A Look At UMass Basketball Coaching Debuts
Nov. 14, 2008
Every coach experiences it - the rush, the exhilaration, the butterflies that float through their stomach in anticipation of their first game at a new school. Everyone wants to make a positive first impression and begin their new venture on a high note. For the University of Massachusetts basketball program, the initiation of a new head coach has occurred twenty-one times over its one hundred year history, with mentors putting up a 13 and 8 record in their UMass debuts.
From their inaugural season of 1899-1900 through 1907-08, the team played without a formal head coach. While the first coach to officially pace the sidelines wouldn't occur until the 1916-17 season, the first official mention of a coach occurred during the 1906-07 school year when the University hired Eugene Edwards of Northampton as its first basketball coach. While it is clear that Edwards was indeed hired by the University, then called Massachusetts Agricultural College, what isn't clear is if Edwards ever actually coached a game. He may have been hired to help the team improve its fundamentals, and as no record can be found that he ever coached a game, it is assumed that his role in history was only as a practice coach.
The 1907-08 and 1908-09 seasons also show similar situations; J.F. Doran of Springfield was hired for the 1907-08 season and Dr. Percy Reynolds, an assistant professor of physical culture and education and hygiene was hired for the 1908-09 season. As with Edwards before them, no record can be found that Doran or Reynolds ever coached during games. As for those who have coached in games, here is how those coaches have fared in their inaugural contests.
1. Harold "Kid" Gore - January 20, 1917 - Win - Gore, an alumnus of the class of 1913, took over the reins of the first Massachusetts' basketball team to play a game in seven years, as basketball had been disbanded as a varsity sport following the 1908-09 season. Behind captain and future UMass Athletic Hall of Famer Emory Grayson's 13 points, the Aggies, as they were then known, throttled Connecticut 33 to 12 in their return to the hardwood.
2. Sumner Dole - January 5, 1918 - Win - Dole, who took the reins when Gore was called "over there" during World War I, was also an alumnus (class of 1915) who holds the distinction of being the only man to coach basketball at both Massachusetts and Connecticut. In his initial game for Massachusetts, the Aggies defeated Dole's future employer 25 to 20 as junior captain Arthur McCarthy (13) and sophomore forward Harold Harrington (8) combined to outscore Connecticut 21 to 20.
3. Emory Grayson - January 7, 1920 - Loss - The former captain of the 1916-17 squad took over a team that was bolstered by the return of a number of World War I vets who had played for the team prior to being called to duty. Despite 10 points from returnee Alan Pond, who would die later in the season due to pneumonia attributed to gassing he received during the war, the Aggies fell to Connecticut 28 to 19.
4. Fred "Fritz" Ellert - January 8, 1930 - Win - In a first (and last) for Massachusetts basketball, the head coaching reins were taken over by a student, senior captain Fred Ellert. Instituting a man-to-man defense, Ellert's squad held Fitchburg Normal School to two first-half points and 3 field goals for the entire game as Massachusetts cruised to a 41 to 13 victory. As for Ellert, the player-coach added 5 points to the effort.
5. Melvin Taube - January 11, 1934 - Win - Taube, a Purdue graduate who also doubled as the head football and baseball coach, became the first ever non-Massachusetts' alumnus to be named head basketball coach. Massachusetts' all-around superstar Louis Bush scored almost half of the Statesmen's points (17) and was assisted by junior center William Davis's 11 points in a 35 to 31 win over Middlebury College.
6. Wilho Frigard - December 17, 1936 - Win - Frigard, a guard on the only undefeated team in program history (the 1933-34 team that finished a perfect 12 and 0), successfully debuted with a 36 to 31 win over Middlebury College behind 16 points from senior captain Isadore "Lefty" Barr.
7. Lou Bush - December 10, 1940 - Loss - Bush, a three-sport star and one of the finest athletes to ever wear the maroon-and-white, was unable to successfully transfer his on-field success to the sidelines as the Statesmen dropped a 54 to 53 nail-biter to Trinity. The Statesmen's troubles began when sophomore center Ted Bokina, playing his first varsity game, fouled out after scoring 17 points. With Bokina gone, Trinity outscored Massachusetts 17 to 5 to end the game.
8. Walter Hargesheimer - December 12, 1941 - Win - Hargesheimer, who was also the head football coach, opened his Massachusetts' basketball career during a tumultuous time for the United States, a mere five days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Trailing Hamilton College by 4 with under three minutes remaining, the Statesmen closed out the game on a 7 to 0 run to win 48 to 45 and make Hargesheimer's debut a success.
9. Lorin "Red" Ball - January 9, 1946 - Loss - Ball, an alumnus of the class of 1921 who had been a forward for the Aggies during his college days, had also been a longtime coach of the hockey team. Playing their first game following a two year absence of athletics due to World War II, the Statesmen suffered a 44 to 31 defeat to W.P.I. despite the efforts of freshman guard Dick Lee, who scored 15 points in his collegiate debut.
10. Bob Curran - December 6, 1952 - Loss - Curran, a member of the 1947 national champion Holy Cross Crusaders, took over a team that had completed the 1951-52 season with a 4 and 17 record. Junior captain Henry Mosychuk led the Redmen with 18 and center Bill Stephens added 11, but it wouldn't be enough as the Minutemen fell to Northeastern 62 to 56.
