When Willie Burton’s Minnesota Gopher jersey was retired in January, his coach’s name again resurfaced, drawing both rolling eyes and disgusting sighs from some locals. That coach, Clem Haskins, is nonetheless the only Gopher men’s basketball coach to lead a team to the Final Four (1997) and the last coach to win a Big Ten championship (that same year).
Although both feats later were vacated, some still continue to pretend that it didn’t happen. Haskins did more than coach basketball—he molded young men, first into solid college basketball players, but also successful, productive men in our society. His former players virtually to a man sing Haskins’ praises.
“I think a lot of players came [to MN] because of that reason,” Burton (1987-90) said of Haskins. “He made you better, and challenged you every day. It didn’t matter who you were.”
Teammate Jim Shikenjanski added, “He took a lot of guys with various backgrounds and was a father figure for most guys for a long time. We all turned out to be relatively decent or better-contributing members of society.”
“People ask me all the time what makes a good coach,” Rob Metcalf (1989-91) commented. “Clem inspired you and instilled that in you. You wanted to play for Clem, and you wanted Clem to be proud of you, and you’d run through a brick wall for him.”
“Coach Haskins…was a father to each and every one of us,” said Mario Green (1990-91) of the 76-year-old former Gopher coach. “He did everything he needed to do to make us successful. He was there through the thick and thin, [as well as] his beautiful wife, [Yevette] Haskins… She was looking out for each and every one of us. We were a close-knit family. I will never forget it.”
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo remembers when Haskins, Gene Keady and Bob Knight were the league’s stalwarts when he got the Spartans job in the mid-1995. “I just loved how hard Clem’s teams played. I think he was great for the Big Ten, great for college basketball, and was great for kids,” Izzo stressed.
“He helped me a lot [my] first couple of years. He appreciated [how] my teams played hard. It was a slugfest when we come up here.”
No matter what transpired decades ago, the state’s largest university’s first permanent Black male head coach in school history deserves more than just a passing notice. If Indiana University can honor Knight as it did a couple of weeks ago, who did a lot worse than anything Haskins did, then Haskins’ name should be more than an unfortunate footnote in the Gophers’ record books. The U of M should do more to let the world know this as well.
“I think he did a lot for this place,” Izzo said of Haskins.
“I try to develop young men to be successful fathers and employees,” Haskins simply explained. “They are all successful young men in the community of Minnesota or wherever they may relocate.”
Asked how he really wants to be remembered around these parts, Haskins reflected fondly on what happens whenever he and his former players get together: “Every player would tell me, ‘Coach, we tell our sons and daughters the same way you [taught] us. We became good parents and good fathers from some of the things we learned from you.’ That makes you feel good.”
“I think Minnesota need to recognize [Haskins] and put all that stuff behind,” Melvin Newbern (1988-90) said. “I think sooner or later they will give him his due.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.