Inbound traffic on Kelly Drive was backed up Thursday morning by an accident, and traffic up and down the Schuylkill river looked almost as heavy as crews from around the country got in a final practice before the nation's largest college regatta, the 78th Dad Vail Regatta, starts Friday morning.
The last practice for Temple crew coach Gavin White finished just after 8 o'clock. He climbed out of his launch and leaned for a step on his cane and took 22 sure steps across a dock and then 10 more up a ramp.
Did he tell his guys?
"Nope," White said, back on his well-used Easy Travel motorized scooter, which had sat at the river's edge.
A few minutes later, White gathered the rowers from a couple of boats that had just gotten off the water and talked for about 10 minutes. Sometime in there White told them they shouldn't be surprised if they read that this was his last Dad Vail as Temple's coach.
The greatest Schuylkill rowing coach of his generation is, in fact, retiring. He just didn't feel like making a speech about it, passing at the opportunity at a team dinner at his house earlier in the week.
"They should know it," White said Thursday morning. "You have to hit them over the head sometimes."
White, 64, had spent well half over his life as Temple's crew coach, since 1979. His legacy includes a staggering 20 Dad Vail varsity eight titles, including 13 in a row, from 1989 to 2001. Temple rowers had reached the greatest Olympic heights, and White himself had coached a USA four to a fifth-place finish in the 2000 Olympics and a USA pair to a 2003 world title.
White has Parkinson's disease, which was diagnosed in 2002. As his health deteriorates, he said, he's dependent on rides to the river. His wife, Jane, could get him there a couple of mornings a week, and a friend helped out other days, but he couldn't make it every day. Top assistant Brian Perkins was the everyday coach.
"I just feel like this would be a good natural end to it," White said. "I regret not being able to coach a year in the new boathouse, but I can't let that dictate things. The last two years I've eased up. The kids can see it coming. Although I'm the head coach, Brian has been doing most of the work."
They've coached Temple's men out of Quonset huts since the East Park Canoe House was condemned in 2008. The refurbished structure is due to be open for next season, which saved the sport from being cut.
"He's been a huge force on the Schuylkill," Perkins said of White. "He came [to Temple] as a basketball player. He wasn't even a high school rower."
White was Temple's MVP as a senior rower.
"As a coach, he came into a program that couldn't quite break through, and Temple became the winningest Dad Vail program ever," Perkins said.
Talking about retiring, White related how he told his wife, and her response was, "Yeah, sure, you've retired a couple of times." Two years ago, he said, he tried to retire, and a Temple administrator talked him into hanging in a little longer, to get in the boathouse.
But there was a delay in construction, and White talked to athletic director Pat Kraft about it, and this time it will be official. He'll still be around. Kraft told him the new title would be coach emeritus. They joked about what that meant: "No pay."
So what did his varsity eight do for the last Dad Vail practice?
"Just paddled around a little bit," White said. "We don't have a hose here. We had to go down and borrow a hose from one of the boathouses. Get pounds of mud off."
He explained to his guys that he'd been coaching for 37 years, and he didn't want to stop until he had a boat that had a chance to be great.
"You are," he told them, feeling as if he's going out with a Dad Vail contender, a varsity eight that has a shot at qualifying for the national championships after that. Temple's varsity eight shell itself is a new one, delivered this spring. The guys on the team were surprised when it was unveiled. It is named the Gavin R. White, his name in white lettering by the bow.
When White steps down, it will be the first time in six decades - since 1956 - that a Gavin White won't work in Temple's athletic department, since Gavin's father coached and was an administrator and eventually athletic director.
Under the tallest tree by Temple's camp, none of that was part of White's talk. He spoke about commitment. He got a laugh telling the story of the ham and egg breakfast, how the chicken is invested in that breakfast, providing the eggs. "But the pig, he's committed."
"That's the way I feel," White said, talking about how you have to believe that you can go harder even as "you can't catch a breath, you feel like dying."
In this sport, the last strokes are inevitably the hardest. Was it emotional for White being on the Schuylkill for this practice?
"Yeah, of course. It's an emotional time," White said, and he started to say a little more except another Owls boat was going out, and an assistant needed to check in about the workout, and Temple's coach, not yet emeritus, had a few thoughts about that.