Don Haskins, 78; broke barriers with 1966 NCAA title
EL PASO, Texas - Don Haskins, credited with helping break color barriers in college sports in 1966 when he used five black starters to win a national basketball title for Texas Western, died yesterday. He was 78.
Texas-El Paso spokesman Jeff Darby said the Hall of Fame coach died in the afternoon. He had no other details. UTEP was previously known as Texas Western.
"The word unique does not begin to describe Don Haskins," former Texas Tech coach Bob Knight said. "There is no one who has ever coached that I respected and admired more than Don Haskins. I've had no better friend that I enjoyed more than Don Haskins."
Mr. Haskins was an old-time coach who believed in hard work and was known for his gruff demeanor. That attitude was portrayed in the 2006 movie "Glory Road," the Disney film that chronicled Mr. Haskins's improbable rise to national fame in the 1966 championship game against Kentucky. The movie, which was preceded by a book of the same title, also sparked renewed interest in Mr. Haskins's career.
"The myth that surrounds Don Haskins in the movie 'Glory Road' and what he did for black players is better said that he cared like that for all his players. To me that tells me more about the man than anything," Knight said. "There was never anyone like him before and there will never be one like him again."
Former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said Mr. Haskins "had a tremendous impact on the college game."
During his career, Mr. Haskins turned down several lucrative offers, including one with the now-defunct American Basketball Association, to remain at UTEP as one of the lowest-paid coaches in the Western Athletic Conference.
He retired in 1999 after 38 seasons at the school. He had a 719-353 record and won seven WAC championships. He took UTEP to 14 NCAA tournaments and to the NIT seven times and briefly worked as an adviser with the Chicago Bulls.
His health had been an issue in his final coaching years, often forcing him to remain seated during games, and his program struggled after twice being slapped with NCAA sanctions.
Serious health concerns continued in his retirement. In the midst of a series of book signings and other appearances Mr. Haskins was hospitalized with various problems.
After retiring, Mr. Haskins kept close ties with the Miners. The school's most recent hire, Tony Barbee, said he met with Mr. Haskins just after accepting the job.
"He is a guy who has forgotten more basketball than I will ever know," Barbee said.
Mr. Haskins played for Hall of Fame coach Henry "Hank" Iba at Oklahoma State, back when the school was still Oklahoma A&M. Mr. Haskins was later an assistant under Iba for the 1972 US Olympic team in Munich.
As a coach, Mr. Haskins became a star early in his career by leading his Miners to the 1966 NCAA championship game, then making the controversial decision to start five blacks against all-white, heavily favored Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp. The Miners won, and shortly after that many schools began recruiting black players.
"He took a school that had no reason to be a basketball giant and made it into one," Knight said.
Mr. Haskins said he wasn't trying to make a social statement with his lineup; he was simply starting his best players. The move, however, raised the ire of some who sent him hate mail and even death threats during the racially charged era.
"When they won the national championship against the University of Kentucky, that changed college basketball," Sutton said. "At that time, there weren't many teams in the South or Southwest that had African-Americans playing. There was a change in the recruiting of the black athlete."
Mr. Haskins always was focused on the game of basketball. He had a reputation for working his players hard.
"Don got more out of his teams and players than any coach who has ever coached college basketball," Knight said.
"Our practices wore us out so much that we'd have to rest up before the games," said Harry Floury, a starter in the 1966 championship. "If you work hard all the time and if you go after every loose ball, you see things like that (championship) happen."
Mr. Haskins is credited with helping Nate Archibald, Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis, among others, make it to the NBA.
In November 2000, Mr. Haskins was awarded the John Thompson Foundation's Outstanding Achievement Award during a tournament hosted by Arkansas.
"We couldn't think of anyone that deserves this recognition more than coach Haskins," said Nolan Richardson, the former Arkansas coach who played under Mr. Haskins for two years. "He opened the door for African-American players to play basketball."