Gophers miss 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament
A year ago this month, the Minnesota Gophers Men’s Basketball team played in the NCAA Basketball tournament. The African American Head Coach, Tubby Smith, had retooled the team. It was on the move again. But even when 15-1, Star Tribune started a series of negative, anti-Tubby columns.
To his credit, Sid Hartman didn’t agree (writing the day before Smith was fired that it would be a “big mistake by the Gophers”). Coach Smith went deep into the tournament last year, losing only in the third round, the “Sweet 16,” three games from the championship. Next day: fired.
The century-long peculiar smell in the UM athletic culture raised the bar so high so that if he didn’t win the National Championship he would no longer be UM Men’s Head Basketball Coach.
For those who know the University of Minnesota history with Black coaches, this was not surprising. In 1951, Head Basketball Coach Ozzie Cowles said no African American would ever step on his court of competition. His teams played slow, “control basketball.” There are still those slow at acknowledging either civil rights or Blacks as Minnesota team’s head coaches.
When the great All American Quarterback, Sandy Stephens arrived in 1959 as a UM freshman, and was designated by Mississippi-born Head Football Coach Murray Warmath as the next QB, replacing Smokin’ Joe Salem, White alumni and the White media in MN put up a howl. They hadn’t won a championship in nearly 30 years.
Sandy Stephens, along with fellow Black All Americans Bobby Bell, Carl Eller, Bill Munsey, and Judge Dixon, put up with the hatred and venom directed towards them. They led the U to a Rose Bowl win and its last national football championship. None, now for over 50 years.
Four years later, the greatest trio of basketball players ever to select UM basketball — all African Americans — Lou Hudson, Archie Clark, and Don Yates, led the Gophers to three successive winning seasons. The constant besides winning: criticizing and attacking Black players.
The culture: There were too many “shadows” on the court. Five years later, Brewer, Turner, Young, and Taylor came to the Gopher basketball program. The White media in this city said there was too much racial imbalance on the basketball court. How to balance? White coach.
And then there was Clem Haskins, brought here to rejuvenate and breathe life back into UM men’s basketball — also forced out. When Lou Holtz left he told Clem that these folks don’t want a winning program — football or basketball — if Blacks are given starting and star roles. And soon, Clem Haskins was sent on his way.
Little has changed. A decade later, when Tubby Smith came here from Kentucky and turned around a basketball program that had fallen on hard times, he too, despite winning, was told to move on (in one of the most cowardly displays in big-time sports).
Tubby’s replacement was not negatively critiqued by the White media, so, in the final analysis, the dark shadow of Raymond “Red” Presley, a friend of mine who was the legendary UM three-sport athlete not always allowed to play, continues to speak volumes about a culture that really doesn’t want too many Blacks, and certainly doesn’t want them in positions of power and leadership, and that never wants to refer to them as heroes.
It’s why, other than hockey, the U of M will have a hard time winning championships. The late, great Bobby Marshall stated in 1903 about how difficult it was to be a Negro in the culture of Golden Gopher Sports. It still is.
For Ron’s hosted radio and TV show’s broadcast times, solution papers, books and archives, go to www.TheMinneapolisStory.com. To order his books go to Beacon on the Hill Press.