I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kevin Cadle to talk about a number of things. Kevin Cadle is a rather decorated basketball coach, having lead six different teams to a total of 30 championships and receiving eight coach of the year awards in the process. After his time on the sideline, he would go up to the booth, originally as a basketball broadcaster. Despite his ample success in the world of hoops, Cadle’s first love was football, which prompted his switch from covering basketball to covering football. Now part of the SkySports as he broadcasts NFL games across the pond, Cadle took some time to sit down and chat about life, basketball, the upcoming NFL season, and more.
Kevin Cadle: No problem, man. For a man from New York, I had to be here.
V: So the first thing I want to ask you is, what was life like growing up in Buffalo?
KC: It was one of those things where once you’re used to it, you just deal with it. It was many years later when I went back to Buffalo and I remember saying to my mom how surprised I was about how segregated a city Buffalo was. She said to me, “It was always that way, but you had to get away from it to come back and see it.” I went to Catholic school; not a lot of the guys I grew up with did, so they didn’t really have access to some of the things I was able to get at a Catholic school. Very few of them went to college, but it was kind of interesting that guys who were basketball players, so many of them went to basketball schools, and I remember my sister’s ex-boyfriend saying to me that he couldn’t believe that my high school coach let me go to Penn State versus these other basketball schools. When I look at most of the guys who went to basketball schools, very few of them had the grades and very few of them achieved in things they thought they would achieve in. For me, it was a great place to grow up, a great place to learn some of the things in life that helped me and continue to help me.
V: Your mother, Loretta, seemed to have done a lot for you as a kid. How did she help you live the childhood you lived?
KC: She kept us ahead of the riff-raff. We lived in three different places throughout my life in Buffalo. We moved first when I was twelve and then again when I was seventeen. Once the neighborhood started to change in a truly negative way, with three boys and a girl she would just “Okay well we got to get out of here.” So, she really just kept us ahead of the riff-raff.
V: Was it tough to relocate two separate times like that?
KC: Oh, absolutely not. All I did was just make new friends, probably better friends in each area that I moved into. I mean the last place that I moved to I really did not have much of a connection with it because we moved there in the middle of my senior year in high school. It was outside the city of Buffalo and it took me about two-and-a-half hours from there to get to my high school. So there wasn’t really a connection with that last place, but each place was always a solid, positive place for us to move to.
V: About that high school, Bishop Ryan, you’ve previously stated that you didn’t have the greatest of times there. Having only spent two years at the school before transferring, what exactly was your experience there like?
KC: So I spent my first two years of high school at Bishop Ryan, Catholic school, and it was located in a very Polish area of Buffalo. I assume that some of the priests there were Polish because I’m not quite sure where they came from. For some of them, you could see in their accents, reactions, comments, along with some racial stuff they would say that they probably couldn’t get away with today. You were in their neighborhood, their domain. It was kind of tough some days; some of my buddies and I still laugh at some of the things we had to deal with. When all is said and done, I think it helped me to be able to understand and deal with different kinds of people, so what seemed to be all negative ended up bringing some positive things for me to be able to take into my future.
V: Growing up about a block away from the Buffalo Bills’ War Memorial Stadium, it was football that was your first love, correct?
KC: Oh no question about it. Football still is my first love. I know I was a basketball coach, I was a basketball player, but if you put a great basketball game on TV and a great football game on TV, which one am I going to turn to? I’m turning to football. But in terms of the Bills, everyone in Buffalo loves the Bills; it’s one of those diehard cities. The team hasn’t made the playoffs in sixteen years, but everybody still keeps saying that next year’s going to be the year. Growing up there, I went to the stadium to watch them and the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team. I also remember watching a game between the Dallas Cowboys and a college all-star team, as back in the day, the game would be before the NFL preseason, but there’s no way to do that now. The main thing that stands out to me though is going to see O.J. Simpson when he was with the Bills. He was really only used as a decoy at first but then Lou Saban came in and things changed. It was all interesting to see at that time, wondering what the hell they were doing with O.J., but by the time I was ten, eleven years old, I was able to watch O.J. really do his thing.
V: You also personally had a moment with O.J. Simpson at around 11-years-old. How did that go down?
