“Legend” is a term that is often overused in modern day sports circles. However, in rare cases it is sometimes so obvious that it goes without saying. That is the case with Hilltopper legend John Oldham. Outside of the great E. A. Diddle, very few, if any, have contributed as much to Western’s glorious basketball tradition as John Oldham has. An all-stater out of Hartford, Ky., Oldham arrived on the “Hill” in the Fall of 1942 as one of Mr. Diddle’s prized recruits. By the time his collegiate playing career ended Oldham had participated in three NIT tournaments and was named to both the AP & UPI All-American teams in 1949.
After a two year stint with the Ft. Wayne (Detroit) Pistons he returned home to Western and served as the coach of all sports at College High. In 1955 Oldham was named head basketball coach at OVC rival Tennessee Tech, where over a period of nine years he posted an impressive 9-9 record against his alma mater. After leading Tech to three NCAA tournament appearances in nine years Oldham again returned home to the “Hill” when he was named as the successor to the retiring E. A. Diddle in 1964. From 1964 to 1971 he led the Toppers to one NIT appearance and four NCAA appearances, including the great Final Four team of 1971. Resigning from his head coaching post in 1971, Oldham moved into the athletic director’s position where he stayed until his retirement in 1986.
This interview was conducted on Friday, July 10, 1998 inside of E. A. Diddle Arena. The total time was around 2 hrs. and 10 minutes and it has been transcribed here almost in its entirety. As with the Bobby Rascoe interview various photos have been inserted throughout the pages as they relate to the adjoining text. Two hours with Coach Oldham seemed like 10 minutes and as a result there are many topics that we weren’t able to delve into deeply. However, I feel like we touched upon most of the major areas of interest, and hopefully in the future we will be able to sit down once again and discuss a few more subjects in greater detail.
HH: Well, the first thing I want to talk about is your early years in high school. When did you first become aware of Western Basketball and when did you first come into contact with Coach Diddle? Was it at your father’s store that he used to run?
JO: Well, see practically all of the teachers in my school were graduates of Western and when Dr. Cherry died our high school and grade school dismissed school the day of the funeral and that was probably the beginning of my knowledge of Western…..the fact that we got off a day of school when Dr. Cherry passed away.
HH: This was Hartford?
JO: Hartford, Ky. Population 1,000. We played in a gym that would seat……..I don’t know, three or four hundred people. We had outstanding teams. I was very fortunate in having a great high school coach by the name of Charles Combs who played at the University of kentucky and came from the mountains of Kentucky. And he came in my freshman year of high school and he was my coach my freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. My junior and senior years we made it to the “Sweet Sixteen.” Of course I always list that as one of the highlights of my life……playing in the state tournament. I was fortunate in having a couple of good ball games and was selected on the all-state team.
HH: This was 1941?
JO: This was 1941 & ’42. Forty-two was the year that I made high school all-state. Mr. Diddle and President Thompson – President Thompson at that time was sports information director – and they would go through Hartford and a lot of times I didn’t even know about it, and they would go and visit my daddy’s general store and they established a good relationship with him. I think they sold him on the idea, you know, that it was only fifty miles and they could come and see me play if I came to Western. I guess that may have been the primary reason that I came to Western. Mr. Diddle selected me for the Kentucky All-Star team that played the Indiana high school all-star team……
HH: He was coach of the Kentucky team?
JO: He was coach of the Kentucky team, and probably the greatest recruiting tool that he had was the fact that he could bring in 12 of the best high school players in the state of Kentucky every year………
HH: So he was the coach every year?
JO: Yeah, he was the coach every year and it was a great recruiting tool for him to bring us up here for a week in preparation for the game in Indianapolis………they only played it in Indianapolis in the beginning.
I can’t remember everybody that was on our team but I remember Jack Coleman who was All-American at the University of Louisville and played professional ball with the Rochester Royals….he was on this team. And Paul Moll who played at the University of Kentucky was on this team, so we had a real good team. We got beat….I think it was like 42-40. So that was really the beginning of knowing Mr. Diddle……it was after my senior year.
HH: What were your first impressions of him when you met him?
JO: Well, he seemed like a very humble person…….I have told I think everybody that I have ever talked to in my life that his greatest attribute in coaching probably was his ability to recruit. I think he was, and probably to this day, the greatest recruiter in college basketball. He was a great motivator, a good disciplinarian, and he let Coach Hornback handle a lot of the offense and defense and he excelled in recruiting and the other things that I just told you about. The year before I came up here his ball club went to the NIT Tournament and went to the finals and got beat by West Virginia by two points (ed note: 47-45) and West Virginia had…….their great ball player was a guy by the name of Scotty Hamilton who
I was privileged to play with in the Navy. The NIT only invited eight teams and Western was one of those teams and I believe Western probably, and Dayton, might hold a record of being invited more than anyone else to the NIT. I don’t know whether that would hold true today since they have a pre-season NIT which is completely different. But the National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden that was the big tournament….
HH: Just like the NCAA is today.
JO: Yeah. Of course going into New York……..I don’t know how big it was, six, seven, eight million. And that’s where all your magazines and all your sportswriters and everything were. And Mr. Diddle was colorful , he was probably the most colorful person I’ve ever seen in basketball. And I give a lot of credit to Dr. Thompson, the fact that he emphasized the Red Towel, and Mr. Diddle would…….in fact he threw it up in the air in Philadelphia and it came out on the middle of the floor and we got a technical foul (Laughs). But he would beat the floor with the towel, it was wet, and he would occasionally hit us with it, not hard, but to sort of wake us up. And he was always wiping his face, he perspired a lot. But a man that can win 759 ball games and stay at one school for 42 years….you don’t find them anymore. I only know of one other……maybe Dean Smith, I don’t know how long he stayed at North Carolina but he was there for a long time, but Tony Hinkle in Indianapolis was like Coach Diddle is in Bowling Green. Tony Hinkle coached football, basketball, and baseball for forty-some years at Butler University and they named their arena after him. it’s called Hinkle Field house. But you don’t find people like that anymore.
HH: What was it like to play for Coach Diddle?
JO: Well, it was very interesting because you never knew what he was going to do, and he was………I guess you would say a character in that he was different from anybody that I had ever known. There’s been two books written on him. The first book….I called Earl Ruby, who was the sports editor of the Courier Journal for about forty or fifty years, and I said, “Mr. Ruby, don’t you think somebody ought to write a book on Coach Diddle?” And he said, “John, I think that’s a good idea, what would Kelly say about it?” And I said, “Well, I think he would like it especially if you would do it.” So he called Kelly, and I don’t know whether you’ve seen the book or not……….
HH: Red Towel Territory?
JO: Red Towel Territory. In the front of the book he tells about our phone conversation, so that was the first book that was written on Coach Diddle. And he was featured in Reader’s Digest, Look and Life Magazine, and back then they were the main magazines and he was probably one of the best known coaches in the country because of the size of our school, the size of Bowling Green, and being invited to the National Invitation Tournament so many times. I think I went maybe three times out of the four years that I was a player here.
HH: Was he a pretty strict coach?
