It was three years ago, and I was still brand new to campus. Karl Ludwig, The Rocket’s sports editor at the time, sent me to go do an interview with “good ole Bobby.” I’ll never forget how nervous I was going to that interview.
At that point in time, I had really only covered a couple teams and while I liked basketball, I didn’t know what I was going to ask. I came up with questions on the fly.
I got up to Morrow Field House, and I shook this tall man’s hand. His smile reassured me. I introduced myself and started asking my questions. He answered every single one better than anyone had ever answered my questions before. A part of me thought that maybe my questions were just really good. In reality, it was that Coach McGraw was just the best interview on campus.
As the 2019 season went along, I got more and more opportunities to talk with him. We began to develop a good relationship. I was there after every home game and win or lose, he would always ask how I was doing. Then, we would jump into the interview, and it would be the best one I had ever done.
The last interview that season, I remember he cried at a few of the questions I asked. He was so proud of his team, whether things were going their way on the court or not. I got up to leave, and he stopped me. He told me how thankful he was for my coverage that season. He ended it with, “See you next season?” I smiled and said, “yeah definitely, coach.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit just a couple weeks later. No one would be on campus for a while. But I still saw Coach McGraw at the most unlikely of places, at least in my mind. He would come into my job, and he would stop and talk to me every time.
Every time I saw him, my day got better. We stand and just talk, and while the world seemed so crazy, he just made it all seem so simple.
Fast forward, and I’m in Greensburg for The Rock’s football game. As soon as I got on the field, I saw him and his son, Reed, throwing the ball. You could see how much he loved Reed and The Rock at the same time.
Again, he saw me, and he stopped me. We talked about how I was covering football, and I think in a way his thinking was that someone else would be covering his team in the winter. But I made sure he knew, I’d be back. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to cover his team.
First interview back, it was like we had never left.
He just had such a passion that couldn’t be replicated. I made it to as many games as I could. But at the end of the season, at our final interview, a part of me treated it like it was the last time I would interview him. Not because I felt something bad would happen, but rather because I was close to graduation. It began to hit me that I could be done a semester early right around then. Meaning I wouldn’t be back.
He ended the interview with the same question as two years prior. “See you next season?” Once again, I smiled and said, “yeah definitely, coach.”
Two months later, I saw him for the final time. I didn’t know it then; I’ll always be so grateful I got that one last conversation with him. I got to ask him how he was doing, and I thanked him. I wish I would’ve talked for longer.
When the news broke a few months later that he had passed away, ironically, I had a basketball in my hand. I dropped it, mid-game and sprinted to my phone. It couldn’t be real; I had just seen him a couple weeks ago.
Sadly, it was. But the way Slippery Rock has rallied around his family makes me so proud. While McGraw may be gone, his spirit lives on here through every sport. He taught everyone lessons, but if I took one thing from him, it was to be passionate about what you do, but remember to look around and enjoy everything going on around you.
McGraw was the person who made me feel like a real journalist, and I can never thank him enough for that. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I truly believe that.