CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For my 23 years as a university president/chancellor, I encouraged increased emphasis on intercollegiate athletics, believing at the time that the reasons were well founded. In the main, they were.
At Illinois State University, Will Robinson was the first African-American head basketball coach in Division 1 history and he coached Doug Collins, the school's only consensus All-American and number one pick in the 1973 NBA draft. Collins, a professional all-star guard, remained close to ISU. The college was also a pioneer in women's sports and was one of America's three leaders in producing elementary and secondary school teachers.
I reasoned that a brighter light would benefit the Illinois State image, assist in student recruiting and help raise more private funding, especially for student scholarships and women's sports. It worked well.
At West Virginia University, I learned quickly that the state's 1.8 million citizens regarded winning athletic teams as essential, especially in football and men's basketball. Always sensitive to unfair belittling from outsiders, the Mountaineers were especially proud of their favorite son Jerry West, who was a consensus All-American guard and gold medal winner for the United States in the 1960 Summer Olympics. No athlete has contributed more to Mountaineer lore and, as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, he could not be stopped. In 1966 West was voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.
When we had a head football coach opening in 1980, WVU was under enormous pressure because of a controversial decision to build a new 65,000-seat stadium. We were beginning to raise significant amounts of money for academic purposes, a clear beneficiary of athletic success.
We reached out to Don Nehlan, quarterback coach at the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler. He completed a 20-year tenure at Morgantown with a record of 149-93-4, the most wins in school history. He coached l5 first team All-Americans and was inducted into the College Football of Fame in 2005.
Moving to the University of Kansas as chancellor, was different because KU was atop the academic ladder as a member of the Association of American Universities, regarded as America's premier research schools. And it still is.
But to not recognize the historic role of men's basketball would have been an unforgivable sin in the collective eye of the 150,000 alumni. Thus, I was heavily involved in the selection of head basketball coaches, along with athletic directors Monte Johnson and Bob Frederick.
Partially on the advice of Dean Smith, famed University of North Carolina basketball coach and a KU graduate, we went with Larry Brown in 1983 and Roy Williams in 1988. Both posted extraordinary records at Kansas and were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. KU also produced football All-Americans Gale Sayers and John Hadl who went on to have Hall of Fame careers in the NFL.