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We will miss Guisti's one-liners (and red shoes)

There aren't many better examples sustaining the old "greatest strength is your greatest weakness" thing than coaching at Norwich Free Academy. The greatest strength — a multicultural student body of considerable enrollment — also provides fodder for those in the cheap seats, who believe "anybody" can win with such benefits.

And this is why boys' basketball coach Chris Guisti's impending retirement shouldn't pass without some hosannas. "Anybody" didn't win there. Guisti did. He assumed the job from a guy who won a whole lot himself — Neal Curland — and carried the red torch quite capably, if not colorfully.

NFA boys' basketball ought to be one of the most coveted jobs in the conference, if for no other reason than one ought to be able to find five capable players among the roughly 1,000 boys about campus. It's also fortified with some pressure. And Guisti has delivered in his eight seasons as head coach, 109-56 (prior to Tuesday's game with Waterford) with two conference tournament championships and a pandemic-shortened 23-0 season in 2020.

Moreover, Guisti's announcement to retire last week prompted a few tributes on social media.

NFA grad and Assumption assistant men's basketball coach Garvin McAlister: "Don't know where I would be if it wasn't for this guy investing his energy into me at such a young age. Coach turned boss turned brother. Cats family forever."

NFA grad and head girls' basketball coach Courtney Gomez: "To my guy who coined 'Cats family forever,' I have learned so much from him over the years. His demeanor, amazing one liners, his passion, intensity, knowledge for the game, how hard he works. I could go on and on. Enjoy your last season my friend, thank you for everything."

NFA grad and assistant boys' basketball coach Marcus Outlow, the centerpiece of Guisti's first ECC champion: "So thankful and grateful for one of my mentors in Coach Juice. Truly a legend and holds a big place in my heart."

Such words endure beyond the memories of wins and losses.

He'll also be missed among the local media. Guisti has some showman in him, evidenced by his wardrobe. What began best described as gosh darn spiffy graduated into full-on GQ. (He always got us on GameDay with the red shoes.)

Guisti also made for great copy and memorable interviews on GameDay. The other night, after NFA slogged its way to a 41-32 win over Fitch in overtime, Guisti acknowledged the game's aesthetic deficiencies, suggesting people watching should be offered coupons.

It wasn't always this way. Part of Guisti's appeal is his passion, which is another way of saying he likes losing about as much as shoveling snow. It's led to some prickly encounters with your humble narrator. Once, he blew off a halftime interview with GameDay color commentator Keith O'Brien, causing me to utter at least five of George Carlin's seven words you can't say on television.

A few years back, he offered a one-sentence postgame interview after a loss, refusing to expound on anything else. Your humble narrator was once again enraged, telling assistant coach Wes Murphy, "Wes, when you become a head coach one day, you just saw how NOT to act after a loss."

Ah, but time passes and today's conniption becomes tomorrow's duller ache. Guisti has become one of the go-to guys. And a damn good coach. He hit all the right notes during last season's run to 23-0. Seems unfair that we'll never know if the Wildcats could have picked off East Catholic and Windsor, en route to immortality.

The line should form to the right for Guisti's successor. It's a great job. NFA is — and should always be — good in basketball. Just one voice in the wilderness here, but they're all cuckoo if they don't pursue St. Bernard coach Mark Jones, an NFA grad who played for Curland and then at Dayton. Jones does more with less every year at St. Bernard. He deserves the chance to do more with more.

But for now, this is about a colorful guy's last lap with a program he's done proud. Hope Juice isn't a stranger. We need our dose of red shoes occasionally, you know.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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