The sound of the buzzer echoed throughout the Mercyhurst athletic center. As the horn faded, the footsteps of Robert McGraw followed as he made his way to shake hands with Mercyhurst head coach, Brooklyn Kohlheim, after 67-65 win. Unfortunately, it was the last time that McGraw would coach the SRU women’s basketball team.
Less than five months after the last game of the season, McGraw sadly passed away. The news didn’t seem real. It couldn’t be. McGraw was always everywhere making his voice heard and conversing with everyone and anyone.
“He went 100 miles an hour, and he was all gung-ho on what he could do to push Slippery Rock forward, to make us better,” Slippery Rock Athletic Director Roberta Page said. “That’s the kind of guy you want on your staff, and that’s the kind of guy he was.”
It all happened so quick. Just days before, you could spot McGraw at the Butler Sam’s Club, buying 20 cases of Gatorade. He always made sure to get more than he needed, because he would always say, “These girls give me their all, so I need to make sure that I’m keeping them hydrated.”
Eight years is a long time. That’s precisely how long he spent as head coach of The Rock women’s basketball team. But from the first time he stepped on campus, his energy was felt by everyone.
“First of all, the thing that stood out about Bobby was that he was so passionate about everything Slippery Rock and Rock athletics,” volleyball head coach, Laurie Lokash said. “He was everybody’s biggest fan, and he was the loudest in the room, there was no doubt about that.”
At times, you could hear his voice from all the way down the hall. But even when he was yelling, it was to relay to those around him that he cared so much. It never came from a place of disdain.
That same energy is the reason people would come here. Not only would they come here, even through tough times they would stay. A big part of that was due to the way McGraw treated his team.
Take Daeja Quick for example. In her feature story last year, she made it clear. She stayed because he took a chance on her, and he treated her like family. The quote was in her article and explains how caring he was.
“We had a conversation, and he didn’t come on the phone and tell me I needed to play, he asked if I was ready to graduate and go into adult life or if there was a chance I’d like to come back and play with him,” Quick said. “I shut down all those other options and told him the only option was to come back and play for you.”
He cared very deeply for every player that came through his program. He would go on record, even breaking down into tears, multiple times about how much he loved Daeja and how happy he was that she came back. Even though he knew she could go almost anywhere else and start immediately.
That type of loyalty is what every coach craves. McGraw was able to accomplish that.
There’s a reason why. It’s because of the culture he was able to build.
“It’s important, especially for our newer coaches to see [how passionate Coach McGraw was],” Page said. “That’s the kind of coach you want, someone who’s going to bat for you and stick up for you.”
How many coaches are realistically able to make time for not only their team, but their family and other teams as well? The answer is not many. McGraw did though.
There was a sign that McGraw had in his office that is now next door on head coach of the men’s basketball team, Ian Grady’s shelf. That sign says, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
He lived by that quote.
“The passion that he had rubbed on people around him, but this sign was his and as passionate as we are already, this was something that I could take from Bobby,” Grady said. “Sometimes we get caught up in your everyday workload and you need to make sure that you make your family a priority and show passion for them as well as coaching and for your team.”
Grady held the sign for a moment and smiled. McGraw was always good at making people smile, and by simply looking at that quote, it was easy for Grady to recall memories of a dear friend.
That sign sums up what McGraw was about so perfectly. Family No trip was too far to support other teams on campus. No distance was too long when it came to watching his incoming recruits, either.
On any given weekend, you could find him on the road. Whether that was with The Rock football team and his friend, head coach Shawn Lutz, or at a random gym watching a girl that he couldn’t wait to coach.
McGraw’s love for the game of basketball spanned nearly his entire life. But there was one thing he loved more than anything in this world, his son Reed.
He always made sure to bring his son on every trip. He wanted him to grow up in the culture that he was helping to create here.
Before The Rock football team matched up with Seton Hill in Greensburg, McGraw and Reed made sure to throw the ball on the field. McGraw made sure Reed got some fist bumps from the players and that his smile was big as The Rock’s win.
Everyone knows how important Reed was to him. Dr. Page made sure to note that he’s still just as important to everyone involved with Rock athletics.
McGraw was on the interview committee that initially brought Page back to The Rock, but it wasn’t their first encounter. Imagine a tall guy with a smile in a crowd sporting a t-shirt of a place that he loved and someone who loves that place just as much seeing it. It went exactly how you’d imagine.
“I got to meet Coach McGraw the first day on campus, but I’ll back up a little bit, it was a couple years prior that I was at the women’s basketball convention, and I was getting ready to give a presentation and obviously I was not here, I was with the NCAA,” Page said. “I saw him in the crowd with a Slippery Rock shirt and I ran over to him and gave him a hug.”
The passion for this university is something that they both shared. Now, Reed continues to carry that with the help of Page.
Reed is still heavily involved with all Rock athletics. From being a coach for the day to being an honorary captain, who goes out for the coin toss. He always has a home at The Rock and Lutz, Page and everyone else makes sure that he knows it.
After his passing, it was easy to see how loved he was by the entire community. It doesn’t matter who you ask, the same terms will come up: friend, mentor, but most importantly, he was a family man.
“He was my best friend, we had such a great relationship and I know his son, Reed, really well and we’re honoring him for military appreciation day,” Lutz said. “We related a lot because he was military guy and so was my dad.”
McGraw had something in common with just about every person on campus. Whether it was his military background or sports, coaches, players and students in general felt that they could talk to him about anything.
“He just gave so much to other people,” Lutz said.
This was echoed by Lokash.
“He was there for every coach and every athlete, if you needed him, then he made time,” Lokash said. “I talked to him a lot, things you couldn’t talk to anyone else about or if you just wanted to vent, you could go to him, and he would sit there and listen.”
McGraw wasn’t only highly respected by his peers at Slippery Rock, but also his peers from around the PSAC.
“I had a great amount of respect for Bobby, he was energetic and passionate about coaching,” Gannon women’s basketball head coach Cleve Wright said. “You could always tell how much he cared about his players; he will be missed.”
Wright wasn’t the only one who could see how much he loved everyone around him and the sport. Kohlheim, like every other coach in the PSAC, saw it every time they played too.
“I think what I loved most about him was he always crouched in his huddles, even when he was on the floor, it was almost like he wanted to give the players some leadership opportunities and not appear to dominate the conversation in the huddle,” Kohlheim said. “Just something very small I noticed, but I will always remember about him.”
So, if anyone was to take anything from McGraw, it could probably be put right back into one sentence.
Live life with passion and enjoy what you do, but don’t get too caught up in it that you miss the important things around you.