KC: The thing I remember about O.J. was that he had the biggest head I had ever seen on a human being in my life. He first came to Buffalo and he couldn’t practice for the first week. The Bills had to go back to USC, find his helmet, fly it back to Buffalo, and get it to the team. I would go get his autograph every week. After every Bills game, I would be in line for his autograph, and one time, he says to me, “kid, you come here every week and you get my autograph. What do you do with the autographs?” I said, “I throw them away. What do you want me to do with them?” I would just give him a little piece of paper and he’d sign it. For me, it was kind of interesting during the Bronco chase. I was in the green room studying before a show, and the producer of the show comes in and says, “some bloke named O.J. is about kill himself,” and I’m sitting there thinking this is not the O.J. I know. So we turned on the TV and it kind of hit me with O.J. being my hero.
V: Originally being the Bills fan you were and idolizing O.J. like you did, things changed as you took on basketball. How did that come to be?
KC: I was 12-years-old. We moved to a new neighborhood and it just so happened that it was a predominantly white neighborhood and most kids were playing either baseball or touch football. But as the neighborhood built, black families started to come in and the black guys seemed to be lured towards basketball. So every day we would be on the corner playing basketball and I knew it was something I could always work on by myself. With football, it’s kind of hard to work on skills every day by yourself. With basketball, I picked up a serious love for it and all the balls in the neighborhood would stay at my house. I would go out and play whenever I wanted, and when I’d come home late my sister would joke about how everybody knew I was coming home when they heard a basketball bouncing down the street. Even though I’d be out late, my pop didn’t get on me for it because he used to play, but my mom got on my pop for it. Plus, I was skinny as could be and talked a whole lot of trash, and I know a lot of guys who would love to break me up on the football field and I wasn’t going to give them that opportunity.
V: After the Buffalo Braves left the city, which NBA team did you begin to root for?
KC: Ever since the Braves left for San Diego and then Los Angeles and even now, I don’t root for a team but instead, I like individuals. For instance, if I’m watching football, there are certain individuals that are on teams that I like to see. But in terms of a team that I’m rooting for, I’d probably say the Knicks. They’re close by, but also Earl Monroe was my man. When Earl went over to the Knicks, I’d have to say they’d be my team.
V: As a Knick fan myself, I definitely like to hear that. So after those two years at Bishop Ryan, you transferred to Baker-Victory High School. Were the two years at Baker-Victory a better experience for you?
KC: Well the coach at Baker-Victory was basically that other father in our family. He coached my other two brothers in high school for four years, whereas he only had me for two because I transferred over. But when I came in, I was able to just be me. It was a much more positive experience.
V: You worked at a doughnut store in high school and saved up your money so you could go to basketball camps over the summer. That probably helped you score a scholarship at Penn State. Because African-Americans did not get too many opportunities like the one you were getting, what was it like tuning out any stereotypes on campus if there were any?
KC: Well, first of all, I went to camps in the Pocono Mountains, and that’s where I met my college coach, John Bach. They chose me as one of the guys to demonstrate some of the skills, and for some of the things they had us out there doing, my reactions were probably ahead of what they were talking about. Back then, we didn’t have the same system as we do now with basketball scholarships, so I got on my typewriter, and I wrote to probably fifty schools going click click-click-ching! I wrote to coach Bach and said that I was one of the students from back at the camp and he kind of remembered who I was, so he got on the plane and flew to Buffalo and offered me a scholarship. They had a black assistant coach: coach Farrell; there were not too many black assistant coaches at the time. Coach Farrell, was telling me about how ten-percent of the population at Penn State was black. At the time, there were about 35,000 students so I thought alright, that’s 3,500. I got on campus, and I’m not good with names, but I still knew every black person on campus and I though there’s no way there’s 3,500 black people here. However, in terms of stereotypes, it wasn’t a negative experience. I think it became more a case of you go out there and you deal with it, because what I’ve started to find out is that there are some f-ed up black people and f-ed up white people and you have to just deal with them on just how it is personally.
V: As a player for the Nittany Lions, what was your relationship like with coach John Bach?
