It was said to me in a casual way, yet it hits me a little harder each time I think about it.
Yes, I am a little sad about the passing of Red Gendron. More than a little sad. Yet because I have been critical of him professionally, people question my humanity.
I am sad for his family. His friends. His co-workers. His team. I feel for him with great sadness that he died unexpectedly at just 63 years old, so close to retirement.
My life has been profoundly affected by the fact my dad was fully embracing his pending retirement.
His face would light up at the prospect of having more free time to lobster, bowl and travel. Then he died in 1997 at the age of 59. Retirement plans over.
It was one of my first thoughts when I pondered the sudden death of coach Gendron. Just 63. Great career. Financially set. Loving wife. Time for the Golden Years. The easy life. Time off earned. Not to be.
“Your favorite whipping boy is gone. How are you going to cover that Monday?”
“Tastefully” was my response to this text message. With the respect that he deserved.
If you read the Chowdah, listened to me on the radio, or have seen my content in the Bangor Daily News or on WABI TV 5, you know I have been relentless in my insistence that it was time for UMaine to move on from Gendron. There’s no hiding from that now, even under these tragic circumstances.
But that kind of critical content has been part of sports media for generations. Especially in New England. I know that and I do it without fear or regret. It’s part of how I make a living, handing out occasional praise and frequent critiques.
It’s never personal. Ever.
Red got this. And handled it just fine. One day a few years back we were interviewing him during “The Drive” on 92.9 FM. I had just asked him a couple of pointed questions about the team’s slow start and overall poor record a third of the way through that season.
Red gave a short answer about how it was still early. One of my co-hosts sensed the tension and made a quick joke, but Red ended up diffusing the situation himself by proclaiming in his raspy voice, “Don’t worry about Solari. I know where he lives.”
Gendron was a perpetual winner and I’m sure, privately, the lack of success at UMaine ate at him every day. But his influence on the program transcends wins and losses.
We saw dozens of emotional Tweets and messages after his passing, including from Jeremy Swayman who at the time was 2-0 to start his career with the Bruins. He quoted Gendron after his first career win and insisted on getting the next start after Red’s passing to honor his late coach.
The game did not turn out how Swayman wanted. Just like the events of Friday afternoon that took away a coach, a husband, father and friend are nothing anyone, including me, wanted.
“You have to be at least a little sad.”
I am sad. More than a little. We all are.
Jeff Solari is the founder of the Maine Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free weekly sports email newsletter. He has been in sports media since he was 17 and is not shy with his opinions or perspective on the world of sports. The longtime sports broadcaster is a graduate of Mount Desert Island High School and the University of Southern Maine. Previous gigs included WLBZ-TV and WCSH-TV, host of “The Shootaround” talk radio show on WZON and stints with “Downtown” and “The Drive.” Solari has won more than 15 Maine Association of Broadcasters and AP broadcaster awards.