KU Basketball’s Coaching Heritage Tops All Schools


When the University of Kansas appointed Bill Self as its eighth men’s basketball coach, it rekindled an interesting marriage between the fruit of arguably college basketball’s two greatest coaching trees: the KU tree of Drs. Naismith/Allen and Hank. “Mr.” Iba of Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). Allen and Iba were long-time rivals of one another and each amassed more than 700 victories all-time and national championships between them. Beyond their tenures, generations of their coaching progeny have dueled on the court as well. Distinguished KU products like Dick Harp, Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, and Ralph Miller countered noted OSU alums like Don Haskins, Eddie Sutton, and Jack Hartman. With Self and Jayhawk alums like Mark Turgeon at Wichita State, yet another generation is sprouting from college basketball’s most prolific coaching trees.


Self is a unique element to the KU coaching legacy because he is the only significant OSU/Iba “descendent” to be involved at KU – or vice versa. Self is the first KU coaching hire in 81 years who did not play for a coach that ultimately traces his lineage to a KU alum or coach. Yet Self got his professional start at KU in 1985-86 season so his appointment (and “tree”) comes full circle.


I wonder what ol’ Phog would have thought about an Oklahoma Aggie taking the reigns of the Jayhawk program. What would have Iba thought?


Honestly, I think they are both smiling because Self is not only an outstanding head coach, but he has great respect for college basketball history and tradition. Even more, Self has a high regard for the coaching profession, which is natural for someone who has been associated with both the University of Kansas and Oklahoma State University.


Self played at Oklahoma State under Paul Hansen and in the shadow of Iba, graduating in 1985. Hansen had played for Doyle Parrick at Oklahoma City University, who had played for Iba at OSU. So, you can see the direct lineage to Iba, who was still a close observer to the Cowboy program during Self’s days. While there, Self often took advantage of Iba’s availability, consulting with him on the game and soaking up many nuggets of basketball wisdom. When Self graduated, he turned his attention to KU and Larry Brown, to continue his learning quest and embark on a successful coaching career. Self returned to OSU serving as a full-time aide to both Leonard Hamilton and Eddie Sutton for seven years before obtaining his first head coaching position at Oral Roberts in 1994.


For aspiring coaches, being around coaching legends who have a passion for the organization and development of the game is intoxicating. That’s probably why KU and Oklahoma State have produced so many of the college game’s great coaching names. Allen and Iba were great teachers and innovators, contributing so much toward their profession. Their greatness rubbed off on the many they coached who followed after them and established their own success elsewhere.


Arguably, the greatest legacy of KU basketball – besides its great teams and players – is its coaching tree. Fans of KU basketball certainly know and have an appreciation of the great tradition of KU basketball. Yet, sometimes I wonder if the masses really understand the impact that KU associates, alumni and coaches have orchestrated in college basketball history. To put it in perspective, Lawrence was a finalist location for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame before it was established. Can you picture it? Cooperstown, Canton and…   Lawrence? Rightfully, the Hall was located in Springfield, Mass., but some day it will be worthwhile for KU and Lawrence to establish a museum to stake its claim as a major contributor in the game – particularly with respect to the coaching legacy established by the Father of Basketball Coaching, Phog Allen. Otherwise, future generations will lose sight.


Sure, we know that Allen played for Naismith, and that Naismith is the only coach at KU with a losing record.  Indeed, most of us know that the game’s two winningest coaches, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp, are Kansas graduates that played for Allen and subsequently laid largely successful foundations at the two winningest schools all-time, North Carolina and Kentucky. And we know that Larry Brown and Roy Williams played for Smith at UNC. But with respect to KU’s coaching tree prowess, do you know the following?


q       KU alumni have coached collegiate teams that won or were awarded 21 national collegiate championships, including all historic forms of national titles in the game: NCAA, NIT, AAU, Helms, and NAIA. Allen, Smith and Rupp totaled seven NCAA tournament championships and two NIT titles, while little-known Tad Reid and Naismith Hall of Famer John McLendon collectively won five NAIA titles. Former KU player and athletics director Dutch Lonborg coached the 1930 Northwestern team that was awarded the Helms national title and earlier lead Washburn to the AAU championship in the 1920s, making it the last collegiate team to accomplish the feat. The Helms titles were awarded retroactively to teams recognized as the best team in college basketball before the start of the NCAA tournament in 1939. KU’s 1922 and 1923 teams are recognized as Helms national champions, demonstrated by two banners that hang in Allen Fieldhouse.