JO: Yeah, he was so strict that he wouldn’t let us have water during practice. We weren’t allowed to drink Cokes anytime. He was a constant checker of curfew. He checked the rooms to see if the players were in, and as far as know all of his life he had a curfew. My freshman year he had a house in Bowling Green but my sophomore, junior, and senior year, there was a building on campus that we named Diddle Dorm……that’s where we lived. He lived in the front part of the building and the players lived in the back part of the building.
HH: That’s the old rock house?
JO: That’s the old rock house. I think it was the old music building at one time. But my tenure from ’46 to ’49 was at the old rock house. And it was torn down maybe two years ago and there’s a Diddle park in its place.
HH: What was it that made everyone love Coach Diddle so much, even to this day?
JO: He was a very kind person. He had a lot of friends and he would eat breakfast, and I know I’m not exaggerating, at maybe three or four different restaurants every morning. And he got to know the community maybe better than any coach that we’ve ever had in the history of Western. He spent a great majority of his time downtown visiting with people and then the day of a ball game he and Coach Griffin would be at that back door to take care of his friends and let them in. He never would turn anybody away….maybe unless the fire marshall was standing next to him. But he would crowd them in and we always had a capacity crowd. I’m not going to even venture to say what the seating capacity was, I’ve heard so many stories I don’t know. It’s the library now, but I don’t know what it seated…….between 3,500 and 5,000 and I’ve heard all those figures.
HH: It was always sold out too wasn’t it?
JO: Yeah, it was always sold out. A capacity crowd. And you’ve got to realize that when I came here Bowling Green was around 15,000, now it’s around 48,000. But it was the social event, probably of the year, was the basketball games, because of the prominence of Coach Diddle and the colorfulness that he portrayed and people would watch Coach Diddle about as much as they would watch the ball game…….because he was a great showman. And back to the two books……I guess his Diddleisms, which you know what I’m talking about, the stories that would get out on Coach Diddle of how he would say things. You know sometimes it would be backwards from what he meant, the way that he had expressed himself, and all of a sudden people were making speeches on Coach Diddle and “Diddleisms”, like when he told a group of high school all-stars up here to line up alphabetically according to height. One time he came to the table where I was at and I had a little half pint bottle of milk, but you were entitled to a quart…….I couldn’t drink a quart, I didn’t get a quart, I just got a little half-pint, and he saw that a lot of them had wasted it and he hated to see anybody waste anything. They were just drinking about a half of their quart of milk and he told me, he came over and he said, “You know John I think a quart of milk is just too much, two pints is enough for anybody.” (LAUGHS) Of course he meant two half-pints. Because of saying things like that sportswriters loved him and I never saw a negative write-up on Coach Diddle. Of course sportswriters at that time weren’t as negative as they are today. Writing has changed a great deal
HH: What was it that made the players love him so much, was it just that he was so much like a father figure?
JO: Yeah, he would………after the war we had a lot of guys that were married and he would bring them chickens, he would go down to Field Packing Co. and they’d give him crates of chickens and he would take the chickens to the married guys and he would go see Charlie Campbell, who had a wholesale fruit and vegetable place, and he would fill his car up with fruit and vegetables and………..you know, there’s not many coaches that would take the time to do things like that but Coach Diddle would. But he was tough. When practice came you knew you’d better hustle because he’d get after you and he’d chase you down if you weren’t hustling and get a hold of you and shake you a little bit. Which you know, coaches don’t do that anymore, but back then no one thought anything about it. He was a very interesting individual and I feel very fortunate to have played for him. He had success………I teach a basketball coaching class and have for forty-some years, and I can use Coach Diddle at one end of the pendulum and Coach rupp at the other end. Both coached completely and totally different, yet both were highly successful. So you can’t tell an individual how to coach because you can be a Diddle and be successful with a world of kindness and Coach rupp was really aggressive and rough and difficult to play for. I say that because I’ve played with some of his players in the service and in professional ball……
HH: Somebody said that the difference between Diddle and rupp was that with rupp they respected and feared him and with Diddle they respected and loved him.
JO: That’s very good. I couldn’t have said it any better. I guess that………I still think that the players at Kentucky, after they got out, those that were able to endure the punishment that he gave them, respected him.
HH: Do you have a favorite story about Coach Diddle that maybe isn’t as widely known as some of the others that have been published?
JO: Oh, I don’t know that I do. I think one of my favorites…..I didn’t see it happen, but I saw the end result of it. I just told you about it before we came up here and that was when Mr. Diddle wasn’t satisfied, he was retired and he was in his red box with nine seats, a box down there on the floor. That was where Coach Diddle could bring his guests in to sit with him at ball games, and occasionally he would get up and lead a yell. So he went over when we were playing the Dayton Flyers, and he went over and threw his foot up on the press row, and started crawling up on press row to lead a yell. Evidently when getting up there he kicked the typewriter of a sportswriter from Dayton and the guy told him, he said, “hey buddy, you can’t get up here.” And he said, “Oh, yes I can. This is my gym!” And he used a couple of adjectives in describing this was his gym. (LAUGHS) He led the yells, and this writer went back and evidently quoted Coach Diddle verbatim as to what he said when he told him he couldn’t get up there. Oh, a week had passed and I had gotten a couple of the articles that Western fans had sent me about what this writer had said about what Coach Diddle had said. Coach Diddle called me one day and said, “Have you seen that write-up out of Dayton?” and I said, “Yes sir, I’ve got a couple of them here on my desk.” And he said, “Don’t go anywhere, I’m gonna bring it down and show it to you.” And I already had a couple of copies. (LAUGHS) He wanted to talk to me about it and in a few minutes he came down and he said, “Here look at this. This guy says I cussed.” Then Coach Diddle started cussing telling me he wouldn’t cuss (LAUGHS) which I thought was a hilarious story. So many of them have been embellished. I think they all have some similarities, but I know that Dr. Downing, former president and former basketball player, he has an excellent speech that he gives on Diddleisms. He studied it pretty thorough and has a lot of them and I guess I know hundreds. I have a file of Diddleisms myself. I like the one where little Eddie, which was Coach Diddle’s son, was around twelve years old when I came back after the war, and Mr. Diddle, as I already told you was getting a world of publicity, and little Eddie would run around town and say, “I’m Coach Diddle’s son, I’m Coach Diddle’s son, I’m Coach Diddle’s son.” So somebody told Mrs. Diddle and she told told Eddie, “Now listen, I don’t want to hear you say that again. You’re Eddie Diddle, Jr., you’re not Coach Diddle. And you quit telling people you’re Coach Diddle’s son, you’re Eddie Diddle.” Mrs. Diddle played Bridge almost everyday around lunchtime and she had a couple of fill-ins one day and Eddie ran in there sweating and perspiring, with a crew cut……..he always wore a crew cut. One of the ladies looked at him and said, “Ohhhhh, I bet you’re Coach Diddle’s son.” And Eddie said, “Well mama says I’m not.” (LAUGHS) There’s just hundreds of stories like that on Coach Diddle.
HH: I’ve always liked the one where he called the player amphibious instead of ambidextrous.
