Photo courtesy of the El Paso Times
Coach Don Haskins- “The Bear”
By Lori Cotton
College basketball remembers the life and hard work of “The Bear” Don Haskins after passing away in his home on Sept. 7, 2008 at 78 yrs. of age.
Coach Don Haskins will be remembered not only for his contribution to the University of Texas at El Paso basketball program, but to the sport as a whole.
In his 38-year-long career as a basketball coach at UTEP, formerly Texas Western, Haskins led the Miners to 719 wins, 14 NCAA tournament appearances and 7 Western Athletic Conference Championships. He is also the only college basketball coach in Texas to win the NCAA Division I Championship.
The team credited with that championship is the 1966 Miners. The Disney film, Glory Road, tells the story of Haskins and his team defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 72-65 for the national title. Haskins’ starting lineup for the game consisted of five black players. This had never been seen in college basketball before.
When Haskins retired in August 1999, he was ranked 19th among the all-time Division I men’s basketball coaches due to his career 719 wins and 353 losses.
A native of Enid, Oklahoma, Haskins attended college at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University, from 1949-52. During his college basketball career, he played the positions of guard and forward. His senior year, Haskins was selected as a 2nd team All-Conference player. Haskins and his teammates went to the NCAA Semifinals in 1949 and 1951.
“The Bear” began his coaching career at Benjamin High School in Texas in 1955. From there, he also taught and coached at Hedley High School and Dumas High School before taking over the UTEP Miners for the 1961-62 season. That year, he led the team to a winning record of 18-6. The next year, the Miners made the first of 14 NCAA appearances with Haskins as coach.
Nicknamed “The Bear” for his attitude during practices and games, Haskins was a coach who pushed his players. Harry Flournoy, a forward for the 1966 national team, told Sports Illustrated, “Every practice he rode us as hard as he could, he just didn’t want us to get complacent.”
Haskins not only gained respect from his athletes, but from coaches and celebrities as well. Bill Cosby was a supporter of Haskins and his dedication to the game.
With 32 winning seasons, it is no surprise that Haskins has coached many players who went on to play professional basketball in the NBA. Tim Hardaway, Antonio Davis, Mike Richmond, and Juden Smith are just a few of the professional athletes coached by Haskins.
Coaching players like these also led to his induction in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. He was then accepted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 29, 1997. And following his retirement was inducted into the Jim Thorpe Association’s Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, 1999.
Don Haskins’ memorial service was held at UTEP in the men and women’s basketball venue that bears his name.