As you may recall, ex-LSU basketball coach Dale Brown (pictured with Joe B. Hall) discussed NCAA’s hypocrisy and the new book about the bureaucratic organization in my column last week.
In an exclusive interview which was held last month when Kentucky and LSU clashed at Rupp Arena, the colorful personality also talked about three of UK’s basketball coaches, past and present.
His favorite story about legendary Adolph Rupp, who retired as UK coach after the 1972 season?
“I think probably my favorite memory (of Rupp) was when I was first getting started at LSU. I was a no-name from North Dakota,” said 80-year-old Brown, who is SEC’s third winningest coach of all-time with 448 victories, coaching the Tigers from 1972 to 1997. “But I developed a friendship with Adolph Rupp through Happy Chandler. So I met with him in Baton Rouge and I sponsored a banquet to honor Coach (John) Wooden and Coach Rupp.
“When Coach Rupp got up to speak, he said, ‘This is the biggest and best banquet I have ever attended. I received a letter every day for weeks from Coach Brown. After I finally said okay, the packages quit coming and the postal service laid off a dozen employees.’ It was funnier than heck. They both had a super time.”
Brown — who also had a friendly chat with ex-Wildcat coach Joe B. Hall during his recent visit to Lexington — thought Hall should’ve had more credit for the pressure-packed job he did at UK for 13 years, especially after replacing Rupp in 1972. Like Brown, who himself was a successful coach with two Final Four trips, Hall sent three teams to the Final Four, including winning the 1978 national championship. And both coaches won four SEC Coach of the Year honors in their careers.
“Joe, first of all, he’s really a good man, a great coach,” said Brown. “I’m not sure he got as much publicity as he should have at the time for the coaching job he did.”
Brown also remembers an emotional second-half episode at the 11,500-seat Memorial Coliseum when Kentucky came from behind and defeated Brown’s Tigers 85-71 in a wild 1976 contest with UK’s 6-10 sophomore Mike Phillips scoring a game-high 35 points. LSU’s Kenny Higgs, who was from Owensboro (Ky.) High School, hit a team-high 32 points in that game. (By the way, Higgs’ brother, Mark, played football at UK and in the NFL.)
“Probably my favorite story is when we were playing in the old Memorial Coliseum,” said Brown. “Joe hit his (rolled-up) program and starts screaming and he didn’t get a (technical) foul. So then I got up, start screaming and I got a technical foul. In my mind, I thought, no one knows who I am. I understand that. Kentucky’s the kingdom (of basketball); they were the beacon light for me. I had great admiration for Kentucky basketball and I wanted to mimic them.
“So I called timeout and the referee came over. I said, ‘Listen, the game’s almost over but let me tell you something. You’ve already stolen everything from us so here, take my sport coat.’ ”
Said the official, “Coach, sit down (or) I’m going to call a technical foul.”
“You’re going to call a technical foul on me?” commented the coach who was getting irritated, looking at the referee. “I ain’t hollering at you. Take this coat or I’m throwing it out on the court.”
Brown added, “And Lo and behold. I threw the thing (sports jacket) and it was like a discus and it was spinning round and round, and it landed right on the K (jump circle). Of course, I wasn’t too popular (back then).”
After the game, Brown stormed into the officials’ dressing room and accused them of being intimidated by Hall, according to late UK sports historian Russell Rice’s Kentucky Basketball: Big Blue Machine. Along with two technical fouls drew by Brown in the second half, Hall and Wildcat guard Larry Johnson each also got hit with a technical in the opening half.
What about current Kentucky coach John Calipari? Well, Brown is becoming a huge fan of Coach Cal. When the outspoken Brown left coaching in 1997, Calipari was in the NBA, serving as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets after a successful eight-year tenure at UMass.
“I got a call from the years of my coaching career a young coach from Massachusetts that I’ve never heard of,” commented Brown, who is also a motivational speaker. “John Calipari said he was going to come on down to Lafayette University (University of Louisiana at Lafayette). Could he bring the team by to watch (LSU) practice, come to a game and to visit with me? He came to my office and I had no idea who he was. Nothing about him.
“But the immediate thing I noticed, he connected with people and he was interested in learning. I also think that John does so many behind-the- scene things. Today I already think he is the greatest recruiter in the country. He is also the master at mastering a stupid rule of ‘one and done.’ He’s taken advantage of it properly and I thought last year’s (38-1) team reminded me so much of the UCLA teams. The team was above themselves. I think he is going to go down in history as one of the greatest coaches of all time.”
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Speaking of Rupp, the younger generation of Wildcat fans may be surprised to learn that the Baron had once agreed to coach basketball at Duke during the pre-Mike Krzyzewski days. That was right before the 1973-74 season and Rupp actually wasn’t ready give up coaching. Kentucky had forced him to retire at age of 70, which was the university’s mandatory retirement policy.
That episode was mentioned in John Feinstein’s new book, “The Legends Club” (Doubleday, $27.95), which is a fascinating story about famous coaches Dean Smith, Jim Valvano and Krzyzewski battling in the Atlantic Coast Conference territory. The Rupp-to-Duke story was also pointed out in my 1991 book, “Crazy About The Cats: From Rupp To Pitino.”
“Daddy got a phone call from the president of Duke University (Terry Sanford),” ex-UK player and son Herky Rupp told this columnist during that book interview many years ago. “He said, ‘Coach, we need a coach. We’ve dismissed (Bucky Waters) and we want you to coach.’”
In amazement, coach Rupp said, “Are you sure? These people around here in Kentucky thought I was too old to coach. And here you are wanting me to coach?”
“Age makes no difference to us,” replied Sanford. “We want a person we know can coach. We want a person of your stature and you are the one for the job.”
But an introductory press conference at Duke that was scheduled did not take place. Rupp’s 500-acre cattle farm manager had died suddenly and the former Wildcat boss was forced to give up his new coaching opportunity.
As for his 405-page Legends Club hardcover, Feinstein tells many and many intimate stories involving the three basketball legends and their rivalries, and there is a lot of interesting stuff that I didn’t know. If you are a true hoops fan, you’ll love the book.
Even though you may not like the troubling fact the best-selling author is a graduate of Duke, I’m a huge fan of Feinsten’s sports-themed books. I have several of his well-written hardcovers, including “A Season On The Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers” (published in 1986), on bookshelves in my home office. And one of them is an autographed copy — a Christmas gift from my mother — when he had a book-signing appearance in Lexington.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
Photo by Jamie H. Vaught