JO: Yeah. I think that was with Kelly Thompson. Kelly Thompson said, “Coach look at that player, he’s ambidextrous.” And Coach went down, they said, immediately to Hornback and said, “Look out there Coach we’ve got a guy that’s amphibious.” (LAUGHS) But that’s what we’re talking about in the fact that he made great print.
HH: Did he do a lot of that on purpose?
JO: I couldn’t answer that. I don’t know whether he knew what he was doing or…….I think we all occasionally will make some mistakes. You know like saying, “John go in there and take Oldham’s place.” That would have been pretty hard to do. (LAUGHS) He was something. Someone to be remembered I tell you.
HH: The first year you were here you went to the NIT right?
HH: What was that like for you and the other guys. I guess………
JO: Well, let me ask you. What would it be like to you to come out of a town of a thousand people; you’re at Western as a freshman, you’re on the twelve-man squad, and you go to New York City and you get to play and score ten points, and there’s over 18,000 people in this one building. Now Bruce, think about that. I’m from a town of 1,000 and a year later in March I’m playing in a building that has 18 Hartfords in it. (LAUGHS)
HH: Were you scared to death?
JO: I’m sure I was, but usually stage fright will leave an athlete in two or three minutes. But I’d say a lot of times we’d start a ball game with tightness but it would usually leave, most definitely.
HH: You must have been in shock going into New York City after…….
JO: Well, you know, I had never seen a three-story building and I was looking at the Empire State Building. I had never seen anything like it. If I list the highlight of my life, why it would be as a freshman……Mr. Diddle taking me to the NIT Tournament and giving me an opportunity to play. So that was the conclusion of that year and that was soon after the beginning of World War II, and I got a letter from Uncle Sam about drafting me into the Army and I went and volunteered for the Navy and I went to Great Lakes. And Coach Diddle wrote Tony Hinkle, who was coaching at Great Lakes, and told him that I was up there and that he would appreciate him giving me a tryout for the Great Lakes basketball team. He did, and I made the twelve-man squad, and I got to play usually when they got 20-25 ahead. We had several….6 or 7 guys, that had already made All-American. Curly Armstrong, Herm Schaeffer from Indiana University, Jack Coleman, who played at Louisville, Walt Rottenbach (sp?) from Wisconsin, and Don Smith from Minnesota. So we were just beating the tar out of everybody.
HH: Did you all ever go back and play Western during those years?
JO: No. We played mostly the Big Ten Schools. We would play Minnesota, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, we played Toledo, of course they were a great ball club back then. I did later on in my Navy career…..I came in here when I was at Memphis as an Aviation Ordinance Instructor, we came back in here and played, but not at Great Lakes. But the interesting story about Great Lakes was that our football team had just won a national championship, our basketball team had just won a national championship…….that was when the service teams were rated along with the collegiate teams. And then we started baseball and we had Gene Woodling, Merrill May, Clyde McCullough, Gene Thompson, all professionals, and they would just beat the fire out of everybody. The Chicago Sun had an article in it that Great Lakes was just a manufacturing place of professional athletics. The captain of Great Lakes didn’t like that very much and so he called the athletics director at Great Lakes and he told him to get us all together and get us off base in 48 hours. So the called us all over……..when they asked me where I wanted to go I said, “I want to go South” They said they had a school in Memphis…..so Freddie Shouse, who was on that ball club and was an All-American at West Virginia, and played on the same pro ball club that I did, the Pistons……..he ended up coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and then after his coaching career there he became general manager. From there he went to Purdue and from Purdue he went back to West Virginia and he retired at West Virginia. Kenny Rollins was another one on that team. He was captain of the fabulous five of kentucky. And Dallas Zuber (sp?) and one or two more. About five of us went to Memphis and it didn’t take long before the athletics director at Memphis heard about us being there and they started a basketball team. So we would work in the morning time and practice basketball in the afternoon. We had a great ball club and we were ranked around fifth or sixth in the nation. Then after the War in 1946 I came back to Western.
HH: Now once you got back from the war those three years you (Western) went 78-10. Tell me a little bit about those teams. You had eight guys that eventually became All-Americans on that team.
JO: Yeah, I don’t know if anybody can equal that or not. Those were great ball players, great individuals. I live next door to one of those people today. In fact we have a workshop together, Don Ray, I play golf every Wednesday with Dee Gibson, about 16 of us that play. So I still have close association…….Buddy Cate is in town, he was on our ball club during that tenure. Jimmy Bohannon……JB Distributors, was on that ball club, Bobo Davenport, and I know I’ll probably forget some that may still be around here but maybe they won’t hear this. But that was a great ball club, in fact when I was a junior the other four were seniors but all five of us during our tenure at Western made All-American. And I believe all five of us played pro ball. I played only two years; I think Spears played something like eight or nine years; I think Gibson played two years; and I think “Duck” Ray played two years.
HH: Was Odie Spears maybe the best player you played with on those teams?
JO: Odie was our leading scorer and a fine ball player. An interesting story on him…..I was still in high school but that was the year that Mr. Diddle just did the fabulous job of recruiting. He had fifteen freshmen, with fourteen uniforms, and if you will look that picture up, 1941-42, and he had a freshman team of I believe fifteen with fourteen uniforms and Odie Spears had the odd one. So from that point in the season you could almost say he was last on the squad. Spears developed in the service……all of us developed a lot in the service, and Odie was our leading scorer.
HH: I think in ’48 you guys were 28-2. You lost to St. Louis in the NIT and they went on to win it all. Do you remember anything about that ball game?
JO: Yeah, I remember that game. In fact, we started off with about an 8 or 10 point lead on them, but I don’t remember the cause of it or why……..
HH: Did you all just have a bad game?
JO: I can’t remember whether we had a bad ball game or they just had a great ball game. Anyway they beat us and that was the team that today holds the best win-loss record at Western.
HH: I know that same year everybody talks about uk’s “fab five”. Would you have loved a chance to play them and what do you think would have happened if you had gotten the chance.
JO: I don’t know what would have happened but of course we would have enjoyed playing them. I don’t know where we ended up but we were ranked second or third most of the year and where we ended up that year I don’t know, but we were ranked right along with kentucky. They say the “proof is in the pudding,” the fact that all of us had the ability to play professional basketball.
HH: I guess you guys pretty much had the “Fab Eight”. You had eight All-Americans on that team.
JO: Yeah. I hadn’t really thought of that. But now I look back and I see who you’re talking about. The others that came on the following year. My senior year we lost four of the starting five, I was the only one returning, and the next year we won fifteen straight.
HH: “Rip” Gish became an All-American….
JO: Bob Lavoy was the great one that really developed into a super basketball player that we played with the next year…..
HH: Buddy Cate?
JO: Buddy Cate. Gene Rhodes. Charlie Parsley was a great ball player on that team. Little Eddie played on that ball club, Coach Diddle’s boy. But we ended up with a great season. The great thing about that, nobody expected us to do anything.