KC: As a player, not great. The assistant coach, coach Farrell said to me, “Kev, when Bach came and signed you, he said that we got the guy who’s going to turn the program around. But instead, he’s spent four years trying to break you down.” Me and Bach were opposites; he was trying to break me down and I was trying not to be broken down. He also wasn’t really a motivating type coach. The talent on our team was good enough to make the NIT tournament, which back then, was just barely below the NCAA tournament, for there were only 32 teams in the NCAA tournament back then. But for all four years I was there, we had talent to at least make it to the NIT, but no one was going to fight for him. He had the whole team pissed off: when it was time to go to fight, to do that extra little bit of what you needed to do, not just me, but it was a whole team type thing. The basketball experience for me wasn’t the greatest as far as being a player, but it was excellent in preparing me for what I wanted to do later on.
V: So in that sense, when you look at Bach and reflect on how he coached at Penn State, were you able to take away some do’s and don’ts for coaching a basketball team?
KC: Well when you say Johnny Bach, with X’s and O’s, he was tremendous. Defensive schemes, he was tremendous. So for me, as a basketball player, I stole as much knowledge from Bach as I could on the positive side, as well as the negative side. On both sides of the coin, I stole from him: he didn’t have a good word to say about anything, and if all you use is negative, negative, negative, it’s not going to be good when you find yourself needing to get over a hump.
V: After Penn State, you went down to Texas A&I to be an assistant coach and attend graduate school. What was it like working there under the wing of coach Rich Sheubrooks?
KC: It was tremendous. When you talk about X’s and O’s, Rich was catching up. He was only like 30-years-old, so he didn’t quite have the knowledge yet that Bach had, but he was a tremendous motivator. He’d always do motivational stuff with the guys and it was kind of interesting: if the game was on Saturday, he would do his motivational stuff on Thursday and Friday, whereas most coaches want to do that stuff five minutes before the game. For me, Sheubrooks gave me that other aspect of the game and life, which is so important: it was that positive feedback and positive motivation.
V: After Texas A&I, you spent some time coaching at San Angelo, another university in Texas. After that, you then headed all the way out to Scotland. What enticed you to take a job so far away?
KC: At San Angelo State, I wanted to be a head coach. San Angelo State was another perfect situation for me because it was one of those unique programs where it basically wasn’t JV. I coached JV, but I coached against guys like Spud Webb and Paul Pressey. That region of junior college basketball was the best one in America. As I coached JV, I was an assistant coach on the main team, but I wanted to be a head coach at the next level. Just like I did as a player, this time I went back to the typewriter and wrote to fifty, sixty, seventy schools about coaching jobs, and all of them sent back ‘great references, great recommendations,’ but no luck. So I had a buddy, who was my roommate in college, playing over in Scotland, and his team needed a coach. He told them about me, and they called me up and offered me the job. Initially, I was hesitant because I was still waiting on a response from one more school. It just so happened that the next day, that same letter came in saying, ‘great references, great recommendations.’ So I called up the people in Scotland, and the initial deal there was that I’d only be there for a year or two, so I could get head coaching experience, and then go back to America and see if I could get a head coaching job there.
V: In 1983, you arrive in Scotland. How do you adjust to life there?
KC: The only time I had been out of America was in 1977: Penn State was playing against the Polish national team, and Poland was a communist country at the time. The conditions there were worse than anything I had ever seen, and when I got back to America, I told my friends, “You can complain all you want, but it’s okay here.” So when I was coming over to Scotland, I packed clocks, toilet paper, and everything. I came over thinking it would be like Poland, but then I got there and it definitely exceeded my expectations.
V: What was the arena atmosphere like when you first got to Falkirk?
KC: It was interesting because we were playing for the cup final the year after we got destroyed by Murray International. They hadn’t lost to a Scottish team in like seven years. We ended up beating them in the cup final, and the next thing I know, all the fans are singing this song, “Kevin Cadle Walks on Water.” I was like, “Does everybody get together and practice these songs?” It was just so interesting, and it was really just a great place for me; I’ll never forget Falkirk.
V: Anything else about basketball across the pond that took adapting to?
KC: Some of the rules. In addition to that, it was all about who had more money: the bigger teams would get the big Americans who would do all the scoring. The refereeing was terrible. I would average two technical fouls a game. The rule was three and you’re gone, but I’d always use up my two. The one thing that has to stand out for me was the poor quality of the referees.
V: After back-to-back titles with Falkirk in 1984 and 1985, you kept succeeding. Were you hearing anything back home about job openings? If so, did you listen to any of them?
