From the Editor: This is the fourth in a series of short essays from A Sea of Blue member oldcat'69, who played as a walk-on on Kentucky's freshman team in 1965-66 during the Adolph Rupp era.
“Adolph Rupp is an arrogant man given to sharp repartee and cutting sarcasm. He is awkward in public relations and a genius for saying the wrong thing. He also happens to be the best basketball coach in America.”
UK President 1941-1956
Based on my observations in practices and games during one basketball season, President Donovan had it spot on. Coach Rupp was also vain, referring frequently to the basketball instruction book he had written. He possessed the most confidence I’ve ever seen in his own ability to do his job. In my opinion, he viewed that job simply as winning basketball games, and he did it better than anyone before and only three since have done.
There have been far too many words written by more knowledgeable people than myself about Adolph Rupp. Rather than try to add my own assessment of his coaching ability, I’ll just relate a couple of anecdotes that illustrate the man.
During the mid-60s, the teams sat on opposite end-lines rather than on the sidelines as they do now. That presented a problem for Coach Rupp, who wore eyeglasses, but was too vain to wear them other than during a timeout with the team gathered around him, when he had to read the charts.
When a timeout was called, his routine never varied. He stood up, took his glasses out of the inside pocket of his (brown) suit coat, put on the glasses, and buttoned his coat. When the players went back onto the floor, he reversed the procedure, unbuttoning the coat, putting the glasses in the pocket, and sitting down.
One night, the Cats had the ball in front of our own bench, but were shooting on the other end. A timeout was called and Coach Rupp went through his usual sartorial routine. After the timeout, the team in-bounded the ball, went down the floor, and ran exactly the play Coach Rupp had recommended, scoring a layup as a result. He jumped to his feet, almost knocking his chair into my lap (the freshman team sat behind the varsity) and yelled, “Damn nice play!!” Then he sat down, turned to Coach Lancaster and said, “Who was that, Harry?”
At varsity practice one day, the late Tommy Kron, had been screwing up by the numbers during a scrimmage. Now, Tommy would regularly do that and then go out and play an inspired game the next day, proving that practice isn’t always a good predictor of game play. (Do you hear me, BCG?)
Coach Rupp stopped the scrimmage, walked out to the center circle, and, when the team had dutifully gathered around him, turned to Tommy and said, “Son, one of these days I’m going to write a book on how NOT to play this game, and I’m going to devote the first 300 pages to you.”
On another occasion, the varsity had a Saturday night away game somewhere, and the freshman team traveled to the western end of the state to play Paducah Junior College at the same time. This presented a problem, since freshman coach Harry Lancaster needed to be in two places at the same time. The solution was for Coach Hall to travel with the freshmen.
This was during the second semester, when we had only two scholarship players, and we got soundly defeated. After the game, Coach Hall took us to a restaurant recommended by the PJC coach and we had dinner, with most of us opting for steak.
At Monday afternoon’s practice, Coach Rupp questioned Coach Hall about the bill for the dinner, and I happened to be in earshot. It went like this: “Did you take the freshman team out for steaks Saturday night?” “Yes, sir, I did, after the game.” “Well, Harry and I took the varsity out for fried chicken, and, HELL, WE WON!”
You draw your own conclusions.