Farewell To ‘The Bear’

By Gregory Moore
Updated: September 8, 2008

SAN ANTONIO — Don Haskins, the pioneer head coach of the University of Texas at El Paso (better known as Texas Western) passed away over the weekend.

Many of you know can recall the movie “Glory Road”, that was made back in 2006 about the 1966 national championship in which Haskins started five Black players against Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team.

Haskins coached at UTEP for 38 years and was a one of the least paid coaches in the college ranks. He died at his home Sunday, surrounded by friends and family, at 4:30 p.m. MDT.

Haskins, who was nicknamed “The Bear,” was the head coach at UTEP from 1961-99, leading the Miners to 719 wins, as well as a national title (1966), 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and seven Western Athletic Conference championships.

Nevil Shed, his starting center on the 1966 team, had told me of his passing before the news reports. Haskins was born on March 14, 1930 in Enid, Okla. He played his college ball at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) from 1949-52, where he was a second team All-Conference selection as a senior.

He split time at the guard and forward positions as a collegian, leading Oklahoma A&M to the NCAA semifinals in 1949 and 1951. Haskins’ coaching career began at Benjamin High School in Benjamin, Texas in 1955.

He was a teacher and coach of both boys and girls teams at Benjamin High from 1955-56. Haskins also headed the basketball programs at Hedley (Texas) High School from 1956-60 and Dumas (Texas) High School from 1960 -61.

Haskins took over the UTEP program for the 1961-62 season. His first Miner squad notched an 18-6 record. His second UTEP team posted a 19-7 mark during the 1962-63 campaign and made the first of his 14 NCAA Tournament appearances.

The Miners captured the NCAA title on March 19, 1966, shocking heavily-favored Kentucky, 72-65, for the championship. That year. Haskins became the first coach ever to start a lineup of five black players at the major college level.

His teams captured WAC championships in 1970, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1992, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1975, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992.

Haskins tutored numerous players who went on to play in the NBA, including Antonio Davis, Tim Hardaway and Jim Barnes, the first pick by New York in the 1964 NBA Draft.

Haskins’ last Miner team notched a 16-12 record during the 1998-99 season, his 32nd winning season in 38 years as head coach. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 29, 1997, and the Jim Thorpe Association Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, 1999 in Oklahoma City.

He is survived by his wife, Mary; three sons – Brent, David and Steve; and three grandsons. A fourth son, Mark, passed away in 1994.

Let’s keep this legendary coach’s family in our prayers as a decision that he made to start the five best players on his team actually helped open up the numerous opportunities for many of our young men today.

NOTE: The University of Texas at El Paso and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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