By Ray Hamill — The press conferences on the other side just got a whole lot more interesting. I have a feeling Frank Cheek will not disappoint anyone there.
He never did on this side.
When I heard the news of his passing on Saturday evening, like everyone he impacted during his legendary career, I was left with a great sadness.
But as the evening wore on, and unable to shake the news, I found myself smiling more and more at the memories — the many memories — I shared with the man as a journalist over the years.
Anyone who ever spent more than five minutes in his company no doubt has at least one unique Frank Cheek story they could tell, and I have a feeling all of them would bring a smile to anyone’s face.
His magnificent coaching career spanned almost 50 years at Humboldt State and has been well documented. He built two national-championship caliber programs, has more wins than any other coach in school history, and won two NCAA National Championships in softball.
And remember he did this at a remote school where most teams struggle to post even a .500 season.
But the success on the field, the almost 1,500 wins, that’s only part of what made Cheek arguably the most iconic figure in the history of Humboldt State sports, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his legacy.
Like any great coach it was the impact he had on people that stands out most, and Cheek most certainly had an impact on a lot of people over the years.
He was a larger than life character who was not always an easy coach to play for, and he was demanding on his players in ways other coaches would shy away from.
But that made his athletes better, tougher and mentally stronger, and no athletes that came through Humboldt State were ever mentally stronger than Cheek’s athletes.
All of which instilled valuable life lessons and habits in them that would ensure success in whatever they did for decades to come.
That’s the sort of impact he had on his athletes. He made them better people, and if he was demanding he never hid that fact. He never pretended to be something that wasn’t in his nature.
Cheek also was incredibly loyal to his athletes, and always fought for them.
From a media perspective he was the most entertaining and genuinely forthright coach I have ever had the pleasure to be around, both brutally and beautifully honest, and I’m pretty sure most of the sportswriters that have come through this area during his time at HSU would say the same thing.
He was simultaneously the most quotable and least quotable coach I have ever interviewed.
His thoughts were usually brilliant yet frequently unusable in a family-friendly newspaper, and I’m certain he remembered every play he ever saw, yet he was always thinking ahead, always anticipating the next move in the game, in the season, for the program.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the good fortune of running into Cheek at some of the Arcata High softball games, where his daughter Teresa, an exceptional coach in her own right, is in charge of the team, with Frank assisting, still coaching to the end.
And every time I saw him, he always called me over for a chat to catch up and talk softball, still dissecting every pitch and every play like few people ever could, still as sharp as ever, still both brutally and beautifully honest all in the same breath.
Cheek always had time for a chat with me. When he was at HSU there was never a practice I stopped by when he didn’t call me over — affectionately calling “Hamill” whenever he saw me — while never pausing in his coaching duties and once again giving me lots of brilliant yet completely unusable quotes.
Unlike dealing with many of today’s college coaches, where it can take forever just to set up an interview, Cheek was always available, always making the effort.
He didn’t do this for any self gratification or any great love for the media. He did this for his players, to ensure they got the coverage a team of that stature deserved.
Like I said, he always fought for them, and he did so in ways most people would never have even known.
And that’s another part of what made Frank Cheek such a complete coach. He was always thinking of his players first.
Make no mistake about it, Humboldt County will never see the likes of Frank Cheek again.
He was simply a brilliant coach, a brilliant mind and a brilliant man.
And because of that, I have a feeling the media sessions up above just got a whole lot more entertaining.