I HAVE NO IDEA EXACTLY HOW, TO SAY THIS NEWS MADE ME FEEL.I GREW UP IN EL PASO FROM 1974-80. BOTH OF MY PARENTS ARE BURIED THEIR, SO THE PLACE WILL ALWAYS BE HALLOW GROUND FOR ME.
EVERY MARCH THE EL PASO TIMES WOULD RE-TELL THE STORY OF THE 1966 TEXAS WESTERN (UTEP) MINERS AND HOW OUR LITTLE SCHOOL WON THE NCAA BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP. THEY WOULD ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE BEAR AND HOW HE STARTED A TEAM WITH "ALL THOSE BLACK PLAYERS" AND THEY UPSET KENTUCKY 72-65. THEY WOULD ALWAYS TALK ABOUT A MAN BY THE NAME OF DON HASKINS (THE BEAR) AND HOW HE HELPED TO PUT TOGETHER, STILL TO THIS DAY, THE GREATEST UPSET IN NCAA BASKETBALL HISTORY.
NOW.. HE IS IN IS OWN GLORY ROAD AND WE WILL MISS HIM AND BE LESSER MEN BECAUSE HE IS NO LONGER WITH US.
Haskins a pioneer for justice, common man By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
Don Haskins was the John Wayne of basketball, a one of a kind throwback, a coach’s coach and a man’s man who finished his career in an era overrun by the Armani-clad phonies.
When he retired in 1999 after 38 years at the University of Texas at El Paso, I dropped him a congratulatory note. A few years earlier I had written a magazine story about him and his decision to start five black players in the 1966 NCAA title game.
He got the note and called. “Now that I’ve got nothing to do, come down and visit,” he said. This was rare for a reporter. You don’t become friends with these guys. I wondered why he wanted to. Now I treasure that he did.
He picked me up at the airport in his pick-up truck. We drove into the desert to “chase clouds.” This was a good time to Haskins and what we generally did on my many ensuing visits.
A bottle of Jose Cuervo usually came along. Sometimes we’d slip into Mexico for a cerveza. Maybe we’d shoot beer cans or play pool in some little dive. One time we got up early and watched the sun come up with jackrabbits along the Rio Grande.
Mostly he’d talk and I’d listen.
Our conversations are over. Don Haskins died Sunday afternoon after a long illness. He was 78. I’m like a lot of people who loved him; richer for every moment spent with him, frightened at the prospect of going on without him.
He was a man of great courage and conviction who essentially gave up on making it to the big time of college basketball when he dared to start all those black players. Almost no big school would touch him after that. He was typecast as an outcast in a dark and unforgiving time.
He was a powerful and demanding coach known as “The Bear,” winner of 719 games and a Hall of Fame inductee. He was so tough he had a heart attack at halftime of one game and refused a stretcher. He walked to the ambulance.
He was more than that though. He was a fun loving, one-of-a-kind character. A pool hustler (he beat Willie Mosconi once), a golf gambler (he teamed with Lee Trevino) and all-time storyteller. He once had a golf bet with another coach where the winner got a home game between their two teams.
He was from a better era of sports, when it wasn’t so big, wasn’t so corporate, wasn’t so corrupt.
One time the Final Four was in Minneapolis. I was there covering it. Haskins used to show up to resell his complimentary ticket and then bail, always enjoying that he was making some quick cash off the NCAA, an organization he despised.
This time he was staying a night. He told me to meet him. He gave me the address. Normally with Haskins you went somewhere simple and smoky. For years, his favorite bar was in the lobby of a Travelodge Hotel. The guy was a walking Merle Haggard song.
At games, he relented to “dressing up” by wearing a clip-on tie. He threw more than one of them at a ref, occasionally forcing them to throw Don Haskins out of the Don Haskins Center. Planning ahead he had a buddy park a little trailer out back with a cooler full of beers.
All this considered, I thought jeans and a T-shirt more than appropriate.
The address turned out to be a big theatre, where the NCAA was holding a Final Four party. It was a big to-do and Haskins was the guest of honor. After all these years the NCAA was trying to make nice. He’d have little of it, using the opportunity to rip the association for its corrupt compliance system and for favoring East Coast teams.
