Ex-DePaul coach Ray Meyer dies at 92

Updated: March 18, 2006, 4:09 PM ET
Associated Press

 Ray Meyer
Meyer
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 immediately available.

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.
Bill Raftery

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.

I saw George Mikan, and I saw my future.
Ray Meyer

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 profession."

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 humor.

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 the potatoes."

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 competitions.

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 two daughters.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE