Schaus coached, mentored Jerry West

Updated: February 12, 2010, 9:59 AM ET
Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fred Schaus, a former Los Angeles Lakers coach and general manager who mentored Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley at West Virginia, has died. He was 84.

The former West Virginia University coach and athletic director died Wednesday night in Morgantown, said Dan Hastings, a funeral director at Hastings Funeral Home in Morgantown. Schaus had been living in a nursing home. The cause of death wasn't immediately released.

"Fred's passing brings finality to a relationship that began in 1955, when he first came to our house to introduce himself as the coach of West Virginia University," West said in a statement released by the school.

A Cabin Creek native, West recalled Schaus telling him WVU would be the place for him to attend school and have an opportunity to play basketball.

"At that point in my life, he was the first coach to show interest in me," West said. "I was thrilled beyond words and to this day, I remember much about our meeting. Little did I know what a long-lasting relationship we would have."

Born in Newark, Ohio, Schaus became the first Mountaineers player to score 1,000 career points. He was drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons of the NBA and also played for the New York Knicks from 1949-54.

He compiled a 127-26 record as head coach at West Virginia from 1954 to 1960, including six straight NCAA tournament berths. The Mountaineers, led by West, advanced to the NCAA championship game in 1959, losing to California 71-70.

Schaus followed West to the Lakers, going 315-245 in seven seasons as head coach and guiding the team to four NBA finals before becoming general manager in 1967. The 1972 Lakers, behind West and Wilt Chamberlain, won a then-record 69 games in the regular season and beat the Knicks for the NBA title.

"We shared many incredible experiences, both joyous and painful, during our years together at WVU and then as my coach with the Los Angeles Lakers," West said. "As a young man with little experience with the outside world, he became my mentor and sounding board as I progressed as an athlete and as a person."

Schaus returned to the college ranks in 1972, going 105-59 in six seasons as head coach at Purdue. He also served as athletic director at West Virginia from 1981-89 before he retired. Schaus was inducted into his alma mater's athletics hall of fame in 1992.

Current athletic director Ed Pastilong succeeded Schaus.

"We lost one of our finest student-athletes, coaches and administrators in Fred," Pastilong said. "We are deeply indebted to his allegiance and service to WVU and our athletic department."

West Virginia annually honors the most outstanding captains of its varsity teams with the Fred Schaus Awards.

Hundley grew up in Charleston and remembers listening to WVU basketball games on the radio when Schaus was a player. Hundley, who earned his nickname for his on-court antics such as behind-the-back and no-look passes, also played for Schaus with the Lakers.

"He was a no-nonsense coach, but I learned years later that he secretly enjoyed all the things I did as a player at WVU," Hundley said in a statement. "He always told me, 'I [don't] care if you drop kick the ball out of the building, but we better be up by 20 when you do.'

"Fred taught me that the game was the most important thing. He never did anything to jeopardize the game."

Schaus is survived by his wife, Barbara, two sons, John and Jim, a sister, Mary Brown, and six grandchildren. Jim Schaus is the athletic director at Ohio University.

Services are scheduled for Sunday at Suncrest United Methodist Church in Morgantown with burial on Monday at Fairmount Cemetery in Jacksontown, Ohio.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press