q       Naismith Hall of Fame member and KU alum John Bunn coached Stanford to several conference championships in the late 1930s with his final team receiving the Helms national title in 1938. Bunn coached Hall of Fame inductee Hank Luisetti, who is generally regarded at the first great one-handed set shooter. Also in 1938, KU alum Tad Reid lead Central Missouri State to the second of two consecutive NAIA titles. The 1937 and 1938 titles garnered by Reid were the first two tournaments ever played at the NAIA level.


q       KU alumni have coached in the Pac-10, SEC, ACC, Missouri Valley, Big 10 conferences and five different schools in the old Big 8. More than 30 former KU students have served as head coach at nearly 50 four-year colleges across the United States, racking up nearly 6,000 wins. These totals are without parallel by any other school’s progeny. Division 1 Schools that KU alumni have coached include Stanford, Oregon State, Northwestern, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Wichita State, Tulane, Montana, Southwest Missouri State, George Washington, Cleveland State, Hampton (now D-1), Tennessee State (now D-1), Texas-San Antonio and others.


q       Eight KU alumni won more than 300 games in their college coaching careers, including Allen, Rupp, Smith, Miller, Bunn, Lonborg, McLendon, and Andy McDonald (Southwest Missouri State). All but McDonald are members in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Overall, KU has 14 inductees, the most of any school.


q       Since 1907, at least one KU alum has coached a Division 1 institution in basketball, a consecutive streak of 96 seasons. Currently Mark Turgeon ‘87 coaches Wichita State and Tim Carter ’80 heads the University of Texas-San Antonio program. Carter coached the Roadrunners to the NCAA tournament in 1999 and is the school’s winningest coach while this season looms as Turgeon’s first shot at the tournament after last season leading the Shockers to the NIT and their first post-season appearance in 13 years. Turgeon’s Shockers are the Missouri Valley favorite this year.


q       Since the late 1920s, a KU alum has been the all-time winningest coach in Division 1 basketball, a span of more than 75 years. Three different men have held the lead: Allen (roughly for 40 years), Rupp, and Smith, the current leader. Rupp is still second.


q       Eight different KU alumni are the winningest coach at a school in which they coached and three more are second all-time.


q       Arenas on seven college campuses have been named for six KU alumni, including five that are still in use today. Namesakes include Allen, Rupp, Smith, Reid (CMSU), McDonald (Southwest Missouri State), and McLendon, which had two (North Carolina Central and Cleveland State). Miller Court at Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum is named for KU grad and former OSU coach Ralph Miller. Additionally, Owen (football) Field at the University of Oklahoma is named for OU’s first full-time football and basketball coach, KU alum Bennie Owen. Stop and consider it for a moment, four of the most recognizable and/or historic sports edifices in college sports today are named for KU alumni. The Dean Dome at UNC, Rupp Arena at Kentucky, Owen Field at OU and, of course, Allen Fieldhouse. That’s pretty amazing!


q       Only Oklahoma State (nine) and St. Joseph’s (eight) have more alumni that have coached teams to NCAA tournaments than KU’s seven; St. John’s also have seven. However, KU’s alumni win totals are easily superior with more than 116 tournament victories, seven NCAA titles, 14 title game appearances, and 20 Final Fours collectively. At least one KU grad has coached in 52 of the 65 NCAA tournaments ever held.