HH: It seems like Western always came up a little bit short over the years…….they came so close to winning national championships……like the NIT, they came so close to winning all the time, but one thing you’ve got to consider is going up there playing those teams that was pretty much like a home court advantage for all of those teams from around New York City. Don’t you think it would have been a little bit different if they would have had to come down here to the Red Barn?
JO: I know what you’re saying because when I was coaching I took a team up there in the ECAC Tournament and we played South Carolina in the finals. McGuire was coaching at South Carolina and they had five New Yorkers that started at South Carolina, and two New York officials worked the ball game, and we played it in New York. Some writer asked me after the ball game and I said, “It’s in the Bible.” He said, ” What do you mean?” And I said, “I was a stranger and they took me in.” (LAUGHS)
HH: As close as you came to winning all those times, do you have any doubt that if they had been played in Kentucky, and especially at the Red Barn……….you would have probably destroyed those teams.
JO: Well, at that time…….there’s not as much advantage today because you have pretty much regulation ’94 x ’50, but back then every court was a different size, lighting was good at some places and terrible at others, heating conditions at gyms varied…..I remember playing in Chicago and we had to play over an ice hockey rink, ice hockey was the major sport. I played up there one night with my sweat clothes on. (LAUGHS) It was that cold.
HH: So those New York teams pretty much had a built-in advantage when they played in the NIT didn’t they?
JO: But people didn’t realize it, but see, New York University, Long Island University, Manhattan, they were all great basketball teams. I mean they were always in the “top ten”. Of course today, you ask one of our students about New York University or Long Island University or Manhattan, they probably wouldn’t have heard of them. Their ability has deteriorated somewhat. St. John’s has taken over in New York City.
HH: What do you think Coach Diddle really thought about Coach rupp? I know publicly both said that they didn’t really see any use in playing each other, why ruin a good thing. But what do you think he thought about him privately?
JO: Well, that would be difficult for anybody to say maybe other than somebody that he had talked too. I’m sure if you could have asked Kelly Thompson he could have answered that question or maybe asked Coach Hornback. But I don’t know…….I don’t have an answer for that. I think they both respected each other and I remember Coach rupp one time being quoted in the Courier as saying, “Well it’s better in a poker hand to have two kings than to have an ace and a king.” That was his explanation why he didn’t think Western and uk………and there really wasn’t that much discussion about it, you know. I really didn’t ever think about it. I was fortunate enough to have a great ball club and play kentucky the first time that the two schools ever met.
HH: After you left Western, you played two years in the pros with Ft.Wayne. What was that experience like?
JO: Well…..of course I had three years in the navy and we traveled all the time. It was traveling, we traveled by train. And we were playing in Boston, Rochester, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, Washington………some of those are still in existence, some are no longer in existence. The team I played with, the Ft. Wayne Pistons, are now the Detroit Pistons. I don’t know that I could even trace the Rochester Royals. I think they went to Cincinnati and from Cincinnati to Atlanta?? I know they changed the names.The Knickerbockers are still the Knickerbockers. Chicago, they were not the Bulls and I can’t even now tell you what they were called.
HH: So did you sign a multi-million dollar contract? : .)
JO: (LAUGHS) No. Probably the best…….well, no question, the best ballplayer in our league was George Mikan and I think I’ve seen where he made around $12,000.
HH: That’s pretty good for back then I guess?
JO: Well, I mean I signed for $7,500 and I thought I was rich because I bought a new Plymouth for about $1,900.
HH: Well, that’s pretty good money back then though??
JO: Well, at that time we thought it was great money. Then travel was tough, we lived on a train. Because we were playing eighty-plus ball games counting exhibitions. So we spent a world of time on that choo-choo train. Now, I’d say they all fly to every ball game.
HH: Once you left the pros did you go straight to Tennessee Tech?
JO: No. That’s interesting to me in the fact that after I finished my Bachelor of Science Degree I started to work on my master’s degree in secondary education. So in the summertime I came back to Bowling Green to go to school working on my master’s degree. In the second that I’m working on my master’s degree Dero Downing, who was the basketball coach at College High School, decided to go into the sporting goods business. And I would walk by Dr. Jaggers house every morning going to school……that impressed him, the fact that I didn’t drive to school. I walked to school, it was only three or four blocks, and I would pass his house. And one day he stopped me and said, “You know Dero’s going into sporting goods, would you be interested?” I said, “Yes sir, I’d be interested in talking to you.”
I had my third year contract (Pro ball) that I hadn’t signed, I’ve still got it, but after talking to my wife and realizing that there was only two players with the Pistons that had started two years earlier and we had several come in and out between that, plus the original group. And Freddie Shouse and I were the only two left. And you know, scoring about eight points a game, I knew my life span in professional basketball wasn’t going to be too long because they didn’t emphasize defense, although I did have to guard the likes of Bob Cousy and Jim Pollard, Joe Fulks, “Sweetwater” Clifton, Bob Davies…….I was always given a tough individual to defense. I just felt like I’d be traded and I didn’t want to become a “tramp athlete”,
and so for $3,600 I signed to coach at College High. I was the only coach……we had a baseball team, a basketball team, tennis team, track team, golf team…….
HH: You coached them all?
JO: I don’t know that I’d say I coached them all, but I supervised. I think I coached the basketball and supervised the others. (LAUGHS) I would use student teachers like Gene Rhodes, Dan King, and people like that to help me with baseball. I enjoyed baseball, but I didn’t know very much about it. You talk to any of those players that played for me (LAUGHS) and they’ll all tell you the same thing. But I never did tell them……..I did study, I worked at it. I got a lot of information from various baseball players and I did love it as a spectator, and when I was in Memphis I went to the Chick games every night they were in Memphis. That’s when they had Pete Gray, the one-armed player who played centerfield, you know, the one-armed player that made it to the big leagues? He was with the St. Louis Browns?
HH: I think I’ve heard of him.
JO: Yeah. Well, he was the first, maybe there was one other, but he made the big leagues and went to the St. Louis Browns….they had the Cardinal and the Browns up there at that time. I was fortunate enough to see him play with the Memphis Chicks. But I enjoyed it. I had four years there. Our ball club qualified for the state high school basketball tournament. I had one ball player, David Denton, who was an All-American at Georgia Tech, John Mustang was the starting pivot for Butler University, and then he went into the service and got killed in a helicopter. I had Coach Hornback’s son, Jerry Hornback, Joe Bryant…..I had a great group of kids, managers…..Duncan Hines III as a manager, Charlie Moore (Insurance)……of everybody, ballplayers everybody, Charlie Moore was the hardest worker I ever saw in my life. He was my manager and he’s a highly successful insurance person here in Bowling Green right now.
HH: So you stayed there four years and then went to Tennessee Tech?
JO: I went to Tennessee Tech……
HH: What was it like when you were at Tech, was it hard to play against Coach Diddle and Western whenever you had to?
JO: No, it wasn’t hard, it was exciting. It was the big ball game of the year for me, you know, to play against Coach Diddle. I couldn’t think of anything that was more enjoyable than to have an opportunity to play against one of the best coaches in the world.
HH: It was hard for him though wasn’t it? It seems like I heard that it was kind of hard for him to play his former players whenever he had to go against them?
