Bill Knight / El Paso Times
Tim Floyd sat calmly on press row, chatting with old friends, signing autographs. Children, young adults, older fans came politely up to Floyd, asking for his signature.
"Merry Christmas, Tim Floyd," he signed over and over and over.
Another victory was behind him. His basketball team was ranked fifth in the nation. He warmly, casually, confidently embraced celebrity.
Life is good.
Though Floyd seems to have that Dick Clark disease - he looks exactly the same as he did 20 years ago - much has changed in his life since his days as graduate assistant and then assistant coach for Don Haskins at UTEP.
Today he is the high-profile coach at Iowa State, Big Eight Coach of the Year last year ... runner-up for National Coach of the Year. Just a couple of months shy of his 43rd birthday, he is one of college basketball's hot young commodities.
Floyd came to Haskins in 1977 as a graduate assistant, fresh out of college, admittedly not knowing much, but ready to work. And work hard. In the beginning, he made all of $10,000 a year.
Smiling that familiar smile, Floyd said, "I got a raise up to $16,000 and thought I was doing pretty good."
Finally, after helping recruit UTEP to five straight 20-win seasons and regular visits to the NCAA Tournament, Floyd was courted by Abe Lemmons at Texas. So he got a raise to $28,000 a year.
Now, after successful stints as head coach at Idaho and New Orleans, Floyd commands more than half a million dollars a year. Long way from that $10,000.
Floyd steered his car into his beautiful home - a two-story affair in a wooded picture-postcard scene, a house nearly a century old - and Don Haskins cracked, "Tim, this looks just like the house you had in El Paso when you were making $10,000 a year."
Floyd obviously holds Haskins in high esteem ... just as Haskins did his old college coach Henry Iba.
"We do everything here the way Coach Haskins taught me," Floyd said. "Straight up man-to-man defense. What you're seeing is basic El Paso defense."
Floyd's team destroyed East Tennessee State 77-49 Saturday night in the Iowa State Holiday Classic. And Floyd knew Haskins was watching.
"I was on edge at the beginning of the game," he said. "I didn't stand up as much. I kept my butt on the bench, just like I did when I was in El Paso coaching for Coach Haskins.
"At about the 7-minute mark, I called a time out and told my guys `You're not just getting graded. My butt is, too. So if you don't play hard, you won't stay out there on the floor.'
"I'd love to lie to you and tell you I didn't know where Coach Haskins was sitting. But I did. I knew exactly where he was," Floyd said.
But Tim Floyd is no longer just Don Haskins' assistant coach. He has reached a degree of celebrity ... with prospects of greater celebrity well within his reach.
He won 23 games his first season at Iowa State, advancing to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, picked for the conference cellar, with no key players returning, he won 24 games - and the Big Eight Tournament.
Recently, Floyd signed one of the top recruits in the nation. Indiana's Bobby Knight wanted him. So did virtually every other coach in the nation. Floyd got him by visiting the player's family in Slovakia. He was the only coach to make that visit.
That, though, has always been the Floyd way.
Not many people in El Paso ever saw him without either a suitcase in his hand or a phone plastered to his ear. He was always outworking everyone else, always traveling to see a recruit or talking to him on the phone.
Haskins grinned and said, "Mr. Iba told me once not to give up on that young assistant. He's gonna be all right. He's gonna be a good one. I told him I knew it. And he was right."
Sunday morning, Floyd pulled off his jacket and showed everyone his old sweatshirt ... a faded gray job with orange letters: "UTEP Athletics."
Floyd's wife Beverly said, "I remember when we got that raise from $10,000 to $16,000. It was so good. It seemed like more at the time than we got when we came here."
Life was good then. Now it is better than good.
Tim, Beverly and their beautiful 15-year-old daughter Shannon still have some roots in El Paso; many old friends.
It has been a long journey from El Paso to Ames. Yet Floyd retains three elements that always set him apart to everyone who ever met him - a devilish sense of humor, an untiring work ethic and class with a capital C.
A small boy walked up to the Iowa State coach and asked for an autograph. "Could you sign this other one for my brother? It's his birthday."
"Sure," Floyd said, flashing that big-league smile. "What's your brother's name?"
Celebrity fits Floyd so well ... far better than that old UTEP sweatshirt.
Bill Knight covers UTEO basketball for the Times.