For eight days the black briefcase sat in the corner of Jill McCormick's office, unopened, untouched. It was Tim Nobriga's. McCormick looked at it, stared at it, thought about it but couldn't open it. She didn't know what would come out. There had to be memories in there.

Little did she know.

"I'm not ready to open it," said SRJC's swim and dive coach last Tuesday. Tim's death on Valentine's Day was still way too fresh, the shock of it still scratching her surface, McCormick was still referring to Nobriga in the present tense. Tim loves his cars. Tim has a dry sense humor. You should see Tim do his belly-flop. It's a scream. The heart attack may have taken Nobriga but it didn't take him from McCormick. She is where she is today because of him.

"The one conversation," McCormick said last Tuesday, "I never had with Tim was asking him how he thought I was doing as coach. That's one conversation I'll never have."

Little did she know.

McCormick, you'd think, would already have known. After she became head coach in 2000, SRJC won four state women's junior college championships. She won California Community College Women's Swim Coach of the Year five times in those 10 years. All-Americans dot her program. Her influence and reputation go deep into this state.

But Nobriga was never one to gush, to throw bouquets of flowering praise. It was his opinion, nonetheless, McCormick wished she had. This was Tim Nobriga, diving coach for SRJC and all of Sonoma County for 37 years. At the memorial last Monday at Daniel's Chapel of the Roses, one verbal bouquet after another thrown his way. And, the people guessed, Nobriga would be looking down from above, embarrassed, hiding behind those damn sunglasses.

"And then I decided I had to open the briefcase," McCormick said Wednesday. She wanted to move on. She wanted to be alone in her office when she did it. But if she were to clench up, maybe it would be best to have someone around. So she asked her assistant swim coach, Tyler Denize, to hang with her.

McCormick took a big gulp of air, opened the briefcase, and immediately saw Nobriga's handwriting. She started crying.

"You know," she said, "you hardly ever see someone's signature anymore. Everything seems to be done on the computer."

McCormick regrouped, began shuffling through dive sheets and assorted papers, when she came across a folder tucked out of sight. This looked different, felt different. She took another gulp of air and opened the folder.

"Tim had saved some thank-you notes through the years," McCormick said. "The stack was a good two inches thick."

Slowly she made her way through them.

Until she came to hers.

That's when she stopped, a frozen gawk on her face, at what she saw.

"I had written him a thank you note after we won state for the first time in 2004," McCormick said. "I thanked him for all his support, advice, wisdom. I told him how he had given me confidence to make decisions, to put in the right lineup."

That's when McCormick broke down and really started crying.

She had just received the answer to the question she never asked.

"Tim thought enough of my letter," McCormick said, "that he saved it."

McCormick couldn't have been more moved if Nobriga had walked into her office right then, hugged her and yelled to her, "Girl, you could teach a pig how to swim the 100 fly!" Of course Nobriga would never have done that and thank goodness for that.

"There are a lot of coaches who are Type A, a big presence on the pool deck, including me," McCormick said. "But if you are going to have a well-rounded team, you need the other type of coach, the one who is calm, non-dramatic. Tim is that. We are perfect for each other. When I tell my swimmers to dive into the pool to race, they don't have to worry about the dive being dangerous. But a diver, all of them, think about it. It's a dangerous sport. That's one of the reasons Tim is such a good coach. He gets divers to calm down."

As a kid McCormick was intrigued by Nobriga's patience and calmness. Frustrated at being a gymnast, 11-year old Jill McCormick (then Lombardi) went Nobriga, a California diving champion at Chico State, for dive lessons. It was a short arrangement.

"I think for the safety of yourself and the others around the pool," Nobriga said, "you may want to stay in the water (and become a swimmer)."

McCormick initially viewed swimming as good exercise. "But Tim kept nudging me," she said. To where exercise became a career. For the last 11 years McCormick and Nobriga together would open the JC pool at 7 a.m. For 11 years the practices, the meets, the conversations, all became their daily fabric. She watched and admired how Nobriga took the fear out of diving.

"At least once a year," McCormick said, "Tim will go to the pool's edge, his back to the water, in his street clothes, even his shoes were on. He'll wait to make sure everyone was watching. Then he'll leap, his body parallel to the water. His arms will be out to his side. He'll hit the water flush."

Kinda like the retort from a fired weapon. Guaranteed to make one wince.

"Tim will climb out of the water with a big smile on his face," McCormick said. "What he is saying is this: &‘See, how bad can it be? Sure, it'll sting for a little bit and that's all.' That's Tim."

McCormick was reminded again that she was speaking in the present tense about Nobriga. She nodded.

"Like he'll be walking through your door any minute," her visitor said.

For a very quick second McCormick glanced at her door.

"When you begin to refer to Tim in the past tense, you'll know then you are finally moving on."

"It's going to be awhile," said Jill McCormick, clearly in no hurry to do so.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky @pressdemocrat.com.