The talk in the hallway was about the glory days, but from the podium, Clarence E. "Bighouse" Gaines spoke about the future of the young men and women being honored at Morgan State's annual athletic awards banquet last night.
That's appropriate. Gaines, Morgan State Class of 1945, has spent the last 46 years becoming a legend at Winston-Salem State University. He has been the winning basketball coach in 806 games and has just as many stories to tell, but the first question concerns Adolph Rupp. The late Kentucky coach retired with 875 victories, and Rupp is the only name ahead of Gaines on the all-time wins list.
"I'm not really concerned with that," said Gaines, 68. "As long as I can make a contribution of some kind, I'll keep on coaching. I enjoy what I've been doing."
Gaines is a little more than three 20-win seasons from catching Rupp, but his problem in recent years has been too many campaigns like this winter's 10-14 record. Winston-Salem plays in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, one of the nation's best Division II conferences, and Gaines has to hustle to keep up with the Virginia Unions of the world.
"I went recruiting in Washington today [yesterday]," Gaines said. "I drove up here Sunday because I wanted to go by and see Mrs. Hurt. She's 87 now."
She is the widow of Eddie P. Hurt, the man who ran Morgan State athletics when Gaines was a student-athlete there. Gaines played basketball at Morgan State, and his greatest fame has come in that sport, but Gaines was best known in college as a football lineman. In his four years the Golden Bears lost only three times -- 8-6 to Hampton in 1941, 6-0 to Johnson C. Smith '42 and 2-0 to Tuskegee in '44.
"I also threw the discus for the track and field team," said Gaines, who wrinkles his nose at the specialization rampant in 1991. "When I was here, Eddie Hurt was coached everything and Talmadge Hill was the assistant in everything. Today, you have meetings all day and then you break down film. We didn't have any of that crap.
"We didn't even have a basketball gym. We'd practice twice a week in a ballroom on Pennsylvania Avenue. We didn't even start playing basketball until after Christmas. After Thanksgiving, you would go to work at the parcel post station at Penn Station for a month. If you were a Morgan athlete, Mr. Davis there had a job for you."
Gaines got his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Morgan State and went to work at Winston-Salem State, where he has enjoyed the longest tenure ever in college basketball. He said Baltimore was one of the friendliest towns he had ever been in, and two decades later he more than repaid the city.
It was during the 1966-67 season, when Gaines had his best team ever -- the team that would win the NCAA College Division championship with a guard named Earl Monroe. Winston-Salem still played the Golden Bears then; Morgan State didn't leave the CIAA until in the early 1970s.
"Buddy Jeannette [then with the Baltimore Bullets] came to see us play at Morgan," Gaines said. "He told me all the things Earl couldn't do. I guess he changed his mind later."
Monroe, of course, was the NBA Rookie of the Year for the Bullets the following season. Twenty-three years and some 400 wins later, Gaines is out there looking for another like him.