Head Basketball Coach, Gonzaga University
- By: Stephen Camelio
Growing up as the son of a Presbyterian minister near the junction of great Western rivers, Mark Few's upbringing rings familiar to fly-fishing enthusiasts. But after dabbling in fishing and other outdoor pursuits as every young Oregonian does, Few turned his attention to another sport, namely basketball. After starring at Creswell (Ore.) High School, Few accepted an athletic scholarship to Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon. When an injury cut short his playing days, Few transferred to Oregon and began coaching basketball, starting as an assistant high school coach at his alma mater in Creswell.Few quickly climbed the coaching ladder, becoming a graduate assistant at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington in 1990. Around that time, tempted by the area's abundance of rivers and lakes, Few also started fly-fishing. Promoted to assistant coach in 1992, he helped head coach Dan Monson turn Gonzaga into one of college basketball's up-and-coming programs. After the 1999 season in which Gonzaga amazingly came within one game of the Final Four, Monson left and Few became Gonzaga's sixth head coach at the Division I level. Since taking over Few has led the 'Zags to a 133-32 record and five NCAA appearances. But even as one of the hottest young coaches in the game, Few still finds time to enjoy the natural splendor and the fly-fishing of America's Northwest. How did you start fly-fishing? I decided to pick it up when I came up to Spokane. I figured, when in Rome. A former player, Erick Brady, and our athletic director, Mike Roth, were fishing some so I just jumped in with them. It's such a great place to start. The Spokane River runs right through our campus, and it's close to Montana and Northern Idaho as well as the rivers and lakes of eastern Washington and central Washington. Do you have a favorite place to fish? The Coeur d'Alene River is a great little fishery about 45 minutes from Spokane. Montana is only two hours away so I fish the Clark Fork a lot-I love that river. It's easy to get to and it's an underrated river. The Madison and all those other rivers get all this great [press] and that's fine. But the Clark Fork has dry flies, nymphs, big fish and a lot of fish. You can also float, wade and fish however you want. What's the biggest fish you've ever caught? I hooked an 18-pound steelhead on the Clearwater on an 8-weight rod. I caught it on one of the crazy flies my guide Jeff Jarrett ties. I think he called it the 'Zag Fly. It was blue and red. He's a great steelhead fisherman and he loves to tie up these articulating flies. So you like to wait for the steelhead runs? It depends. In the spring it's just great to get out and fish. Then you wait for that dryfly time. At the end of the summer when you've done a lot of that it's fun to fish a fly on the swing and get that initial surge from the steelhead that gets your adrenaline going. When I started it was just great to throw a strike indicator on with a nymph and get a tug. Reminded me of when I was a kid. Do you fish with other coaches? Yeah. Ben Howland, who's now the coach at UCLA, and I go once a year. We were at the Big Hole last year. I've had several situations where I was set up to go with Texas Tech coach ,Bob Knight. I know his son, Pat real well. Pat and I were talking about getting together in Montana or Wyoming this year. A couple of years ago I thought about going on a trip to Russia with Coach Knight but it didn't work out. Have you had any major coaching epiphanies while fishing? I've had plenty. Some of my best thinking is done on the rivers. That's why I think fly-fishing is a great combination with coaching. Coaching is so verbal and energy-sapping with what you give to your players, the fans and your staff. So much of it is in the public eye, that to go and be on the river and think quietly and enjoy the amazing places I've been around here and take that all in gives a real good serenity to your life. Who do you usually fish with? Joe Roope, owner of the Castaway Fly Shop in Coeur d'Alene, is a good friend and a great fisherman. Roope's always on the edge. For instance, right now he's into fly-fishing for tiger muskies. I really enjoy fishing with Greg Heister, our radio/TV announcer who travels with us during the year. He lived up in Alaska and we are headed up there in June. Two or three of our former players fish and it is really neat to get out with them. Blake Stepp, one of our best players, is really into bass fishing. His dad is a big tournament bass fisherman. I haven't been able to steer him over to the flies yet. I heard that when your name was mentioned in connection with the vacant UCLA job you told everyone you were going fishing? It gets frustrating at NCAA Tournament time because instead of focusing on my team, everyone wants to speculate on jobs. I basically told them if you want to talk about our team, how we are playing or about the opponent, that's fine. I'm not thinking of changing jobs, and if I do sit down and think about that, it will be once our season ends and then good luck finding me because I'll be on some river fishing. Being an Oregon native you must follow the salmon and dam legislation? I follow it pretty close. Obviously, strictly from a fishing and recreation point of view it would be great to see them make some moves on those dams and get those runs back up. Then you also see the side from the locals in Lewiston and Clarkston about what the breaching would do to their livelihood. It's a complicated situation and you wish there were an easy resolution. I'm not sure there is [a solution], but hopefully we can get a compromise so it easier for those fish to get back up and build up the native runs. Is fly-fishing something you will pass on to your boys? I'm looking forward to teaching them. I have a three-year old, A.J., and an 11-month old, Joseph Dillon, named after Dillon, Montana, which is one of my favorite spots. I actually had A.J. out one time on a little lake that one of our coaches lives on. His attention span is a little lacking. He talked about it all day, then we got out on the lake in a canoe for about 10 minutes and he said, "I want to go home." Then when we got home he talked about it all night, so that's kind of the stage he's in.