Time runs out on a legendary career After 828 wins, 'Bighouse' Gaines retires

February 28, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

RICHMOND, VA. — Richmond, Va.-- For Clarence "Bighouse" Gaines, the first half was like old times. Exhorting his players as he slowly paced the sidelines of the Richmond Coliseum, Gaines' Winston-Salem State University team was leading by five and playing well against heavily favored Elizabeth City.

But in the end there was no Cleo Hill to drill the long-range jumper. There was no Earl "The Pearl" Monroe spinning into the lane, working his magic. This night would end with "Bighouse" spending most of the second half sunken in his seat, with alternating gazes at the action on the court and the scoreboard clock.

The final score was Elizabeth City 105, Winston-Salem 64. The loss eliminated the Rams in the first round of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament. And, after 47 years, it marked the final game for one of college basketball's

legendary coaches. Gaines, 69, had announced his retirement on Feb. 19 in a move that was urged by the university.

"In athletics, you learn quick when something is over," Gaines said when asked how he felt as he watched the final seconds tick away. "You wish you had a stopwatch, so that you could speed up and get it over with."

When Gaines first got into the profession as an assistant coach ** in 1946, he did so as a temporary means to earn money to

go to dental school.

L Gaines never got to pull any teeth. But he did get to coach.

Gaines' 828 victories are second all-time to Adolph Rupp (875); he's a member of eight halls of fame; five times he was CIAA Coach of the Year and once NCAA College Division Coach of the Year; he coached 11 CIAA championship teams.

Perhaps his longevity led many to take him for granted. By the time the final horn sounded on Wednesday night, the majority of fans had left. There was no acknowledgment from the public address announcer. Just a few handshakes and embraces as he slowly walked out of the arena.

"I've been honored around the country," Gaines said of his low-key farewell. "Just about anywhere a guy could be honored, to be frank with you. And I appreciate it.

"But you don't have to sing any sad songs about me. Some people think I'm going to die without basketball. But I've got a lot of ties with a lot of different groups. I won't have trouble staying busy."

The opportunity

As he looks back, Gaines believes he was destined to coach. He was always the kid who organized games, the one who collected money for equipment and the one who set the rules.

Standing 6 feet 3 and weighing 265 pounds, Gaines excelled in basketball and football in his hometown of Paducah, Ky. Looking to further his education during an era that offered blacks very few opportunities, Gaines enrolled at Morgan State in 1941. He majored in chemistry and played football and basketball.

"I was an All-American in football," Gaines said. "In basketball, I wasn't much of a player, I was just big. We didn't have a gym, so we used to practice in an auditorium on Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the lack of resoures, we were able to draw some of the best athletes in the country."

Upon graduation from Morgan, Gaines was presented with two opportunities. He was accepted into the dental program at Howard University. There was also the chance to become an assistant coach at Winston-Salem State Teachers College. Looking to earn money to continue his education, Gaines went to North Carolina. When Brutus Wilson retired one year after his arrival, Gaines became head coach.

"When you were coach that meant you coached everything," Gaines said. "So I coached football, basketball, track, and I also taught.

"It was a lot, but I enjoyed it. After a while I just said, 'I'll stick here.' "

Success played a big role. Gaines was named CIAA Coach of the Year -- for football -- after his 1948 team went 8-1-1. But he was better known for molding a basketball team, winning the CIAA title in 1953 and posting 20 consecutive winning seasons before his 1968 team went 10-14.

"When I began this was a trial-and-error thing, and I went to every clinic I could go to to learn technique and philosophy," Gaines said. "I knew that I didn't know all that I was supposed to know. You just observe and take a lot of things from different people."

A lot of his education came from John McLendon, a basketball hall of famer who became the first black head coach of a professional sports team when he coached the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League for part of the 1961-62 season (McLendon was fired in midseason by George Steinbrenner, a part-owner of the team). Before winning three straight NAIA national championships at Tennessee State from 1957 to 1959, McLendon coached for 11 years at North Carolina College -- where he and Gaines became friends.

"He was so far ahead of us in terms of coaching that I said, 'Why not sit at the foot of the master and learn,' " Gaines said. "He had a tremendous amount of influence on my philosophy."

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