JO: Well, it could have been. But I guarantee you that wasn’t the way I looked at it. I was honored….it was an honor for me to play against my former coach. Of course he had to play against his son, he was
at Middle Tennessee. But we remained friends throughout all of that. I played them eighteen times while
I was at Tech and won nine and lost nine. I felt like that was pretty good.
HH: So you were at Tech nine years?
JO: I was at Tech nine years. We went to the NCAA Tournament three times in nine years, once every three years.
HH: Bobby Rascoe was telling me about a game down there at Tech where the football team from Western came along and there was a big fight after the game when they tried cutting the nets down……
JO: I was right in the middle of it.
HH: What do you remember about that?
JO: I remember everything. Anything you want to know. (LAUGHS) It was the championship game. It was the ball game we were playing for the Ohio Valley Conference championship. Tom McKinney, one of my forwards, drove down the middle……in practice I put a chair right on the free throw line and if you got to that chair you would jump up and shoot, don’t drive in and charge over somebody. And McKinney thought he could go in for a layup and he charged over a Western player and the Western player made the free throws and we got beat. Then the Western football team was down underneath the goal on the north end of the court and they jumped up and cut the net down. That wasn’t the problem, but when they started……down at Tennessee Tech after the ball game everybody met out on the floor and visited, and it was just a visitation time after the ball game, and so they cut the nets down. Of course our people were out on the floor, and then they started in unison just started rushing down to the other goal, and then that’s when the worst fight I ever saw in my life took place. It went on for a long time. In fact, Coach Frank Griffin was really responsible for getting it stopped, I think, more than anybody. That thing went on for a long time. That’s another great story, I wasn’t there but Mr. Hornback told the story…..they were in the dressing room and our people were still standing out in line where Western comes out to get on the bus. The story is they were rocking the bus….
HH: That’s what Rascoe was saying. He said it’s pretty lucky that nobody got seriously hurt.
JO: Oh yeah, there isn’t any question about that. It was an ugly scene.
HH: Was the basketball team involved in it very much?
JO: No, I don’t think the players were involved at all? It was just our fans and the football team. Of course we had a lot of our football players out there too. Two or three of these boys from Western really got hurt bad, they got beat up pretty bad.
HH: Was Joe Bugel in on that?
JO: (LAUGHS) I think he probably was. I’m not going to say for sure but I believe Joe was involved. But I wouldn’t want to say for sure.
HH: Was that two or three of the football players that got hurt really bad?
JO: Yeah, they got whipped pretty good. I never saw a place that was willing to fight like Tennessee Tech. I had gym classes……I taught gym classes here at Western for like sixteen years or longer, and I never had a fight in gym class. Down there I’d have fights almost every day in a gym class. (LAUGHS) Those old boys down there they would fight……it didn’t take a whole lot to get them to fight. They weren’t afraid of anything or anybody.
HH: I guess they had us pretty much outnumbered too?
JO: Yeah. Of course that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t know, maybe Western had seven, eight, or ten guys and of course Tennessee Tech had probably forty or fifty out there fighting. I’ve talked to some of the guys that got beat up. They said, “Man, they bloodied our nose, broke our nose”…….
HH: Yeah, Rascoe said he went up in the stands. Sounds like the smart thing to do.
JO: Well, I went to the dressing room and then I came back up and they were still fighting. I got one of my former players who had some boy from Western down on the floor, I got him off of him and I escorted the young man out, which probably wasn’t a smart thing to do, I needed to leave him in the gym, but I got him out of the gym. That wasn’t a pretty picture. Anyway, Western won the ball game and won the conference championship and McKinney……there wasn’t any question about the call, he just drove right down the middle and right over the top of Western’s defensive player and they made the free throws and won the ball game.
HH: Well, when did you know you were going to be getting the Western job? Did you know pretty much all along? Who else was up for it?
JO: No, I didn’t know. I never discussed that with anybody so I really didn’t know. I didn’t have any idea. I was coaching at Tennessee Tech as if I would be there the rest of my life. I didn’t ever discuss the Western job with anybody. In fact, my last year down there I had a freshman team that beat the great freshman team that Western had (Haskins, Smith, etc). They beat us up here about five and we beat them five or six I believe down there. So, I had a good recruiting class…….I’d have to say that Dwight Smith and Clem Haskins were probably two of the greatest recruits that Western ever had. We had a good team coming up down at Tech so……..no I didn’t know it, I got a call from Dero Downing, I believe he was vice-president at that time, and we met in Lebanon, Tn. two or three times and discussed the job up here when Mr. Diddle got ready to retire.
HH: Was anybody else ever considered? Was it really just you?
JO: I wouldn’t know. Dero Downing can tell you that. I can’t tell you, I know they talked to me two or three times. I’ve never discussed it with anybody, never asked anybody, but Dr. Downing could tell you if they were negotiating with someone else.
HH: Once they offered you the job did you have any second thoughts about taking it?
JO: Yeah, I had some reservations. Because I was in a situation where football was king. You crossed the Tennessee line and they majored in football not basketball. So I had, I thought, a great job. But the challenge at Western and of course following Coach Diddle was tremendous. I don’t know how many letters I got about the way I coached, the way Coach Diddle coached………..somebody said, “Well, Coach Diddle wouldn’t do it that way.” I knew that,
and I had some people wanting me to use Mr. Diddle’s Red Towel. That wasn’t me, I wasn’t colorful. I was on what you call the gray shade of coaching. Coach Diddle was colorful and sportswriters just absolutely loved him. I was more on the quiet side, I didn’t get off the bench much….just occasionally. So I never did say that I took Mr. Diddle’s place, I couldn’t say that. I just happened to be…….and it’s tough, Joe Hall and I…..Joe Hall came through here a couple of years ago going to Memphis and we talked about me taking the job after Mr. Diddle decided to retire and him taking the job at kentucky after rupp retired. And both of us had some of the same problems. You don’t really take the place of a legend……..and I was fortunate in the fact that there were great, great, basketball players in this hundred-mile radius of Bowling Green. I was fortunate enough during my tenure that we won 78% of our games…..but that was because of the ability of players at Princeton, Kentucky – Glasgow, Kentucky – Scottsville, Kentucky – Horse Cave, Kentucky. I mean these turned out to be, not good players, but great players………Louisville, Hazard, and I was fortunate in the fact that……..I didn’t have but $3,500 to recruit on, they’ll have over $100,000 now. I had $3,500….I couldn’t go too far. But I didn’t need to go too far because the ability was right here in my own backyard. We beat Indiana when they were undefeated and ranked number one in the nation. They were 6-0 and we beat them in the All-Star Classic…..I think they called it the Cotton Bowl, maybe the All-Star Classic, in Dallas. Then the next night we beat the University of California……we beat Indiana by about 19 points then we beat California, I think about 14 points. Then when we went into New York and beat St. Johns by about 19 points, we went into Chicago and we beat Michigan St. by 5 or 6 points. So, we won some big ball games.
HH: What was it like early on? I know before Coach Diddle left he brought in Clem and Dwight. What kind of hardships did you kind face that first year with Clem and Dwight?
