To Timmy Maloney, sports have always been about relationships. The bonds created that supercede wins, losses, even championships.
Maloney will watch Saturday’s Florida-Baylor SEC-Big 12 matchup with keen interest, given his strong ties to both programs. It also will help him maintain the perspective he’s carried through a roller coaster 12-month span.
Maloney has enjoyed by his own admission “quite a journey” in athletics, as a successful high school coach in both New York and Florida, as a former soccer coach at NYU, as a staff assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida from 1998-2003 and later as a staff assistant at Eastern Kentucky, UMass and at Baylor under Scott Drew from 2009-17.
Last March, Maloney was back in his native New York in Madison Square Garden when Baylor faced South Carolina in the Sweet 16. When we talked, Maloney was effusive in his praise of new Florida coach Mike White, “When we first met when I was recruiting at Baylor three years ago, he told me, you don’t have to introduce yourself, you’re Timmy Maloney,” Maloney said. “I see you in my office every day.” White, it turned out, studied the 2000 Florida finals team picture in his office and knew Maloney’s face.
A month later came a dream opportunity for Maloney to return home. He took it, accepting an assistant coaching job at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., under long-time close friend Tim Cluess.
But last October, just before the start of Iona official practices, Maloney wasn’t feeling quite right. He went in for a routine physical.
“Everything was good, my blood work, good weight, everything else but they said let’s do an EKG and and they saw something they didn’t like,” Maloney said. “Three weeks later I’m having a heart catheterization and they found plaque in my arteries.
“So much so it was pretty bad, it was like 90, 99 of 100 and I had what they called a fifth artery which kept the heart going and it wasn’t that symptomatic in my lifestyle. I don’t drink, smoke.
“So the long and short of it, God has kept me here and now I’m waiting, and I actually had a blood clot on the heart, so they are treating any other blood clots with blood thinner and so that’s kind of it in terms of what’s going on. No one gets out of life alive and I’m very thankful for my faith in Christ. And I know after I’m done this life, I know where I’m headed, but I’m not in a rush to leave this life, especially when I get the opportunity to be a husband, a coach and a father.”
Maloney, 58, has taken a leave of absence from his job at Iona and is in South Carolina with his wife JoAnne’s family. On Friday night, Maloney watched his 15-year-old son, T.J., play in a high school basketball game.
“I’m allowed to drive my car and get around,” Maloney said. “The second week in February, they will check me again.”
Maloney has been on staffs at Florida and Baylor that both earned No. 1 rankings during the regular season. He was on a Final Four team at Florida in 2000 and Baylor teams that reached the Elite Eight twice and won an NIT title. But to Maloney, the team building aspect was always more rewarding than the result.
“The scoreboard is a liar and winning and championship rings are really not about championships, they are about relationships,” Maloney said. “The relationships that you go through as you go through this process are a whole lot more significant.”
Those relationships were apparent when the phone calls came last October. First, from Dayton coach and former UF assistant Anthony Grant. Then from another former UF assistant, Donnie Jones. Then from Donovan. Then from Jason Williams. Then from both Scott and Bryce Drew. All offered words of support.
Maloney is looking forward to the Florida-Baylor game on Saturday, not for the result as much as the competition, to see how the young athletes respond to adversity. He was at the Mayo Clinic with Baylor junior guard King McClure when McClure had a device inserted into his heart to allow him to play after being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
“I love the Bears,” Maloney said. “I love both teams. Obviously, I think you are going to see, when you are on the road in Gatorland, the Swamp is not an easy place to play. I haven’t been there in a long time but I remember the days that we were pretty packed and how enthusiastic the Gator fans are and I’ve gotta think that they are really enthusiastic there now with everything that goes on there and the quality of person that coaches them.
“I think it’s going to make for a great game. Baylor to me, again I’m not looking at the scoreboard or the column where it says W or L. I’m thinking of myself about who they are and the opportunity they have presently to go into a place like Florida.”