q       In the old Big 8, only Missouri and Kansas State have never hired a KU grad or Phog Allen protégé to run its basketball program. Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State all hired former KU students while one of Iowa State’s most successful coaches ever, Louis Menze, played for Allen at CMSU. Overall, these legacies faired well at rival conference schools. George Rody coached Oklahoma State to its first ever Missouri Valley championship. Frosty Cox, who coached CU for 12 seasons, led the Buffs to the first NIT championship game in 1938 and the 1940 NIT championship (the top tourney of the time) and to the 1942 Final Four. Cox also coached Sox Walseth, who is Colorado’s winningest coach and the last coach to win a conference title in Boulder (1969). Meanwhile, Bennie Owen coached OU to a 113-49 record in 13 seasons. During his tenure, Owen coached future Sooner coach Hugh McDermott, who not only won two consecutive Big 6 titles (breaking Phog Allen’s streak of six in 1928), but also coached future Sooner coach and Hall of Famer Bruce Drake, who later coached KU coach Ted Owens at OU. Nebraska, forever a football school, hired KU All-American Charles Black (I) in the late 1920s from Grinnell for a basketball renaissance, but after six seasons little was produced except a few victories against his former school KU. Menze, tutored by Allen in Warrensburg, led Iowa State to four of its six ever conference titles and to the school’s only Final Four appearance in 1944.


q       In the last 82 seasons of Big 12-conference (and preceding) play, 57 league champions were coached by individuals who can trace coaching roots to a KU alum. Schools and coaches include KU (all), Oklahoma (McDermott and Drake), Colorado (Cox, H.B. Lee, and Walseth) and Iowa State (Menze).


q       Kansas is the only Division 1 school that boasts at least three different coaches with 300 victories at that school. At KU, Allen (590), Ted Owens (348), and Roy Williams (415) accomplished the feat. With the exception of James Naismith, all of KU’s other coaches won at least 100 games: W.O. Hamilton (125), Dick Harp (121), and Larry Brown (135).


q       In the NCAA tournament era (since 1939), every KU coach (not including Self) has lead the Jayhawks to the Final Four, and all but one have guided KU to multiple appearances. The total of five coaches is the most of any school – Arkansas and UCLA each have four.


q       KU boasts many alumni that never suited up for the Jayhawk basketball team but went on to successful basketball coaching careers at the collegiate level, including Tad Reid, who won the first two NAIA national championships at CMSU; Bennie Owen at OU; Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Member John McLendon, who won three NAIA titles and 500-plus games at five schools; and current University of Texas San Antonio head coach Tim Carter, who is the school’s all-time winningest coach. Both Owen and Reid played football at Kansas, the latter under Phog Allen in his only season as KU’s head football coach.


q       Of the 50-plus full-time and part-time assistants that have worked at KU, nearly 40 percent have gone on to become head coaches of 4-year schools or an NBA team.


q       Additionally, former KU student managers Bill Pope, Jay Price, Matt Wingate, and Blake Flickner have served or currently serve as Division 1 assistants. Pope, who many KU fans may remember as the boyish, bespectacled aide during the Larry Brown era, recently completed a head coaching tenure at Division II Lincoln University and subsequently joined John Robic’s staff at Youngstown State. (Robic, incidentally, was a graduate assistant to Brown at KU and retains former KU player and assistant Dolph Carroll on his staff). After stops at OU and Purdue, Price recently joined Bruce Weber’s staff at Illinois. Meanwhile, Flickner was recently appointed assistant coach at the Naval Academy. Wingate worked with Steve Robinson at Tulsa and Florida State.


q       Five KU alumni have served as president of the basketball’s largest organized coaching association, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). The NABC is based in Kansas City and was founded by KU’s Phog Allen, who served as the first president. Bunn, Lonborg, Rupp, and Smith each followed suit, making it the most of any school’s alumni. Additionally, former KU coach Roy Williams served in the same capacity in 2001-2002 season.


Doubtless there are more lists that can be created and expounded once anyone begins to mine the depth of tradition and success of those involved with the University of Kansas basketball program. In particular, with the game’s inventor as the first coach and the Father of Basketball Coaching as his long-time successor, the Jayhawk basketball coaching legacy has spread throughout the landscape of college basketball and made a significant impact. With the arrival of Coach Self at KU – one who has a great appreciation for his two “coaching trees” –  the fruit of success will blossom further.


Darby Ritter
Lawrence, KS
[email protected]