JO: Well, our problem was that integration…..that was the start of integration, and there were locations where we couldn’t find a hotel to stay or a place to eat. We laugh about it now, but…………we could stay in Lexington and an interesting thing, the gentleman that ran the Sheraton Hotel in Lexington was a gentleman by the name of Joe Henry. He is now the head innkeeper at Opryland (LAUGHS) so he moved along pretty well. But we would have to headquarter in Lexington to go in that area up there. And then a lot of times after a ball game we couldn’t…….black and whites couldn’t go into the same restaurant unless the black players would go in the back door and I wouldn’t do that. So I would have the trainer or manager buy us a hamburger and french fries and a piece of pie and a large drink, and we would put it on the bus on head back to Bowling Green. I never said anything about, I never even discussed it with the players…….it was tough, we would go into some places and they would holler the “n” word. But our players……that never caused us a major problem. I mean I’m sure that it was embarrassing to a lot of the schools and administrators and things but we didn’t make an issue out of it. In the seven years that I coached Western it smoothed out and in the seventh year there wasn’t any place we couldn’t stay or any place we couldn’t eat.
HH: Tell me about some of those great games with Clem’s teams. I guess the Michigan game is a pretty sore spot still?
JO: Yeah, I’d say that’s………if we talked about……
HH: Was that the most disappointing game?
JO: Yeah, if we talked about disappointing games I’d have to say that that probably one of the most disappointing games, and losing to Duke by one point in the Sugar Bowl was a terrible, terrible disappointment to me and losing to Michigan with a one point lead and ten seconds to go and a jump ball. Then a referee by the name of Steve Honzo, out of New York, called a foul on Greg jumping into Cazzie Russell. What happened was it was a bad toss, it should have been tossed over, and for Greg to tip the ball he had to lean into Cazzie. Cazzie didn’t even jump. So Cazzie made the two free throws and we brought the ball back down the floor and Clem Haskins got a great shot, he got about a fifteen foot shot and it hit the rim and that was it. That was a ball club that was capable of winning it all. We go into Lexington one year and we play Dayton, and that was the year that Clem broke the navicular bone in his shooting hand and we kept him out of five or six ball games. Dr. Pinky Lipscomb out of Nashville said when we could let him start playing and he had his legs in shape……but we got beat in overtime.
HH: He was playing with a cast on his hand right? And he just wasn’t the same at all was he?
JO: Oh, no. No. Again that ball club, Dayton, went to the final two in the nation that year. That was another year that we had the ability to win it all. I had the ball club, I had the material here……….of course when we did go to the Final Four we let a ball club that was inferior to our ability beat us in double overtime (Villanova) we had two free throws to beat them, two points up, eighteen seconds to go, two free throws we miss them both they go down and score and tie and we go into a second overtime. Then we get into a “domino five” leading in the second overtime and we pass the ball to Glover underneath the basket. And Glover, when he got the ball, he was directly under the basket and he couldn’t make up his mind which side to shoot it on……..and when he shot it, I can see it now, it just rolled around, it almost looked like…….it just kept rolling and it rolled off and they went down and scored and they beat us. I believe they beat us three points. (92-89) That was a ball club that was good enough to win a national championship.
HH: The Michigan game……in your entire career have ever seen another foul called on a jump ball?
JO: I never saw it called prior to that game and I have not seen it called since……..and I probably see a hundred ball games a year.
HH: Do you think there was something else behind it besides just a bad call?
JO: No. I really don’t. I don’t think there was any dishonesty. It was a bad toss. If you look at the pictures in the frames it was just a bad toss and in order for Greg to get it he had to lean over into Cazzie and Cazzie just leans back and looks up, he doesn’t even jump.
HH: He put his arm into Greg didn’t he?
JO: Well, maybe to keep Greg off the top off him. But no, I don’t think there was any dishonesty in it I just…..it was a terrible call. I mean it’s a call that may have cost us a national championship. I don’t even like to talk about it.
HH: I don’t blame you. I just don’t see how…….fouls just aren’t called on jump balls. It doesn’t make sense does it?
JO: Well, really that was the beginning of doing away with the jump. Officials could not toss the ball. Even if you watch the pro officials, they do a poor job. Tossing the ball between two players is pretty difficult. Of course Greg could jump like……Greg got the tip, naturally, against Cazzie and tipped it to Cunningham and we had possession of the ball and I don’t know whether it was eight seconds, or something like that, and we had possession of the ball and a one point lead. And then earlier when we had possession of the ball and came down the floor the coach got out on the floor and yelled, “Foul him, foul him!” And they fouled Chapman and they gave him one shot……
HH: Instead of two?
JO: ……on an intentional foul and I said, “Hey, the coach told him to foul him!!” So………
HH: It sounds like something wasn’t right in that game. Maybe rupp had something to do with it.
JO: Well…..it was a tough one. Then losing to South Carolina in the finals of ECAC was a terrible disappointment.
HH: It always seems like Western has always come so close. Bad breaks I guess.
JO: Yeah, yeah. I honestly believe that three of the seven years that I was here we had the ball club to win a national championship…….we never did. Maybe it was just poor coaching?
HH: No. Bad breaks…..terrible breaks.
JO: Missed breaks. You know, we don’t even go if this kid from Ohio St. makes a jump shot, and he misses it and so we win, but if he makes it we lose. So, you’ve gotta have some breaks. Playing Jacksonville…down eighteen points, you know, we were lucky to make an eighteen point comeback, but we did. And THEN the players didn’t do what I told them to do. I told them to get the ball to McDaniels and they threw it to the worst shooter on the ball club, they threw it to my friend Glover. Glover hid in the corner tying his shoe and sneaked under the basket. I didn’t see him because I was interested in Sundmaker throwing the ball to McDaniels, and McDaniels getting a shot and everybody rebounding. But anyway, Glover sneaked under the basket and was wide open and then the players all saw it and he threw it to him and he faked then shot and made it, and they took it out of bounds. And about the time they threw it in six seconds was up. So, you see, it’s just……
HH: A lot of luck involved.
JO: Lot of it is luck, or you know, just getting the break at the right time. One point changes the way you play. If you’ve got a lead you can play one way where if you don’t have the lead you’re more aggressive. Then there’s some coaches that won’t let a player shoot, I never felt that way. It cost me some ball games, but I think I won more than I lost. I’d still go for the layup, you know, regardless of the clock.
HH: I know….I guess it was the same day that McDaniels signed with Western, wasn’t that the same day that Dwight Smith got killed in the car wreck?
JO: I don’t believe it was the same day…….
HH: Pretty close in there?
JO: It could have been. I’ve never thought of that……..so I really couldn’t say. I know that it was on a Sunday afternoon coming back from Princeton that the tragedy happened with Dwight.
HH: A lot of people say that he might have been……probably one of the best players ever at Western, probably even the best pro ever?