KC: I wasn’t really trying to pursue stuff back in the states. The deal was that once I got settled in I preferred the professional game in the U.K. I preferred the hours of practice and the recruiting aspect of the game: it was so different to the recruiting system in college. In the professional game, I liked the attitude of, ‘here’s how much money I got for you; either you want the money or you don’t want the money.’ I didn’t have to worry about their brothers or sisters, their cousins, none of that. It was all just between the player and myself. That’s what I preferred; I didn’t even look at the college game back in America after that.
V: You coached for six different teams in the U.K. How difficult is it to relocate from one team and its city to the next?
KC: The good thing of it was that most of the clubs I coached for had a connection: I had guys that I’d had coached all over the place, so there was always some kind of continuity with the players. The thing is that no matter how much money an owner pays you salary-wise, they all want to come in first place. That was one of the things that always kept me fresh, but also burnt me out.
V: In your book, you said that the two biggest achievement were Falkirk’s 1984 Scottish Cup win over Murray International Metals, and London Towers’ 1997 Play-off final victory over the Leopards. Why those two?
KC: First and last. Those were the first and last trophies that I won. It’s how I started and it’s how I ended. Also, both of them were great games: not only did we win those games, but they were truly great games and I still enjoy watching them back today.
V: In terms of the NBA, which coach best compares to you?
KC: In the NBA right now, I would say Steve Kerr. I open it up for the guys to play. I want them to be themselves more so than restricting what they can do, and Steve does that better than anyone else. He takes their abilities and says, “Okay, so this is what you’re good at, this is what you’re okay at, but let’s see if we can maximize what you’re good at.” That would be it.
V: You talk about Kerr and the freedom he gives his players; he might have a great chance to do that now with Golden State’s signing of Kevin Durant. What do you make of Durant’s decision and all this talk of ‘NBA super-teams?’
KC: I have absolutely no problem with it. When it first happened I didn’t really like the move of Durant going over there, but when I think about it, he’s a youngster, and as a youngster, do you want to live in Oklahoma City or San Francisco? In terms of super-teams and Golden State, they might have a strong starting-five, but it’s about the entire team. Who’s the rest of their team? The rest of their team, the guys who came off the bench and served as an integral part of their success are now gone. So they’ve got the starting-five, but the starting-five isn’t going to play all 48 minutes for 82 games. I don’t think that the team they have now will exceed that wins record they just set; they’ll win 60-65 games, but I don’t think they’ll win 75 games or something like that. It’s just a whole different mentality now. Bird wouldn’t leave Boston to join Mike in Chicago, and Magic wouldn’t leave to play with Bird in Boston. Everyone wanted to create their own legacy versus being part of somebody else’s.
V: In writing that legacy, does winning a championship seem to superfluously define a player’s greatness?
KC: Well it’s all about the team you got. You look at football, and you have the comparison of Brady versus Manning, but Brady always had better coaches, better defenses, and he also had a better kicker, and if he didn’t have that guy making field goals he might not have any championships. When you look at guys and see that some have championships and some didn’t, it’s all about what kind of team they had.
V: If you had to pick one current NBA player to start a team with, who would it be?
KC: I’d have to say it’d be LeBron James because of his all around versatility to the game. As far as being a competitor in today’s game, he’s on of the top guys in the league. And his knowledge of the game lets him be kind of a coach on the floor, and that helps the other players out. So it would have to be LeBron with all his physical tools, but also his other intangibles that separate him from everyone else.
V: So now switching over to your career on television, you covered basketball at the start. How did you make the transition over to football? How difficult was it?
KC: Well football was always my favorite sport, but it was a little slow at first. However, I would just remember that there was an offense, a defense, a star, a coaching staff, so I jut went with the things that I could relate to. Then eventually, I found out how to use the Internet, and gained more information. I remember one speaking to Ahmad Rashād, and he was telling me about while he was playing, he was also training to be in the media. For me, there was no training, and what happened was the people just gave me the microphone, so I was never really taught anything. At first, I would just resort back to what I did as a coach, but for football, I would send things to people and ask for feedback, which would help me get better.
V: How excited do the fans get on extra points and kickoffs at Wembley and Twickenham?
