In Dec.16 IssueBy John ThompsonTimes Journal Reporter
Russell County and local University of Louisville Alumni received a special treat as the legendary Coach Denny Crum visited to give a speech at The Cove last Thursday.
Long admired as one of the most successful coaches in men's NCAA basketball history, Crum's illustrious 30-year career as head coach for the University of Louisville's men's basketball team netted the school two NCAA National Championships (1980, 1986), six Final Four appearances, other than the two National Championship wins (1972, 1975, 1982, 1983), as well as enough post season play from 1971 to 2001 to earn himself the nickname of "Mr. March."
The number of awards, titles, recognitions and honors bestowed upon Coach Crum could itself fill an article. Suffice it to say that the man is one of the legends of coaching in any sport.
Russell County's own Dr. Richard Miles played under Crum in 1971-72, when the Cards made it to the Final Four. Though Miles is first to say his playing time on the court was minimal, he was undoubtedly influenced by the resolve, yet calm of Crum. "I never heard him swear. There were very few times he would even raise his voice," Miles said.
Crum's cool demeanor earned him his most recognized nickname of "Cool Hand Luke," as he would pace the sidelines, rolled up program in his hand.
"I didn't receive very many technicals," Crum said. "I figured that if I'm going to tell these boys how they ought to behave, I should exhibit the same behaviors."
Miles holds a lot of admiration for Crum's coaching ability.
"In my opinion he was the best bench coach in the game. I don't think there was anyone better at managing the bench or the clock when it came down to the final two minutes of a game," Miles said as the group of about 30 alumni and fans mingled and reminisced.
Roger Burkman, known as "Instant Defense" in his Cardinal days, was on the 1980 Championship team, playing from 1978 - 1981 for Coach Crum at the guard position. Burkman was considered one of the best "sixth men" in college basketball for his ability to come off the bench and make things happen. He specialized in rebounding, steals, and lighting a fire under the team when it needed it most.
Burkman will at times accompany Coach Crum when he gives his talks, as he did this night. They are friends who enjoy doing things like fishing or hunting together. He readily admits that Crum continues to have a profound influence in his life, because he was not only his basketball coach but a life mentor, much like the legendary coach of UCLA, Coach John Wooden, was to Coach Crum.
Though Crum was, and is, an inveterate competitor, Burkman recounted a comment his young son had said after meeting the coach, "That's one of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. I said he's not changed a bit in all the years I've known him."
Coach Crum's speech centered on leadership, and the man who taught him much of what he knows was Wooden. Wooden was the UCLA coach from 1948 - 1975, and in one 12 year stretch won 10 National Championships with the team, the most dominant stretch in college men's basketball history.
"What I know about success and leadership I learned from my coach, John Wooden," Crum said.
Crum first played for Wooden, then assisted him at UCLA before taking the head coaching job in Louisville. His affection, admiration and influence on his life, as well as coaching, and the everyday advice and wisdom imparted to Crum by Wooten was captured in a book titled "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court." Much of what Crum had to say was drawn from the aphorisms and advice given in the book as well as recounting a few of the more outstanding moments from his outstanding career as the Head Coach of the University of Louisville Men's Basketball program.
In 2001, after retiring from coaching, Crum was hired to become a roaming ambassador for U of L. Since then he has dedicated himself to appearing for numerous charities and alumni fundraising events, keeping a packed schedule from which he occasionally makes time for pursuing his passion to compete, whether in golf, poker or hunting and fishing.
While in Russell County Crum signed autographs and heard of the local fundraiser challenge by Dr. James Monin who pledged $7,500 if matched.