JO: Well, you see, he was…..like Clem. Clem was a super ball player but Dwight was a better ball handler. Dwight probably was one of the greatest ball handlers I’ve ever seen and I guarded Cousy about ten times, and he is credited with being a great ball player. But when we scrimmaged….some scrimmages I would put two players on Dwight, you know, because one player…….he could whip one player in about two steps. So I scrimmaged five against six, two of them defensing Dwight. He was that good. It’s like Jordan……..let me ask you a question. Is Jordan the greatest shooter in professional basketball?
HH: No, I don’t think so.
JO: Is he the greatest rebounder?
JO: Is he the greatest ball handler? Yet, to me, he’s the greatest basketball player I’ve ever seen in my life. Yet, I don’t know that he’s the greatest in any one of the basic rudiments of the game of basketball. Yet, I think he’s the greatest basketball player that I’ve ever seen. Yet, I can’t pick one fundamental that he is better than anybody I can think of, you know, like ball handling. With Magic Johnson, I never saw anybody handle the ball much better than Magic Johnson. A whole lot of shooters had better percentages than he did. But when you package him (Jordan) and put him all together there’s no one like him, he’s a legend.
HH: That’s pretty much the way Dwight was?
JO: Yeah, that’s pretty much the way Dwight was. Now Dwight was what they call a streak shooter. If Dwight hit early he was good the rest of the ball game. If Dwight missed early he was not a good shooter..
HH: He pretty much, I guess, sacrificed a lot of points didn’t he? By giving the ball up to Clem?
JO: Yes. See, on that ball club he was a guard. What if I told you he was the second leading rebounder on the ball club, out of Clem, Cunningham, Chapman, you know, six-six, six -five. And here is Dwight,
6′ 5″, a guard, and if you check your records you’ll find that he was the second leading rebounder.
HH: Wasn’t he also the leading rebounder for all guards in the entire country?
JO: I wouldn’t doubt it.
HH: So you think he would have really been a big time NBA player?
JO: Yeah .Definitely. His brother Greg, he didn’t develop until the second half of his senior year. He was a mediocre ball player until the second half of his senior year. Boy, he just blossomed out. I got him in a college all-star game up in Indianapolis…..he was the star of stars and he hadn’t even had anybody approach him. Then Milwaukee approached him and the Kentucky Colonels approached him and he had two offers after that. He was the best rebounder I ever coached and probably one of the best rebounders………and a guy will say, “well, what makes a great rebounder?” I can name you the attributes of a great rebounder but I don’t think you can coach it. It’s almost like, what makes a good bird dog a good bird dog? You know there are some bird dogs that will never be a good bird dog, I don’t care what kind of training they’ve had. And I don’t take any credit for Greg’s ability to rebound, he just had a knack. I watch Dennis Rodman play a lot and I don’t take my eye off of him. I just watch him because he is the best rebounder, probably of all time.
HH: Somebody described Greg to me one time like Dennis Rodman without all of the craziness.
JO: I agree. Until Rodman came along I said he was the greatest rebounder I’ve ever seen. Then when Rodman came along, I think Rodman probably is a better rebounder than Greg, but Rodman is what, 6′ 6″, 6′ 7″? Greg, you see, was just about 6′ 4″. But when Greg played with the Milwaukee Bucks and they had Kareem, Greg, in playing time out rebounded him. And we talk about defense, Bill Russell was the greatest defensive player I ever saw. Of course we go back to Jordan again, twice he’s been voted the best defensive player in the NBA and he usually makes the first five every year, defensively.
HH: With the ’71 team was the uk game probably the biggest win you were involved with?
JO: Probably with our fans it was the biggest ball game.
HH: With the players too?
JO: It might be, I never…….sometimes I’d like to ask those players. You know I was telling you about when we beat Indiana when they were number one in the nation and 6-0. We beat St. Johns when they were big time in the Garden by nineteen. We beat Kansas. We beat Loyola of Chicago……..that to me was one of my biggest ball games because the worst beating that’s ever been – now listen to this – the worst beating that’s ever been in the NCAA was when I was at Tennessee Tech against Loyola, who won the national championship, beat us like 102-42. George Ireland was still coaching them when we (Western) got him up at Kent St. by about twenty-one points (105-86).
HH: A little payback.
JO: A little payback. See, nobody knew that except me because I was a Tennessee Tech…….that’s a record that I hold. You want to make sure that you get the records down. I hold the record of getting beat worse than anybody that’s ever been in the NCAA (LAUGHS).
HH: That still holds to this day?
JO: Yeah, as far as I know. I don’t think anybody’s ever been beat as bad as we were beaten. It might have been sixty or seventy points.
HH: Do you think the ’66 or ’67 team could have beaten the ’71 team?
JO: Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know that they could. I know that they were two great ball clubs and the ’71 team went further than the other ball club. The other ball club……the reason that I remember them is they could just do a lot more, you know, defensively………like we beat Memphis St. by about 40 points. I mean when they got you down they would drub you. Now this ’71 team (LAUGHS) would mess around and just make great comebacks. We’re at Johnson City, we’re down like fourteen or sixteen points, seventeen……I don’t remember. And then we go into a half court press and score like eighteen straight points and win by maybe ten or eleven points. But they were always getting into trouble and coming back. We lost to Austin Peay the last game of the season, but I did that, I started four substitutes. I said we’ve already won the championship, now let’s get ready for the tournament, so I’m going to start four substitutes. I played them the first half and they were six points up and then I put our regulars in and we got beat. But I scolded them a little bit after the loss.
HH: What was the big difference in those teams…….like ’48, and ’67, 71……could the teams that you played on beat any of those guys?
JO: I think basketball…….we’ll say in ten year spans, has just continually gotten better. Let’s go back to the thirties, what was great shooting in the thirties?……..30%. If you hit 30% you were a great shooter. It’s creeped up now, the 30′s to the 90′s, now what’s good shooting?
JO: Yeah. Yeah, you’ve got to hit fifty percent. It’s gone from thirty in the 30′s to the 90′s, the shooting percentage has moved up to……if you’re not shooting 50% you’re not classified as a good shooter. So time has changed. We never heard of weights……these kids today are stronger, quicker, jump better. But their training is better, their coaching is better, their facilities are better.
HH: But also a lot of the current players don’t seem to have a lot of the fundamental skills the older players did do they? I mean they mostly worry about dunking the ball.
JO: Well, that goes back to the coaching. You’re not any better than your strength in fundamentals. It all comes back…..the number one fundamental of basketball is ball handling.
HH: Do you think that Clem and Dwight’s teams could be really successful today?
JO: Yes. Because they were the beginning of that quickness……..see, I’ve looked at my ’71 ball club and we look slow, but at that time the announcers said we won by……..the speed and quickness of Western was too much for Kentucky. Kentucky had five guys hitting fifty percent or better. We had one. So, speed and quickness overtook shooting. So I teach ball handling…….of course shooting is part of ball handling, dribbling is part of ball handling, passing is part of ball handling……so it goes back, that if you’re not a good ball handler you’re usually not a good ball player.
HH: Have you met the new coaching staff?
JO: I’ve been by three times and they never have been there. I met one tall young assistant…
HH: Coach McDonald?
