Hall Of Fame Coach Haskins Dies
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
College basketball is mourning the death of one of its great coaches. Hall of Famer Don Haskins died yesterday at the age of 78. He's best-known for leading tiny Texas Western to the 1966 NCAA championship. Texas Western's upset win over the University of Kentucky was considered a watershed moment. Haskins used a starting lineup of five African-American players for the first time ever in an NCAA title game. NPR's Tom Goldman has this remembrance of Coach Haskins.
TOM GOLDMAN: They called Don Haskins "The Bear" because he was a growly kind of guy. He and his 1966 Texas Western team had a renaissance two years ago, thanks to the Disney film "Glory Road." It chronicled their David-over-Goliath moment against Kentucky, and it elicited a Haskins growl with its depiction of him as somewhat of a social crusader. Starting five African-Americans against all-white Kentucky was not a civil rights statement, he said. It was simply a matter of a coach putting his best team on the floor. But go back some 20 years before the March 1966 moment, and it's obvious Don Haskins knew full well the significance of that starting lineup.
Mr. HERMAN CARR (High School Friend of Don Haskins): Don and I would meet up there, you know, and we'd just play one on one. He was real interested in basketball and I was, too.
GOLDMAN: Herman Carr and Don Haskins became basketball buddies as teenagers in Enid, Oklahoma. Their one-on-one games at Longfellow High School led to a friendship. Carr was African-American, Haskins white, and it was through Carr that Haskins learned about segregated America.
Mr. CARR: I mean, when it really hit him, you know, is when he found out that I couldn't drink out of the same water fountain that he drank out of, you know.
GOLDMAN: Haskins' relationship with Carr raised Haskins' consciousness enough to prompt him to recruit more African-American players when he took over at Texas Western in 1961. But while Don Haskins opened his arms to players traditionally kept on the outside, there was not a warm embrace for those who signed up for the basketball program. Neville Shed played for Haskins on the 1966 title team and soon discovered that Neville Shed was just one of his names.
Mr. CARR: Well, he kind of changed that by calling me the wild man, you big girl. And, you know, of course I was kind of angry at him. But I went out there and I showed him, you called me a big girl, huh? You watch this. And I went out there and went into overdrive.
GOLDMAN: Not only was Haskins a great motivator, he showed great flexibility as a coach, changing his team's style to best match up against an opponent. Haskins stayed at Texas Western, which was renamed the University of Texas El Paso, until 1999. His teams won 719 games and made 14 NCAA tournament appearances. And while he shook up the racial makeup of college sports, friends and former players are sounding a common theme today as the remembrances pour in: Don Haskins, in his grumbly way, was a man who cared. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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