Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Coach Hall : He Followed "The Program's Legend"-Embracing It Like No One Else

Wildcats Thunder Administrator


LEXINGTON, KY., 1972 - Just five years before – his predecessor was voted as college basketball’s “Coach of the Century.” Now, the LEGENDARY Coach of Kentucky Basketball was forced to retire due to the mandatory retirement age for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Coach Rupp didn’t like it – and he fought it.

Nevertheless, Joe B. Hall was the unanimous selection by the Board of Trustees and became just the second head coach at the University of Kentucky in more than four decades.“I don’t see any other program like Kentucky,” Hall told Rick Bailey during an interview that led to a feature story in the 12/1983 edition of “Inside Sports” magazine. “THE PROGRAM (MAKE THAT A capital “T,” Hall says; the “P” has been capitalized for ages) consumes almost all of Kentucky.” (Blogger's note: for years I’ve called UK THE Program on several UK boards when defining and outlining THE winningest program in the history of D-I Revenue Generating Sports because of this quote in the aforementioned article).

Hall considered himself subservient to The Program. “Notre Dame football is similar. I grew up here, I played here, and I was here seven years [as an assistant]. I understood the extent of The Program and what was expected of me. The Program was so dear to so many people, and they wanted it to continue with the type of success coach Rupp had. I feel constant pressure to protect the tradition of Kentucky basketball. I am sensitive when anything attempts to tear it down or make it less than what it is. That [responsibility] supersedes my own personal feelings. It has to be protected. There are segments of our society [which Hall does not identify] who would like to see Kentucky not be the dominant program that it is.”

THE Program overshadowed the person, and that is the way that Joe B. Hall liked it.


Blogger's note: There are several UK fans who feel that this passion and devotion to THE PROGRAM has disappeared in recent years. In the coaches, some of the fan base, etc. It is why after reading those quotes and rereading that article as I prepared to “pen” this article about Joe B. Hall – that I fully believe that Coach Hall loved THE PROGRAM more than any coach since Rupp – BY FAR! It’s not even close. That’s another reason why the staff of WILDCATS THUNDER worked hard and pulled together the Game of the Week for UK fans to begin remembering and learning again what some have seemed to sweep under the rug – UK’ basketball history is SECOND TO NONE and there are so many “greats” that have created the Big Blue Monster that is housed in Joe B. Hall’s Wildcat Lodge and Rupp Arena. Yes, today’s generation is a “now” generation – but it is important to also remember “what got you where you are today.”


Quick background

Joe B. Hall grew up in Cynthiana, KY. He went to UK to study and played for Coach Rupp sparingly at best during the time of the Fabulous Five. After two years in Lexington, Hall transferred to the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. After establishing a single-game scoring record, he left college and toured with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1951. Ultimately he returned to Lexington and graduated from UK in 1955.

One year later, Hall’s coaching career began at Shepherdsville (KY) High School. As it says in UK’s media guide, “it continued on to Regis College in Denver, where he spent five years (57-50 record), and Central Missouri State, where he recorded a 19-6 mark in one season before returning to UK as an assistant to Rupp.” The weight training program (which was ahead of it’s time) that he brought to UK that season helped turn a 13-13 squad (Rupp’s worst ever) into one of UK’s favorite teams of all-time; Rupp’s Runts, the national runners-up. In 1969, Hall accepted the head coaching position at St. Louis University. However – in what I believe to be a telling action of Coach Rupp’s belief in Hall’s coaching ability (and perhaps future in Lexington…?) he talked Hall out of it and convinced him to return home.

A Hall of Fame Career without question

There is significant evidence that Hall built his own legacy after following Coach Rupp – something that no one else even considered – for you see, Joe B. Hall was the only applicant for the vacancy created by Coach Rupp’s mandatory retirement. Apparently, the thought of replacing the Man in the Brown suit revealed a ton of insecurities in coaches afraid to fail – or follow THE legend. Joe B. Hall embraced that challenge and took it head on. Yes, Coach Rupp fought his retirement. Many at the time felt that he didn’t want his successor to succeed and perhaps that’s why there was only one applicant. But Hall was ready for the challenge. “Following Coach Rupp wasn’t a burden; it was a blessing,” Hall said. “I never attempted to erase his reputation, nor was I competing with him. I’d been a fan of his, I’d played for him, I coached for him. I’d idolized him for years. An outsider wouldn’t have understood the pressure, the expectation, and the high visibility.”

