Commentary

CIAA basketball coaching legends

Updated: June 17, 2011, 2:47 PM ET
By Donald Hunt | ESPN.com

Gaines/Joyner/RobbinsAP PhotosClarence "Big House" Gaines, left, has paved the way for coaches like Viginia Union's Dave Robbins and Johnson C. Smith's Steve Joyner.

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's basketball legends aren't limited to the men who ran the floor -- Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, Al Attles, Rick Mahorn, Ronald "Flip" Murray, and others. The sidelines of the oldest black college sports conference in the nation have also had its share of heroes, led by two all-time greats.

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Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coaches Clarence "Big House" Gaines and John McLendon set the standard to which every CIAA coach since has aspired. Today's heirs to Gaines and McLendon will gather in Charlotte, N.C., from Feb. 28 to March 5 for this year's CIAA tournament -- one of the biggest sporting events for African-Americans in the country.

The CIAA tournament started during the 1945-46 season. The conference was founded in 1912 as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. As it nears its 100th birthday, the CIAA's rich tradition of great coaches remains one of its hallmarks. Here's a look at some of the best coaches in CIAA history:

1. Clarence "Big House" Gaines, Winston-Salem State, 1946-1993

When he retired in 1993, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Gaines took up as much room in the record books as he did in person to earn his nickname. His 47 years at the helm at Winston-Salem were a record, as were his 12 CIAA titles. At the time of his retirement, his 828 career wins were second all-time, trailing only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp.

In 1967, led by future NBA great Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, Gaines' Winston-Salem team finished 31-1, and became the first black college to win an NCAA national championship -- the Division II title. That season Gaines was named the NCAA College Division II Coach of the Year. Gaines' teams won 20 or more games 18 times en route to an overall record of 828-447.

Gaines was also Winston-Salem State's athletic director from 1946-1993, as well as its football coach from 1946-1949. Aside from Monroe, Gaines also coached the great Cleo Hill -- the first player from a black college chosen No. 1 overall in the NBA draft (1961, St. Louis Hawks). Winston-Salem State's athletic hall of fame is named for Gaines.

Gaines was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, one year after his death.

2. John McLendon, North Carolina College, 1941-1952

A true groundbreaker, McLendon was both the first African-American to coach a professional sports team and the first African-American head coach at a predominantly white college. Decades earlier, he learned the game from its inventor, Dr. James Naismith, at Kansas University -- but was not allowed to play on the team, as the Jayhawks would not become integrated until 1951. His teams were noted for outstanding defense and a lightning-quick fast-break offense. Well-conditioned athletes were a hallmark of McLendon's teams, with future Boston Celtics great and Hall of Famer Sam Jones standing out as his top protégé. He coached some great teams at North Carolina College, winning eight CIAA titles (1941, 1943-44, 1946-1947, 1949-'50, 1952) while compiling a 264-60 record.

After North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central), McLendon's collegiate coaching career included stops at Hampton, Tennessee State, Kentucky State and Cleveland State -- where in 1967 he became the first black head coach at a predominantly white college. Prior to that, in 1961, he broke the color barrier for coaching in the pro ranks, with the ABL's Cleveland Pipers -- the team owned at the time by future New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

McLendon, who died in 1999, is enshrined in both the Basketball Hall of Fame (1979) and the College Basketball Hall of Fame ('07).

3. Dave Robbins, Virginia Union, 1978-'08

The then-controversial hiring of Robbins -- the first white head coach in the CIAA -- paid enormous dividends over a 30-year tenure at Virginia Union. He put together an amazing 713-194 overall record, including three Division II national championships (1980, 1992, and 2005), 14 CIAA championships and 21 trips to the NCAA tournament. He coached five future NBA players: Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace, A.J. English, Terry Davis and Jamie Waller.