The place was full of powerful people. There were conference commissioners, athletic directors, television executives and magazine editors. Everyone was in a suit. When I noticed Haskins had pressed his flannel shirt I knew I had been tricked.
“Why didn’t you tell me this was a fancy thing, I would have worn a coat and tie,” I asked him.
“I like having someone dressed worse than me,” he said. “That way when people say, ‘Did you see the guy who doesn’t know how to dress?’ they aren’t talking about me.”
The story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners was perfect for a Disney movie: On the night before the title game against Kentucky, Haskins decides to start five black players, they win and all is good.
Haskins liked “Glory Road.” He hated that part. He never said it publicly. He was above that. Fact is he had started five black players from Day 1, and the movie made Haskins look like he was afraid to do so. That pained him.
To pretend everything was great after the championship was a stretch, too. Racial slurs were never his greatest enemy. It was far more personal.
He was 36, with a wife and four kids. He had a low-paying job at a school no one had ever heard of. It had taken the family three years of living in the football dorm to save up for a house.
And he had a decision to make. A decision none of his coaching peers could understand why he was contemplating.
There was an old coaching axiom back then, when many college teams were still segregated. If you coached at a school that allowed black players, the joke went: “you played two at home, three on the road and four if you were behind.”
You never played five, especially in the South. Jackie Robinson had come along well before in baseball, but he was one black on a team full of whites. An all black team presented a different image to America.
Every coach knew it, including all of Haskins’ friends.
“They’d say, ‘Don, are you crazy?’ ” Haskins said.
By starting five black players, as he planned to do, the upward arc of his career would be over. He had started as a high school coach in a town of 253. He was a talented guy, big money and big opportunity awaited. Not this way though.
If he won, bigger, richer schools would see him as the coach of “the black team.” They’d never hire him. If he lost or, heaven forbid, there were any discipline problems with his players (there weren’t), he’d be fired and likely never work in the NCAA again.
“I understood what they were saying, I just said, ‘Piss on them,’ ” Haskins said. “Piss on them all. I brought these kids here; I’m playing my best players.’ “
The victory helped integrate not just schools but entire conferences – the ACC, SEC and Southwest Conferences were segregated at that point. Almost immediately the floodgates opened.
“He literally got thousands and thousands of black kids scholarships to college,” said Nolan Richardson, a former Haskins player. Later in life some of those players he had never met would approach him at airports and restaurants and thank him.
Haskins, as his friends predicted, got zero job offers. The only major school to ever try to hire him was his alma mater, Oklahoma State. Today if someone won an NCAA title at a mid-major, they’d choose their multimillion dollar job. Not in 1966. Not with that starting five.
He did get hate mail by the bucket. And the NCAA dispatched an investigator to look into the players’ academics (they were legit). He was shredded in much of the national media. Sports Illustrated even concluded he was exploiting blacks, not helping them, a charge his old players still bristle at.
“For a long time I said winning that championship in 1966 was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
In recent years he was no longer bitter about those days. He had come out on top in the end. The world had come around on the Glory Road he paved.
People began to appreciate that in a sports world filled with hyperbole, a young man gave up so much personally because it was the right thing to do. The thing no one else would.
I’d visit El Paso often, even if just for a few days. We’d get in the truck and drive. To Columbus, Alamogordo, Lubbock, Puerto Palomas, Dell City, Nutt, Wherever. We’d just drive and talk. Talk and drive. We’d call each other most days to discuss everything from politics to football picks to how you raise your kids.
Long after Haskins had stopped teaching players what Henry Iba taught him, he was still a coach.
There was a wisdom you could gain being around him. What he did in the 1960s was a characteristic, not an isolated action. It carried over into almost everything.
Haskins was a champion of the common man. In El Paso he is a legend, the biggest celebrity the town has ever had. Yet he never would eat at fancy restaurants or hang out with the local movers and shakers. He favored blue-collar bars and Mexican grocery counters. He skipped the Hollywood premiere of the movie, citing his health. The night before, though, he watched the Rose Bowl with lots of friends and more tequila.