JO: I guess. But I’ve not met any of the others. Which is good, that’s great…..I’ve been by three times and they’ve been out working. That’s the way it ought to be. They’re not here to meet former coaches and everything….I’ll meet them, but right now their top priority is out trying to find ball players. And I hope so. MAN, I hope so because I just don’t like to lose. I did something last year that I’ve never done in my life……I got up and left at halftime. And a former coach of twenty years, you ought to not do something like that. But it’s hard for me to sit there if a ball club is not hustling. You don’t have to be good but you do have to hustle. You have variables and you have constants in the game of basketball. Variables is shooting….you know I have a good night shooting, I have a bad night shooting. But hustle, if I play twenty-five ball games I ought to hustle for twenty-five ball games. I ought to play defense hard for twenty-five ball games. My passing might be off, that’s a variable, but………
HH: What do you think Coach Diddle would have done with a team like that?
JO: (LAUGHS) I don’t know.
HH: They would have been hustling if they’d been playing for him, I’m sure, wouldn’t they?
JO: Well…….it’s…..I….I don’t want to talk about it.
HH: As bad as the fan support has been the last few years…..what do you think Coach Diddle would think about the lack of fan support from the students and the town?
JO: Well, you see, I came in here…….you look this up, because I don’t how accurate I am, but when this building opened up I think they had around five or six thousand people in it that year. Then Mr. Diddle was here for two years, of course you’ve got to realize that was two terrible ball clubs. I think he won five games each year. Then again you’ve got to give Coach Diddle credit, he recruited Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith, which started my success at Western. Then we built it up from ’64 to ’71. Now ’71, what was it?…..over 12,000. So it went from five or six to twelve, now it’s back down to five or six. There’s a lot of interest right now. We have good fans,we have knowledgeable fans….and if these kids will come in here and play their hearts out, play hard,…….I can sit up there and watch, I can get beat if our players are putting out, really playing hard. When they come to that bench they’re looking at that coach for instructions, you know, rather than doing some things I don’t particularly like. I watch the bench. In fact I used to take a movie of the bench, I wanted to know what my bench was doing because the bench is a reflection a lot of times of what goes on out on the floor. So, the guy that took my film, I said, “Every time down the floor you flash that camera on my bench,” because I had a drunk sit on my bench one night and I didn’t know it, I had a little boy sit on my bench, and somebody thought he belonged to me. I didn’t know it….you are so concentrated on what’s going on you don’t get to see that bench and that bench is important. I want that bench in the ball game just like the guy that’s playing out there in that ball game.
HH: Bobby Rascoe said that he felt like Coach Diddle would probably be a little heart broken seeing how the fan support has gone down hill with the students and the community in the last few years. Do you think that’s pretty accurate?
JO: Yeah. Yeah. I’m broken-hearted. It really kills me, you know, we can’t get our students……but hey, times have changed and we’ve got to face up to it, to the fact that times HAVE changed. It hasn’t affected louisville has it? Not yet has it? They had a bad year last year but still had full houses. kentucky. But let them have two or three bad years……..But again, I go back to that thing……I can sit there and if kids are just putting out, hustling, I can sit there and watch them. But when one guy rebounds the ball and makes the outlet pass, and then beats everybody else down the floor…..somebody’s loafing. The guy that rebounds and makes the outlet pass shouldn’t be the first one down the floor. I saw it, I saw Springfield rebound, pass out, and Springfield was the first man down the floor…..we had four guys loafing.
HH: It’s been pretty bad the last few years.
JO: It’s not fun to lose at anything. And you ought to play to win, you ought to play to win, and then you ought to be a gracious winner. In losing……you ought to not enjoy it. I don’t think you ought to enjoy it. It’s like that sportswriter that came in up at Dayton, Ohio after we just had a real good drubbing, and said, “What do you think of Dayton, are they the greatest basketball team you’ve played?” And I said, “get your…..butt out of my dressing room,” I said, “go interview the winners, I don’t have anything to say. I just got a good butt whipping and I don’t feel like talking to you.” And that’s what he put in the paper (LAUGHS). And I don’t object to putting it in the paper, but that’s what I said. I don’t think a sportswriter……..I mean he was in my dressing room before I got there. I’d say we had won about eight or ten or twelve ball games and we got beat the first one up there. But the gym will be full when we start winning. I know they’re promoting, and I’m all for that, that’s fine. Usually they bring in a bunch of little boys, you know, that dribble, and probably most of their mothers and daddies are going to come. Maybe not to see your team play but to see the dribblers.
HH: We should have at least eight or nine thousand a game.
JO: That would be great. I’d love to see it. I’d love to see it. See, they’ve taken out four sections of bleachers up there.
HH: Do you think they’ll ever retire any jerseys here…….
JO: They’ve retired McDaniels…..
HH: What did you think about when Willard came back and gave that jersey to Bryan Brown who wore it for a few years.
JO: Well……that jersey should be put on display someplace where it should be seen, because it was retired. I went back and listened to the speech by President Downing………in making the speech, you know, after we got back from the Final Four in ’71, they retired his jersey. I believe that’s how it happened. Now I think a lot of them feel because he signed early……he signed his senior year during Thanksgiving break……
HH: They still hold it against him don’t they?
JO: I think they do. And that’s not right.
HH: I mean if it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have been there to start with.
JO: That’s right. He didn’t do anything so terrible. Hey, I would have done the same thing, I think, under the circumstances. I’m just disappointed his jersey is not on display somewhere.
HH: What do you think about maybe before some of the games this season playing some sound clips of Coach Diddle’s voice over the PA system.
JO: I think that would be great. Yeah. You know, if you could ever catch him, like when he stepped on that guy’s typewriter………..he was always spelling out WESTERN. Again, in teaching this class, I have to tell them a lot about Coach Diddle. See, he died in ’70. That’s 28 years ago. In my class I’ll tell them this (arena) is named after him, the park is named after him, there’s a road up there near Columbia that’s named after him……….but you’re quickly forgotten.
HH: It seems like there’s not enough, even inside of the arena, to let people know who he was.
JO: Well, the statue, that was a great move……..
HH: It’s nice, but it’s kind of small.
JO: Yeah. Yeah, I wanted a statue of him outside there where the two ramps come together. Then I wanted a big marquee out there, a great big marquee, that said, “Basketball Tonight,” I mean a good looking one. Someone asked me yesterday about that sign over there at University Boulevard and 31-W, I said, “that’s great, that’s class, I mean that’s classy,” You know the gold letters on the brick on the corner of University Boulevard and 31-W. It has Western Kentucky University up there. That’s first class, I think. That’s the way……when you do something you ought to do it…..do it up first class. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
HH: I feel they should put in a separate room maybe somewhere inside of Diddle Arena…….an actual hall of fame instead of just having photos lining the walls. Put everything together……..the photographs, memorabilia, have video clips of Coach Diddle and some of the great teams…..
JO: Have a continuation running?
HH: Yeah. Interactive video and audio and photos.
JO: Yeah. I think that voice thing is great if we can get that worked out. I think that would be super. The announcer saying, “Now….. let’s all get behind Coach Diddle with WESTERN,” and he’d start it off with “W”.