4. Bobby Vaughn, Elizabeth City State, 1949-1986

Vaughn's teams were known for their fast-paced offense and press defense, and years before it was popularized by Dean Smith and others, Vaughn's wholesale five-man substitutions helped keep his starters fresh and the pressure on the opposition. He finished with an impressive 502-301 overall record and seven appearances in the national playoffs. Vaughn's coaching highlight came during the 1968-69 season, when he led Elizabeth City State to a 29-4 mark and an 89-86 upset win over Norfolk State to win the CIAA title. They took third place in the NAIA tournament that season. The starting guard on that team, Mike Gale, went on to play 12 seasons in the ABA and NBA.

5. Mike Bernard, North Carolina Central, 1985-'91; Norfolk State, '91-'98; Fayetteville State, '98-'02; Shaw University, '02-'06

Bernard was one of the CIAA's most successful coaches. In his 21 seasons as head coach, he has a 362-212 record. In 1989, he led North Carolina Central to a 28-4 record and a Division II national championship. Bernard took Norfolk State to the 1994 Division II Final Four, and the following year led the Spartans to the Elite Eight. An alumnus of Kentucky State, Bernard is currently the director of basketball operations at Delaware State, working with one of his former North Carolina Central assistants, Greg Jackson.

6. Charles Christian, Norfolk State, 1973-1978, 1981-1990

Christian spent 14 years coaching the Spartans, 11 of which were 20-plus-win campaigns. He won seven CIAA titles and three NCAA Division II regional titles, and finished his coaching career with a 319-95 record.

7. Steve Joyner, Johnson C. Smith University, 1987-Present

Joyner has been pacing the sidelines at Johnson C. Smith for 24 years, and has the Golden Bulls primed for another postseason run in the CIAA tournament. He has won six CIAA Western Division titles and three conference championships. He was named coach of the year in 1992, '97, and '01. He also won the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year in 2001.

8. Greg Jackson, North Carolina Central, 1984-2000

Currently the head coach at Delaware State, Jackson enjoyed a successful 16-year career at North Carolina Central, the last nine as head coach. He guided the Eagles to five CIAA division titles and three appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs. He received CIAA Coach of the Year honors on three occasions. He is one of two coaches in Eagles history to amass 20 or more wins in four seasons, joining Hall of Famer John McLendon. He tallied 163-77 overall record at NC Central.

9. Hank Ford, Hampton, 1975-1987

Ford, the winningest basketball coach in Hampton men's history, compiled a 228-120 record in his 12 seasons with the Pirates. He had five seasons where his teams won 20 or more games. Ford also won CIAA tournament crowns in 1982 and 1983. He was named the tournament's most outstanding coach four times. Ford coached former NBA star Rick Mahorn, a three-time All-American at Hampton.

10. Cal Irvin, North Carolina A&T, 1954-1972

In 18 years as the Aggies head coach, Irvin led North Carolina A&T to five CIAA championships. In the 1958-59 season, NC A&T became the first black college to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. The Aggies advanced to the Final Four and finished third in the country. Irvin coached Al Attles and CIAA Hall of Famer Joe Howell, and he finished his career with a 308-105 record.

11. Harvey Heartley, St. Augustine's College, 1971-1994

Heartley didn't win a CIAA title, but made four trips to the conference championship game. In 1984, Heartley led the Falcons to the NCAA Division II title game before losing to Central Missouri State, 81-77. Future NBA star Ken Bannister was a force for the Falcons that season, and was named to the NCAA all-tournament team. Heartley won 310 games in his 23 seasons ars at Saint Augustine's.

12. Rick Duckett, Fayetteville State, 1994-'98; Winston-Salem State, '99-'01

After enjoying modest success in five seasons at Fayetteville State, Duckett exploded onto the scene at Winston-Salem State. In three seasons he led the Rams to a 73-19 record and CIAA championships in 1999 and 2000. He was named the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Coach of the Year in 1999, and went on to coach under Dave Odom at South Carolina from 2002-08, and spent one season as head coach at Grambling State in 2008-09.


Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.