As his fame grew due to Glory Road, both the movie and the book we co-wrote, he never changed. Twice he turned down chances to meet President George W. Bush. The White House asked him to join the president for breakfast in El Paso. He chose instead to eat with me at a little spot in an old motel. The next time, when the president invited the 1966 team to the White House for a dinner, Haskins skipped the offer. But not before making sure every team manager, university employee and friend of his he could think of got to go.
We once did a book signing in a saddle blanket shop in El Paso and over 2,000 people showed up. He wasn’t feeling well. We kept trying to get him to go home and rest. He wouldn’t stop signing until the line was done. It took 11 hours.
“They came here expecting this,” he said.
He’d organize massive humanitarian efforts across the border without the media ever knowing. He’d leave an overworked waitress a twenty for a cup of coffee. He’d walk into a small bar full of Mexican day workers and buy the whole place a round, a nod of respect to everything they dealt with. He gave real advice to real people, giving halftime speeches until his final days. He was the definition of color blind.
He grew up in Enid, Okla., during the great depression. He never forgot where he came from.
He had an army of people like me, some of us guys half his age of all races and creeds and colors. He showed us how to live and how to lead and sometimes just told us outrageous jokes. I have a great father I’m exceptionally close with. I wasn’t looking for a second one. Haskins wasn’t looking for another son. It just happened.
He was 36 when he won that national title, when he changed history for the better and his career prospects for the worse, when he stood up like no coach ever. I’m that age now. I wish I could say with certainty I would be strong enough to do the same.
The more time I got to know him though, I learned where “piss on them” came from.
I realized that Don Haskins could only make one decision back then. I realized courage and conviction are not one-time things. I realized what principle really meant.
And I realized what he was trying to teach me in that truck of his, through all the long drives and longer laughs, through the desert dust that’ll forever kick up behind us.
A goodbye for basketball coach Don Haskins
EL PASO, Texas (AP)—Dozens of fans, many wearing UTEP orange and blue, solemnly filed past Don Haskins’ wooden casket Tuesday at center court of the arena named for the pioneering basketball coach.
A song softly played from the soundtrack to “Glory Road,” a film about the school’s improbable 1966 NCAA title run when it was known as Texas Western College.
The Hall of Fame coach, who retired in 1999, died at 78 Sunday from congestive heart failure. Haskins is credited with helping break racial barriers by starting five black players during the 1966 championship against all-white Kentucky.
Scoreboards at the Haskins Center were lit with the final score—Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65—while a spotlight was trained on his championship banner in the rafters.
A private funeral is scheduled for Wednesday. A public memorial, expected to draw thousands, is set for Thursday at 6:35 p.m.—tip-off time for televised college basketball games.
Just about anyone who’s lived in El Paso for any time has a Haskins story, from seeing him drive through town in his old pickup to spotting him at a local bar. But those who knew him best, including former players and coaches, say Haskins did his best to keep attention off himself.
Haskins, known in El Paso as “Coach” and as “The Bear” by much of the college basketball world, passed up lucrative offers during his career. He chose to stay at the school that gave him a head coaching job as a relative unknown.
Haskins was remembered this week by fans, colleagues and former players for his passion for the game—he was known to call former UTEP coaches to chat about their new teams—and his dedication to his family and El Paso.
USC coach Tim Floyd, a former Haskins assistant, said he once got a call from the mayor of Van Horn, a small town about 120 miles east of El Paso, to thank Haskins for giving a ride to a family of five stranded along the highway.
“He’d been coyote hunting and saw a station wagon broken down,” Floyd recalled this week. “He put them (the family) in his truck, drove them to El Paso, put them up in a hotel for two nights, and gave them $1,000.”
The family drove to Los Angeles after Haskins also helped get their car repaired. The coach never told anyone about it, not even his wife, according to Floyd.
Floyd said he never told the story before, mostly because Haskins wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know.
“I’m only telling it now because he’s gone,” Floyd said. “I want people to know.”
Haskins: A winner who was not just about winning
When Glory Road came out a few years ago, Don Haskins got a different reaction from when he lived it the first time. The Bear had no idea what he was getting himself into when he started five black Texas Western players in the 1966 NCAA basketball championship game against Kentucky. Wanting simply to win, he started his best players.