11. Matt Zunic - December 4, 1959 - Loss - Zunic, who had led Boston University to an NCAA bid earlier in the year, opened his UMass career with a 75 to 67 loss to Bates. The trio of Doug Grutchfield (19), senior captain Leo LeBlanc (16) and senior Bob Eichorn (14) combined for 49 points in the loss.
12. John Orr - December 3, 1963 - Win - Making his collegiate head coaching debut, Orr went about implementing an energetic fast breaking, defensive pressing system. Led by 5'8" senior guard Peter Bernard's 17 points, the Redmen made Orr's debut a success with an 80 to 72 win over Boston University.
13. Jack Leaman - December 3, 1966 - Loss - Following five seasons as an assistant coach, the man who would become the all-time leader in wins and whose name now graces the court of the Mullins Center got his opportunity to be a head coach. In his debut, Leaman was matched up against one of the all-time greats in basketball history, former Celtic point guard Bob Cousy, who brought to Amherst a Boston College squad that would win 23 games and end the season ranked number 9 in the nation. Senior guard Bob Murphy led UMass with 16 and sophomore Mike Gemei added 15, but it wasn't enough as the Redmen fell to the Eagles 86 to 63.
14. Ray Wilson - December 1, 1979 - Loss - Following the lead of the most successful coach in program history was a tough act to follow, but that was the hand Ray Wilson was dealt when he took over the Minutemen after Leaman's 13 seasons at the helm. A long-time assistant, Wilson had been a teammate of Leaman's at Boston University in the late 1950s and had also been Julius Erving's high school coach. Wilson would suffer an inauspicious debut when the Minutemen were dealt a 112 to 64 loss at Michigan. The margin of defeat was the worst by a Massachusetts' team in 71 years. The only real highlight of the game was the play of junior forward Curtis Phauls, who put up 30 points and 8 rebounds in his UMass debut.
15. Tom McLaughlin - December 3, 1981 - Loss - Captain of the 1971-72 team that advanced to the second round of the NIT, McLaughlin became the first UMass alum to coach the team since Red Ball almost 30 years prior. McLaughlin, who had been an assistant coach for Digger Phelps at Notre Dame when the Irish were regularly making appearances in the A.P. Top 10, faced off against former backcourt mate Rick Pitino, who was then head coach at Boston University. Despite 27 points and 9 rebounds from freshman forward Horace Neysmith, it was Pitino who got the best of this matchup as Boston University defeated UMass 91 to 65.
16. Ron Gerlufsen - November 29, 1983 - Win - Gerlufsen, whose only prior collegiate coaching experience had been in the previous two seasons as an assistant at UMass, became the first Massachusetts coach to successfully win his debut since John Orr in 1963 when freshman point guard Carl Smith hit a last second shot to propel the Minutemen to a 75 to 73 victory over New Hampshire.
17. John Calipari - November 26, 1988 - Win - Coming in with a reputation as a top-notch recruiter for programs with a high pedigree (Kansas, Pittsburgh) Calipari began his head coaching career with a matchup against Division II Southern Connecticut in the Curry Hicks Cage. Led by senior captain David Brown's 18 point, 11 rebound effort and the freshman tandem of Anton Brown (17 points) and Jim McCoy (13), Calipari successfully led the Minutemen to an 84 to 61 win.
18. James "Bruiser" Flint - November 25, 1996 - Win - To say that Flint came in with big shoes to fill was an understatement. Under Calipari, UMass had become a national power, advancing to the Final Four just months earlier. Following in Calipari's footsteps, Flint also opened up his head coaching career with a Division II opponent as the Minutemen defeated Chaminade 59 to 48 in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. While this was Flint's official debut, he had actually coached the team for one game during the 1995-96 season when Marcus Camby had collapsed prior to a game at St. Bonaventure and was taken to the hospital for tests. With Calipari accompanying Camby to the hospital, Flint was handed the reins of the number one team in the nation. While it was Flint who led UMass to victory, it is the official head coach who gets the credit in the record books, thus the win goes to Calipari.
19. Steve Lappas - November 16, 2001 - Win - Following a successful run at Villanova, Lappas opened up his UMass career with come from behind 66 to 60 win over Arkansas-Little Rock at the Mullins Center. Micah Brand had a hot hand for UMass, scoring 23 points on 11 of 14 shooting in the victory.
20. Travis Ford - November 18, 2005 - Win - Ford, the former Kentucky point guard who had played under UMass alum Rick Pitino, successfully led the Minutemen to victory in his debut as UMass defeated Hartford 67 to 62 behind 25 points and 6 rebounds from Jeff Viggiano.
21. Derek Kellogg- November 11, 2008 - Win - Kellogg, a point guard during the glory years of the 1990s and a former assistant to Calipari at Memphis, became the seventh former Massachusetts' basketball player to go on to take over the head coaching job at his alma mater. Like his mentor before him, Kellogg opened up his head coaching career against a Division II opponent as the Minutemen defeated Arkansas-Monticello 90 to 71 behind 22 from Ricky Harris and 18 points and 11 assists from Chris Lowe. With the win, Kellogg became the sixth consecutive coach to open his UMass career on a positive note.
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