CHICAGO -- Ray Meyer, who built DePaul into a national
basketball power during a 42-year span, coaching a generation of
players stretching from George Mikan to Mark Aguirre, died Friday
at age 92.
Meyer twice took the Blue Demons to the NCAA Final Four, helped
develop Mikan -- who would eventually become basketball's first
dominating big man -- and coached DePaul to the 1945 NIT title.
His death was confirmed by athletic director Jean Lenti
Ponsetto. The school said his family was with him when he died at
an assisted living facility. Additional details were not
Meyer's death comes just as the NCAA Tournament is getting under
way in cities around the country. Meyer's teams competed in the
tourney 13 times, and many of the coaches there now remembered him
and the legacy he left.
"He was a coach's coach, he was a man's man," said Duke coach
Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in Chicago. "He was the face of
college basketball in Chicago. When you think of basketball in that
city, you think of Ray Meyer."
Said UCLA's Ben Howland: "He had a great, long life."
Meyer had an eye for talent with players such as Aguirre, Terry Cummings, Dallas Comegys and Dave Corzine, who parlayed their college experience into pro careers.
But no player he coached had as much of an impact on the game as Mikan, who died in June 2005.
Meyer had just been hired at DePaul in 1942 when he was introduced to a 6-foot-10 student with thick glasses.
"I saw George Mikan," Meyer recalled, "and I saw my future."
Under Meyer's tutelage, Mikan became a two-time college player of the year. A half-century ago, no one had seen someone that tall with such agility, tenacity and skill.
From the days of two-handed set shots to the slam dunk era, Meyer either coached or broadcast 1,467 consecutive Blue Demons games, a 55-year streak. He retired in 1984 with a 724-354 record and then became a special assistant to the president while also doing radio commentary.
"He was a sweetheart of a guy, who always made you feel good
about life and made sure you knew you were lucky to be around this
game," CBS college basketball analyst and former Seton Hall coach
Bill Raftery said.
"The last time I saw him at the Final Four last year, he had
the same smile I first saw 30 years ago, even though he was being
pushed in a wheelchair by his grandson," he said.
Meyer's 1978-79 team reached the Final Four by beating Southern California, Marquette and UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Demons lost 76-74 to Larry Bird's Indiana State team in the semifinals, then defeated Penn 96-93 to finish third.
Michigan State won the title that season behind Magic Johnson.
Jud Heathcote, who coached the Spartans then, was in Dayton, Ohio,
on Friday to watch his old team in the tournament.
"He was a great coach, but a greater man," Heathcote said.
"His longevity was unbelievable. He was a tremendous credit to our
Meyer's 1943 team also made it to the Final Four. Two years later, the Blue Demons, behind Mikan, won the NIT championship.
Meyer said coaching had become mainly a job of preparation.
"A coach does less coaching than ever once the game begins. The shot clock has taken away decisions. It's all preparation now. Players are on their own when they hit the floor," he said in a Chicago Tribune interview just before his 80th birthday.
DePaul women's coach Doug Bruno played for Meyer from 1969-73.
Earlier Friday, Bruno spoke about his former coach's sense of
When a player shot too much, Bruno remembered, Meyer would say,
"I'd hate to be at dinner with him because he wouldn't pass you
One of Meyer's best friends was the late Marquette coach Al
McGuire. Bruno recalled a DePaul-Marquette game.
"Al Maguire's locker room was next to ours," Bruno said. "Ray
would be yelling, he'd pause for a second and then you'd hear Al
yelling. Al would pause for a second, and you'd hear Ray yelling.
It was great."
Meyer's team was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll at the end of the regular season in both 1980 and 1981, and his 1982 squad ended up second. Those three teams had a combined record of 59-3 in the regular season but lost the first round of the NCAA Tournament each year.
Meyer's Demons also made seven trips to the NIT. His 1945 team
won the NIT when it was the more prestigious of the two postseason
Meyer's teams posted 37 winning seasons and had 20-win campaigns 12 times. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.
He retired in 1984 and his son, Joey, took over, lasting 13 years until he was forced to resign in 1997 after a 3-23 season. Joey Meyer had played and been an assistant under his father.
"I wanted to be able to make it to the Final Four and then say
to the elderly gentleman, 'We did it again.' But that's not in the
cards now," he said at the time.
Ray Meyer was unhappy that his son was sent packing, but he also
was angry about the timing because by late April, most coaching
vacancies had been filled. So, on Sept. 10, 1997, an aging Meyer
quit his fundraising and ambassadorial job for the university.
In January 1999, DePaul honored the 1978-79 Blue Demons, holding
a halftime ceremony and inducting the entire squad into the
school's Hall of Fame. Meyer declined to attend, still unhappy over
DePaul's treatment of his son.
There were shouts of "We want Ray! We want Ray!" as the Final
Four team was introduced at halftime of a game against Marquette at
the United Center.
The school and its most visible athletic figure later patched up
their relationship. In 1999, DePaul dedicated the Ray Meyer Fitness
and Recreation Center on its Lincoln Park campus.
On Dec. 14, 2003, the game floor at the All-Star Arena in
suburban Rosemont, where the Blue Demons play their home games, was
dedicated as the Ray and Marge Meyer court. Meyer became a fixture
at Blue Demons home games again.
Meyer, who at one time suffered from a heart valve problem that
left him short of breath, closed his Ray Meyer Basketball Camp for
boys in Three Lakes, Wis., in the summer of 2001. It opened in
1947. Bob Petitt, Eddie Johnson and Dan Issel were campers.
Meyer was a standout player at Notre Dame before beginning his
coaching career. His wife died in 1988.
In addition to Joey Meyer, survivors include two other sons and