"I was young," he told The Dallas Morning News in 2005, "and I wasn't thinking."
He didn't mean he wouldn't have done it. He meant he had no idea people could be so ugly, ignorant and cruel. In only two weeks after the historic win by Texas Western, now UTEP, he received 40,000 hate letters. Most were from the South., but he also heard from civil rights leaders accusing him of exploiting black athletes. The response was so overwhelmingly negative that Haskins at one point declared that he wished he'd never won the title.
Time eventually softened both sides. Unlike coaches now, who move at the least provocation or success, he stayed in El Paso. He drove his teams hard, especially on defense, and none harder than the '66 champs. Not that it showed in their easy demeanor off the court.
"They were the most confident team I ever saw," he said. "It drove me nuts."
Haskins was gruff and funny and well-respected in his profession. The rest of the world was slow to catch on.
In his last years, as his body slowly deteriorated, his wit remained. When he could still make games, even the refs paid homage.
"I tell them they look a lot better than when I was coaching," he said.
Everything about basketball looks different from the way it looked before 1966. Haskins made it happen. Here's hoping he took some comfort in that.
El Pasoans visit Don Haskins Center as coach lies in state
UPDATE: People were slowly walking into the Don Haskins Center at UTEP on Tuesday, where former UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins lies in state.
The scoreboards in the Don Haskins Center show the final score of the 1966 Texas Western College game against Kentucky, 72-65.
On a flat screen, there is playing a slideshow of Haskins' pictures, where underneath it reads, Don Haskins: 1930-2008. Softly playing in the background was the Glory Road movie's theme song, People Get Ready, sung by Alicia Keys and Lyfe Jennings.
On the arena floor were lit up flags that read Texas Western College NCAA Champions 1966.
The east side of the arena was set up like a game day, with 15 chairs where the team would be sitting.
On the second chair over, where Haskins would have sat, there was draped a black cloth, and on it was a rolled up program like Haskins would often carry.
Next to the chairs was a single table with a basketball and a shot clock.
People walked slowly in a rectangular direction around Haskins open wooden casket. On top of the casket was an arrangement of red, green and yellow chiles.
Some of the visitors stopped and prayed and many were wearing UTEP colors, including at least one old Texas Western jersey.
There was heightened security around the Don Haskins Center, and all visitors must enter through the tunnel adjacent to Glory Road.
ORIGINAL STORY: EL PASO -- In memory of college basketball Hall of Fame member and legendary former UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins, who died Sunday, the Haskins family will have two events this week so the public can pay respects.
"It's something they wanted because he's their father and husband, but he belongs to El Paso. There has never been a greater man to come through El Paso and do more for this city," said longtime family friend Jim Paul. "The family's attitude is we're going to share him as much as we can. But for the close family and close friends, the service and burial should be just for them."
Haskins will lie in state between noon and 8 p.m. Tuesday and a memorial service will be at 6:45 p.m. Thursday. Both events will be at the Don Haskins Center, said Bob Stull, University of Texas at El Paso athletic director.
The Haskins family will have private funeral services Wednesday.
Flags will fly at half-staff starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Stull said.
Paul said if Haskins were still alive, he would not agree with the events planned for him.
"I know what he'd say. He'd say, 'What in the hell are you doing? I don't need this,' " Paul said. "He was a very simple man with simple means. He came from a simple family during the (Great) Depression. He loved everything he did, but he would rather give than receive. He was just a really humble man."
Haskins, who died of congestive heart failure Sunday, was nationally known for leading Texas Western College, now UTEP, to the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship with five black players as starters against an all-Anglo Kentucky team.
On Sunday, the star coach's death sent a shock wave throughout El Paso, across Texas and other states. The community and many local officials poured out their memories of Haskins as they grieved his death.
"He belongs to El Paso and this is the way the family says we'll give him to you all you want, just allow us privacy to bury him. They know he belongs to El Paso; he stayed here and never wanted to leave," said Paul. "I can tell you that he would be fired mad at me and Mary (because of the events). At this particular time, we'd say 'You know what Haskins, this one time we're not asking your opinion. You're just going to go with it.' "
Haskins' 'Glory Road' trip will shine forever
Don Haskins, The Bear, passed away late Sunday afternoon at age 78 but his legacy -- in the form of both stories and actual events -- will live on. Late in his life, years after he had been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and years after he had been praised by almost every notable coach, Haskins received a double tribute.
