The impact of a basketball coach can’t be defined just by an account of his career wins and losses. There are winning results that can’t be measured on a scoreboard. The most significant coaching victories are found in the lives touched, the lessons taught, the life skills imparted.
In that case, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his 1,000-plus wins have nothing on University of Massachusetts-Boston men’s basketball coach Charlie Titus, an institution at the Div. 3 school and in the Boston community who has been changing lives and offering second chances for four decades.
Titus, 64, coached his final game last Tuesday. UMass-Boston bowed out of the Little East Conference tournament with a 98-82 loss to UMass-Dartmouth, ending Titus’s 39th and final season.
We love to swaddle professional athletes such as David Ortiz and Tom Brady in adulation. We refer to their deeds as heroics, but the real heroes are people such as Titus, making a difference in the community and paying forward the opportunity for success. The gentlemanly Titus, a son of Dorchester’s Columbia Point housing projects and Roxbury, has sent hundreds of players to the pros, just not in basketball. They’ve become police officers, firefighters, lawyers, businessmen, community activists, educators.
“I definitely think that’s more him than the basketball side, although the basketball side gets the credit,” said Ken “Nippy” Hall, UMass-Boston’s all-time leading scorer and the facilities manager at Roxbury Community College. “That life side is important. He helped to mold young men into grown, adult, mature men that can be productive in their community. He is one of Boston’s finest, that is for sure.”
Hall, 56, was a Boston English High School dropout before Titus coaxed him to get his GED and go to college with the carrot of basketball. They don’t hang banners for taking kids off the street and giving them direction. They should.
There was nothing when Titus started at UMass-Boston in 1974, no basketball team, no varsity athletic department, no facilities, no money to pay a basketball coach. Titus accepted the challenge of UMass-Boston vice chancellor Lee Tubbs and started a club team.
He paved the way for the program to transition to the NCAA level in 1980 and was hired as the school’s athletic director. That season and the 2004-05 season were the two Titus, a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, took a hiatus from coaching to focus on the entire athletic department.
Now, UMass-Boston has 18 NCAA varsity sports, which Titus oversees as vice chancellor for athletics and recreation, special projects and programs. He will continue in that job.
Coaching at UMass-Boston isn’t like coaching at Duke or Kentucky or North Carolina. There are no dormitories and no scholarships. You’re not getting blue-chip recruits. You’re helping kids who may have some red flags in their backgrounds.
Titus recalled his friend and legendary former Georgetown coach John Thompson advising him to leave UMass-Boston after the team had a wave of success in the early 1980s.
“For me it wasn’t about just winning, and I was home,” said Titus.
It’s doubtful that Rick Pitino or Jim Boeheim ever lost a player in the middle of a season to bartending. A Nov. 23, 1985, column by colleague Bob Ryan featured Titus lamenting losing a player to a $500-per-week bartending job.
“Kids have to leave school not because of academics, but because of life situations,” said Titus. “That was a part of who we were. We had a guy who left and took the fire department test. He left and had a very successful life. There are a number of those stories. I think the two years he spent at UMass-Boston gave him a chance to figure it out, as opposed to just being on the street.”
That’s the type of win that defines a coach’s legacy more than any found in a box score.
Let the record show that Titus did go out with a winning season. The Beacons won their final four regular-season games and finished 14-12. It was the program’s first winning season since 2005-06, when UMass-Boston won the Little East Conference tournament title behind Titus’s son, Andre.
Coaching his son remains one of Titus’s most treasured memories. But Titus has hundreds of surrogate sons.
Dozens of them showed up when UMass-Boston honored him at his final home game on Feb. 21.
“I look at the faces and remember all of them as 18-year-olds, and to see them now as productive adults, I’m very proud of their accomplishments,” said Titus. “They’re having an impact on society; that’s a great thing to think you were a small part of the development in their life.”
John DeGutis Jr., a member of Titus’s first team in 1974, said Titus is a major part of his players’ success.
DeGutis has spent the past 35 years training police officers as director of the Plymouth Police Academy.
He answered the phone like an austere drill sergeant, but when asked about Titus, DeGutis started gushing like a broken water main. “I just think the world of the guy.”
“He knows the street and wants to get the kids off the street and into these institutions to be a productive part of the community,” said DeGutis. “I know he has affected people’s lives in a positive way. It isn’t about him. It is in a sense because he puts so much into in, but it’s about his legacy. His legacy was to get those kids into the gyms and the schools and make them productive members of society.”
Titus is far from done making a difference. But he is stepping away from coaching to spend more time with his wife, Paula, and children, Andre and Ciaren.
“It’s been other than my wife and kids the biggest blessing of my life to have a job to let my passions flow,” said Titus.