By DAVID MILLER News Sports Writer
It was with sadness that I read The Associated Press story last week concerning the death of veteran basketball coach Tex Winter.
Although Winter had a long distinguished career coaching basketball, first at the college level and then in the NBA, he will always have a special place in my memory. That memory goes back 54 years or so when he was the coach at Kansas State University and I was a wet-behind-the-ears college sports reporter.
It was fitting that the dateline on the AP story about Winter’s death was Manhattan, Kan. For one thing, that was where he was living at the time of his passing. But more importantly, that is probably the place where his name is revered more than in any other geographical location.
Winter came to Manhattan in 1947 as an assistant coach under Jack Gardner. He was Gardner’s assistant until 1951 when he was hired as head coach at Marquette. In 1953 Gardner left Manhattan to take the coaching job at Utah and Winter was hired as the K-State head. He would remain as head coach of the Wildcats until 1968.
In his tenure at K-State he took two teams to the Final Four. The first was in 1958 and the second was the one I remember best, in 1964.
I was in high school in 1958, which probably was the best college team of Winter’s collegiate coaching career.
On that team were All-American’s Bob Boozer and Jack Parr. Some of the other players were Roy DeWitz, Wally Frank, Hayden Abbott and Don Matuszak. Far down on the bench was a sophomore guard Bill Guthridge, who later became the right-hand man of coaching legend Dean Smith at North Carolina and who became North Carolina coach in his own right after Smith’s retirement.
What I remember most about the 1958 season was that Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain had gone into the season as heavy favorites to winthe Big 8 Conference and possibly the NCAA. After all, the Chamberlain-led Jayhawks had been runners-up in the 1957 NCAA Tournament losing in three overtimes to North Carolina.
Kansas started the season being ranked No. 2. K-State got some early-season respect and was ranked No. 5 in the initial AP poll. K-State went through the Big 8 season winning 10 games and losing two. Kansas finished in second place in the conference with an 8-4 record. In those years only the conference champion qualified for the NCAA tournament, so the Jayhawks stayed at home. Oklahoma State, which had just joined the conference but didn’t play a round-robin schedule against Big 8 teams and wasn’t eligible for the conference championship, also received an invitation to play in the NCAAs as an at-large team.
The Midwest Regional in 1958 was held in Gallagher Hall (it hadn’t been renamed Gallagher-Iba Arena yet) in Stillwater. Since Oklahoma State was an at-large entry it had to play a play-in game with Loyola of Los Angeles to gain entry into the semi-final round. The Cowboys easily won that game and then played Arkansas (the Southwest Conference champion) and easily won that contest. Kansas State had a tougher time beating the Missouri Valley champion Cincinnati Bearcats, but it did, setting up a Regional Championship between OSU and K-State. I remember listening on the radio as Boozer, Parr and the rest of the Wildcats defeated Oklahoma State to earn a spot in the Final Four.
The Final Four was in Louisville. Other teams were Kentucky, Temple and Seattle. Seattle had a player named Elgin Baylor and again I remember listening as Baylor led his team to an easy win over K-State. It was considered an upset because the Wildcats had been ranked No. 1 for several weeks in the AP poll. Kentucky won over Temple and then defeated Seattle in the championship game.They played third-place games in the NCAA tourney back then and Temple topped K-State in it.
But it was 1964 Final Four that I remember most vividly. I had the privilege of being in charge of the sports department (another guy and me) at the K-State Collegian in 1964. My personal beat was the basketball team and I had the opportunity to talk to Coach Winter on a regular basis. On the team then were Willie Murrell (from Taft, Okla.) seven-footer Roger Suttner, Jeff Simons, Max Moss and Sammy Robinson. Some of the subs were Joe Gottfried, Ron Paradis, Dave Nelson and Lou Poma.
Murrell was the go-to guy. He averaged 22 points per game and was on quite a few All-American lists at the end of the season. Suttner was a bean pole, standing 7-0 but weighing about 180 or 190 pounds. K-State had the players, but the linchpin to success was the coach. He had invented what he called the “Triple-Post” offense and the 1964 Wildcats executed it almost to perfection. In talking to Tex Winter one immediately was impressed with his manner and his innate intelligence. And while watching his team play it was obvious that it had full confidence in his coaching skills.
After a couple of losses during the season, K-State started turning things around and went on a winning streak. Winter realized that there was a common thread (or threads as it turned out) to the team’s success. His brown suit. He declared the suit his good-luck suit and refused to wear any other, reportedly to his wife’s chagrin. The winning continued through the remainder of the Big 8 schedule and at the end the Wildcats had qualified for the NCAA tournament by being conference champion.
The Midwest Regional that year was in Wichita, and my sports cohort and I obtained press passes. My brother lived in Wichita and by stayingovernight at his house it was affordable for the two of us to cover the two-day event.
There were two play-in games in the Midwest Region that year. Oklahoma City, coached by the renowned Abe Lemons, and Creighton played in one, with Creighton coming out the winner. Texas A&M and Texas Western played the other and Texas Western advanced to the Wichita event. Wichita (it wouldn’t become Wichita State until later that year) easily defeated Creighton, but K-State had a tough time before topping Texas Western by four or five points. Texas Western was coached by Don Haskins (a native of Enid) and had an All-American who was affectionately known as Jim “Bad News” Barnes by his fans.
In the final it was a foregone conclusion that Wichita would win. The Shockers were the higher ranked team and had a three or four really great players including Dave Stallworth, Nate Bowman and Kelly Pete. In addition they were able to play on their home floor. The game turned out to be a high scoring affair, with K-State pulling off the upset with an eight-point victory. Wichita was concentrating on stopping Murrell. Seeing that, Coach Winter devised plays that would free up Jeff Simons for shots and Simons responded by having a big game.
The Final Four that year was in Kansas City, just a short ride down Interstate 70 from Manhattan. Again I got a press pass. For someone who was very young and from a very small town, the events at the tournament were eye-popping. The other teams were Duke, Michigan and UCLA. Winter and the Wildcats drew UCLA in the opening game and the coach’s brown suit lost its charm on that night. It turned out to be the second time that season UCLA had beaten K-State. I remember the post-game pressroom interviews very vividly. One involved UCLA’s Coach JohnWooden. That was very special for a number of reasons. But the other, of course, involved Tex Winter.
Even after a disappointing defeat, Coach was very gracious and answered what I perceived to be reporters’ dumb questions with ease and in good humor.
The brown suit apparently had lost all its magic as Michigan won the third-place game the next night. And again Coach Winter was gracious in defeat.
Those are special memories, but the one that I hold to most intently involves a story that I ill-advisedly broke later in the year. It involved one of his assistant coaches taking the head coaching position at Manhattan High. I was walking around the offices portion of Ahearn Fieldhouse one afternoon and I just happened to see Coach Winter, the assistant in question and a man that I recognized as the Manhattan High principal going into a conference room. I knew the basketball coaching job at the high school was vacant and I made the mental leap that Coach Winter’s assistant was moving on to the high school level. I wrote a brief story stating that as fact and was gratified when I learned later that my assumption was right.
But my journalism adviser was aghast when he learned of the situation, and reprimanded me on not having verified my hunch before putting it in print. He pointed out that it had been a very poor performance on my part.
The next time I ran into Coach Winter, he looked at me and said, “Good job on that story,” and added with a wink. “Don’t ever do it again.”
After the news of his death became known, tributes from basketball people that included two of the super stars he worked with in the NBA—Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant—were touching and a good measure of the man’s life. I know in the few minutes his path crossed mine he certainly made a tremendous impact.