First came "Glory Road" the book, then came "Glory Road" the motion picture.
Haskins enjoyed it all. Oh, he occasionally fussed and groused about this or that. But he loved it, loved seeing it all come to life again and loved even more seeing all his old players on a regular basis.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanted Haskins to do a cameo role in the movie, said it just had to be done. Haskins, unassuming as always, would have no part of it. Finally, Bruckheimer went to the last resort. He begged. Haskins, under that ever-gruff exterior, was far too soft-hearted to say no. So he griped a little more and did it.
The little scene, Haskins in coveralls, bellowing "You want to fill 'er up?" simply jumped off the screen to El Pasoans and to his friends around the country. It was priceless. But it was not easy.
"They had me do a jillion takes on that," Haskins said afterward. "Finally, after the 16th take, I just said, that's it. That's the best I've got. I'm done."
Haskins stalked off and the film editors were left to take their best effort. They chose well.
Later, when he received a nice check in the mail for his appearance, Haskins asked Bruckheimer, "You got any more lines I can say?"
That was vintage Don Haskins -- strong and fierce and gruff, and unassuming and humble, and, more than anything, funny.
On Monday, Bruckheimer's office was calling, wanting to know where to send a tribute to the man. Sunday, Josh Lucas, the actor who portrayed Haskins, sent an e-mail saying it was "nothing but a total blessing to have been involved for a tiny slice." The movie, as movies do, will live forever. People will continuallybe introduced and re-introduced to the genius of Haskins, to his strength of character, to his 1966 NCAA men's championship basketball team.
Dan Wetzel wrote a wonderful book about Haskins, doubling the pleasure for posterity. In a tribute to Haskins on Yahoo.com on Monday, Wetzel wrote, "The guy was a walking Merle Haggard song."
Wetzel, like so many friends and so many former players, is on his way to El Paso to pay final respects to this giant of a man, this John Wayne of the coaching world.
In a telephone interview, he talked about the man he wrote a book about and the man who became a special friend.
"I loved him from the start as a reporter," Wetzel said. "I had an interview set up and I was expecting about an hour. Four hours later we finished. Everybody knows what he did in 1966. Just because Coach Haskins never got back to the Final Four doesn't mean he did not continue to do things the same way throughout his career. Courage and conviction are not one-time things. The dignity he showed so many people is special.
"You know, we all think we are never going to be able to have an impact on society the way he did," Wetzel added. "But all of us can notice a waitress struggling a little bit and leave her a big tip. Coach would see someone struggling, someone extra tired, and leave a $20 tip for a cup of coffee. Very few of us can do things that can impact the world. But when you do the little things every day, the big things come easy. That was Coach."
Wetzel said writing the book was a special experience, a moment in time that forged something new in his life.
"It was an unbelievable experience, spending all that time with Coach," Wetzel said. "I remember telling my publishers that most of the interviews were done in a GMC truck with a bottle of tequila riding shotgun. They laughed and said that was a funny story. I told them that that was no story, that's what happened."
Haskins was the most competitive man you would ever meet. He was also a restless soul. He loved to ride in his pickup, cruising the outskirts of the city at around 15-20 miles per hour.
Laughing, Wetzel said, "If Don Haskins were with the Border Patrol, no one would ever get in illegally. He knew every piece of sand in the high desert."
Pausing, Wetzel added, "He just had this greatness about him."
To most, including Wetzel, Haskins was a modern-day John Wayne -- standing strong, doing the right thing and not really worrying what anyone else thought about it.
That is the way he coached and that is the way he lived and that is why he started those five talented young black men against Kentucky that March night nearly 43 years ago in Maryland.
In his final days, Haskins was very ill and very uncomfortable. He had a little television next to his bed and it flickered 24 hours, black and white Westerns rolling across the screen.
He was a real cowboy.
Nevil Shed, one of the Glory Road Gang, a member of that 1966 team, said, "You talk about Glory Road. Coach Haskins is now at Glory Road."