Coach Don ‘The Bear’ Haskins

 

head coaching record – overall:

719–353 (.671)

accomplishments and honors:

championships:

NCAA Tournament Championship (1966)
WAC Tournament Championship (1984, 1986, 1989, 1990)
WAC Championship (1970, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1992)

Basketball Hall of Fame

Inducted in 1997

College Basketball Hall of Fame

Inducted in 2006

history of ‘the bear’

Donald Lee Haskins, nicknamed “The Bear” (March 14, 1930 – September 7, 2008), was an American collegiate basketball coach and player. He played for three years under legendary coach Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University). He was the head coach at Texas Western College (renamed the University of Texas at El Paso in 1967) from 1961 to 1999, including the 1966 season when his team won the NCAA Tournament over the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky, coached by coaching great Adolph Rupp.

In his time at Texas Western, he compiled a 719–353 record, suffering only five losing seasons. He won 14 Western Athletic Conference championships, four WAC tournament titles, had fourteen NCAA tournament berths and made seven trips to the NIT. Haskins led UTEP to 17 20-plus win seasons and served as an assistant Olympic team coach in 1972.

He was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997 as a basketball coach. The 1966 team was nominated in its entirety to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and was inducted to the Hall on September 7, 2007.

Haskins died at his home on September 7, 2008. He is survived by his wife, Mary; three sons Brent, David and Steve and three grandsons, John Paul, Cameron and Dominick.

early coaching career

After college and a stint with the Amateur Athletic Union’s Artesia Travelers, Haskins began coaching, successfully leading some small-town high school basketball teams. He took a pay cut for a chance to be a college coach, accepting a job offer at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) in 1961.

In the 1950s, prior to Haskins’ arrival, Texas Western recruited and played African American players, in a time when it was still common to find all-white college sports teams, particularly in the South. When Haskins arrived in El Paso, he inherited three black players from his coaching predecessor (one of those players, El Paso native Nolan Richardson, would go on to win a national title as the head coach at Arkansas).

The Miners reached the National Invitation Tournament (commonly called the NIT) in 1963 and 1964 and played in the NIT in 1965. On numerous occasions, Haskins stated that he believed his 1964 team could have won the NCAA Tournament had All-American Jim “Bad News” Barnes not fouled out after playing only 8 minutes in a 64–60 loss to Kansas State in the Tournament.

1966 ncaa championship team

The Texas Western Miners finished the 1965–66 regular season with a 23–1 record, entering the NCAA Tournament ranked third in the nation in the final regular season AP college basketball poll.

In the first round of the tournament, the Miners defeated Oklahoma City 89–74. In the next round, they defeated Cincinnati 78–76 in overtime. They went on to defeat Kansas in double overtime in the Midwest Regional Finals, 81–80, and to defeat Utah in the national semifinals, 85–78.

Facing the top-ranked University of Kentucky in the championship game, Haskins made history by starting five African American players for the first time in a championship game against Kentucky’s all-white squad, coached by Adolph Rupp. The Miners took the lead midway in the first half and never relinquished it — though Kentucky closed to within a point early in the second half. The Miners finished with 72 points to Kentucky’s 65, winning the tournament and finishing the year with a 28–1 record.

Later asked about his decision to start five African American players, Haskins downplayed the significance of his decision. “I really didn’t think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court,” Haskins was later quoted as saying. “I just wanted to win that game.”

Though credited with setting in motion the desegregation of college basketball teams in the South, he wrote in his book, Glory Road, “I certainly did not expect to be some racial pioneer or change the world.”

post-championship career

Although Haskins was never able to duplicate his 1966 success, he is nonetheless regarded as an important figure in basketball history. Among the players he coached at UTEP over the years were future NBA all-stars Nate Archibald, Tim Hardaway, and Antonio Davis. Other UTEP alums moving to the NBA included Marlon Maxey and Greg Foster. He was also a mentor for several future coaches, including Nolan Richardson and Tim Floyd. He served as an assistant coach under Hank Iba in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

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