The aforementioned evidence shows that all Hall did was win 8 SEC regular season titles, one NCAA Championship and one runner-up in 3 trips to the Final Four, 1 NIT title, 1 National Coach of the Year, 4 SEC Coach of the Year awards (5 times his peers voted him SEC Coach of the Year), coached 15 All-SEC players who were selected 35 times and 7 All-Americans who were selected 15 times (these stats are totaled from Jon Scott’s site and differ with UK’s site FWIW). Five of his players were drafted in the NBA’s first round and a total of 23 players were drafted in all. This in just 13 seasons…!

He also established at least 297 consecutive NCAA records while running “THE Program.” Coach John Wooden didn’t do that. Coach Dean Smith didn’t. Coach K will never approach it either. Each of Coach Hall’s wins at UK’s head coach extended the victory total for the winningest program of all-time. Each win – established another NCAA record.

Couple that with his team’s and player’s aforementioned performances over 13 seasons and one has got to wonder – what does one have to do in order to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame!?

Oh sure there are detractors. What about the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Pulitzer Prize winning series regarding alleged booster improprieties at UK under Coach Hall’s watch? How about his steadfast refusal to schedule the University of Louisville? There is no question that Coach Hall was no media celebrity. He admits that he devoted little attention to his public persona or public relations. As a workaholic – defending THE Program – he worked tirelessly to keep it on top. “For the most part, I’ve stayed in the background and tried to keep a low profile.” Attention was something that Hall did not seek for himself. About Hall and the media at the time, Cats Pause founder Oscar Combs said that “the media look at him as one small part of their daily chores, but he (Hall) looks at them as one big thorn in his side.”

You don’t think that played into Billy Reed’s and other Kentucky scribes at the time pushing, prodding and trying to force Hall to acquiesce and put UL on the schedule to you? ::)

Regardless, other coaches with a less impressive and even tainted resumes are in the Hall of Fame (see Frank McGuire while at UNC). Sue Gunter? Pete Carril? Lou Carnesecca? Ed Hickey? Dutch Lonborg? In no way do I mean to degrade any of the aforementioned Hall of Famers…but their coaching resumes – and several others -- don’t match Joe B. Hall’s. Not even close!

Joe B. Hall deserves to be in “the Hall.” Period.

Like many things surrounding THE Program in Lexington, it doesn’t matter that things were never proven. Heresay rules the day when you’re talking about the University of Kentucky.
In closing

He did understand the pressure of following Rupp. He was no outsider. He grew up just 20 minutes from Lexington. We now know that he was the only man for the job – both literally and figuratively.

“I was a fan like all other kids living in the shadows of Kentucky basketball,” says Hall. “I kept scrapbooks of my clippings and those of the Wildcats. I would see the Kentucky players at the state high school tournament and idolize them. I grew up with Kentucky basketball.”

Dale Brown, LSU’s former coach and thorn in UK’s side during the late 70s and early 80s had this to say about Coach Hall; “No one will appreciate the job Joe Hall has done at Kentucky until he leaves.” If may be years from now before he gets his proper due. And Joe has been highly successful in a whole new league. It’s no longer Kentucky and nine other teams. People in Kentucky haven’t accepted that. I know this. I set Kentucky as my beacon light when we started this ‘Tiger safari.’ Kentucky was the team I wanted to catch and surpass. They were king of the mountain. The whole SEC has Kentucky to thank for our conference’s rise to national power. I applaud Joe Hall.”

Have “we” really appreciated the job that Joe Hall did in following Adolph Rupp?

With the love and devotion that Joe B. Hall has for the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Program – isn’t it time that the legendary Big Blue Nation begin to campaign for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame? I have no doubt that Coach Hall would not support an initiative that would force him into the spotlight (unlike other UK coaches of the past…) – but it’s l-o-n-g overdue in my opinion.

We owe it to ourselves and to Coach Hall to see it happen.


You can read more about Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall in the links below.

UK Athletics Men’s Basketball Site, Jon Scott’s Big Blue History site, UK’s 2006-07 Men’s Basketball Media Guide (page 100)

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