KC: Well you have the extra points and the kickoffs, but the other thing is you know how in the states, teams knee the ball a lot of times to end games. Well as they start kneeling here, the folks start booing. They want to see you fight until the end. So there’s certain things that the people still aren’t quite in tune with, but I’m sure there’s things in America when people are watching soccer, that they’re not quite in tune with. Perhaps the first thing that stands out at games here though is there are people wearing jerseys from all 32 NFL teams. Also, when they had the first NFL game here at Wembley, it was the Giants versus the Dolphins, they ran out of food. In American football, people are constantly going to the concessions, whereas in soccer, everyone watches the whole game, and halftime is the only time people get up. Everyone gets their cup of coffee and pees against the wall, then goes back and watches the game, and after that, they go home.
V: From more of an analyst point-of-view, your Bills play in the AFC East. Does Tom Brady’s four-game suspension open up the door for someone else in the division, even a little bit?
KC: If you’re a fan of a team in the AFC East, you’re thinking yeah, but not really. They still have Bill Belichick and they still have good coordinators. When you look at the Patriots as an entire organization, can they withstand being without Brady for four games? Brady can help Garoppolo out mentally. They aren’t going to do anything to force Garoppolo to go out and win them the game. All they’ll need him to do is not lose them games. The AFC East is going to the New England Patriots, but the team in that division who will make the biggest jump will be the Miami Dolphins: they made good additions to their defense and their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, is getting better. I think the Miami Dolphins will jump over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
V: I also think football fans are curious to see how things go in Miami with their new coach, Adam Gase. So the NFL again has three games in London this year: some better than others. I’m going to read each matchup to you and you’re going to pick a winner.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
KC: Definitely the Colts. The Colts own that AFC South.
V: New York Giants vs. Los Angeles Rams
KC: The Giants. They spend over $200 million on making their defense better and Jason Pierre-Paul is going to be better this year. If the Giants can establish a running game, they could be the top team in the NFC East.
V: Washington Redskins vs. Cincinnati Bengals
KC: Bengals. Washington is still in the makings and you wonder if Cousins can repeat what he did last year. As far as the regular season goes, the Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the best teams in the league.
V: Injuries in the NFL have become a huge problem. In response to that, the league has moved the touchback up from the 20-yardline to the 25. Was the move necessary? If so, how much further can the league go to protect its players?
KC: Well the league is trying to do the best they can. Technology-wise, there’s nothing you can do to prevent injury when two 250-pound guys are going head-to-head at each other. I think the NFL is consistently trying to do what best for the health of the players for both the short-term and long-term. Because so many injuries occur on the kickoffs, they’re just doing the best they can without taking away that aspect of the game.
V: I’m going to put you on the spot. Who are we going to see in in Super Bowl 51?
KC: I’m going with the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks.
V: Interesting choices. So, you’re a man of many talents: you’ve succeeded in the worlds of both basketball and football. But can you talk about your motivational speaking?
KC: What I try to do is use some of the experiences I’ve had from coaching and life, and share them with the companies or students that I speak to. I talk bout the choices they make as well as the things they’re interested in. I also try to make it all entertaining: I like to throw some good stories and jokes in there so the listeners enjoy it, but also to give them something to walk away with.
V: About your book, we’ll talk about it without giving anything away. It begins with the quote, “Aim for the moon and if you fall short, you’ll land among the stars.” Do those words have certain significance to you?
KC: Sure. It’s a case of going for it. Why go for the short stick when you can go for greatness? If you don’t get to greatness you’re still going to be in a pretty good position. The goal is to be number one, but if you don’t get it this time, it will be a lesson teaching what you what to do next time to be able to take that next step.
V: So the book is titled “The Cadle Will Rock,” but you originally wanted to call it “Just Because You Didn’t See It Doesn’t Mean It Didn’t Happen.” How come?
KC: Because that’s the truth. Just because you didn’t know about someone accomplishing something doesn’t mean they didn’t do it. The thing here is making people aware of so many things in the book that they would not be aware of, either here or across the waters in the United States. But the guy who typed up the book didn’t really feel that title, so he wanted to do “The Cadle Will Rock” and I was cool with it.
V: It’s a great book and I would definitely recommend it. Kevin Cadle, thank you very much for your time, I very much appreciate it.
KC: Thank you very much. Best interview I’ve ever had.