Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Great Plains states have produced many successful professional and college sports coaches. Plains natives have coached their teams to numerous national and international championships.

Several prominent professional baseball managers were born in the Plains. Although they were better known as players than as managers, Hall of Famers Tris Speaker of Hubbard City, Texas, and Rogers Hornsby of Winters, Texas, managed world championship teams. Speaker's Cleveland Indians won the World Series in 1920, and Hornsby's St. Louis Cardinals won in 1926. Billy Southworth, who was born in Harvard, Nebraska, managed the Cardinals to World Series titles in 1942 and 1944. Ralph Houk of Larned, Kansas, managed the New York Yankees to world championships in 1961 and 1962.

George "Sparky" Anderson, born in Rapid City, South Dakota, is the only manager to win the World Series in both major leagues. Anderson won with the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and 1976 and with the Detroit Tigers in 1984. The most successful baseball manager of the 1990s was Bobby Cox, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cox managed the Atlanta Braves in four World Series, winning in 1995. Mike Hargrove of Perryton, Texas, managed the Cleveland Indians in the World Series in 1995 and 1997.

In college football, Tom Osborne, a native of Hastings, Nebraska, and coach at the University of Nebraska, retired after the 1997 season with 254 victories, ranking him sixth among all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I coaches in history. Osborne's Cornhuskers won national championships in 1994 and 1995 and shared the title in 1997. Frank Leahy, born in O'Neill, Nebraska, and raised in Winner, South Dakota, coached Notre Dame between 1941 and 1953. Leahy's Fighting Irish won national titles in 1943, 1946, 1947, and 1949. Darrell Royal of Hollis, Oklahoma, coached national champions at the University of Texas in 1963, 1969, and 1970.

Professional basketball's most successful coach of recent years, Phil Jackson, was born in Deer Lodge, Montana. Under Jackson, the Chicago Bulls won National Basketball Association (NBA) titles in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998. His regular-season winning percentage of .738 (as of 2002) is unmatched in NBA history. Jackson subsequently coached the Los Angeles Lakers to the title in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Another Plains native to earn an NBA title as head coach is Bill Sharman of Abilene, Texas, who won with Los Angeles in 1971.

The Plains has been an especially fertile source of successful college basketball coaches. The two winningest men's coaches and the winningest women's coach are all from the Plains states. Adolph Rupp of Halstead, Kansas, coached the University of Kentucky Wildcats to NCAA basketball titles in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958. Dean Smith, born in Emporia and raised in Topeka, Kansas, coached at the University of North Carolina from 1962 to 1997. Smith's Tar Heels won national championships in 1982 and 1993, and Smith holds records for most career and most NCAA tournament victories.

Several other NCAA tournament–winning coaches come from the Plains. Everett Shelton of Cunningham, Kansas, led Wyoming to the NCAA title in 1943. In 1966 the University of Texas at El Paso (then Texas Western), coached by Don Haskins of Enid, Oklahoma, became the first team with an all–African American starting lineup to win the NCAA title, beating Rupp's Kentucky team in the championship game. In 1994 El Paso, Texas, native Nolan Richardson coached the University of Arkansas to the title. Lute Olson of Mayville, North Dakota, won the championship with the University of Arizona in 1997. Other highly successful college basketball coaches from the Plains include Eddie Sutton of Bucklin, Kansas, Billy Tubbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Dale Brown of Minot, North Dakota, Gene Keady of Larned, Kansas, Ralph Miller of Chanute, Kansas, Lou Henson of Okay, Oklahoma, Ted Owens of Hollis, Oklahoma, and "Tex" Winter of Wellington, Texas. The winningest coach in NCAA women's basketball, Jody Conradt of the University of Texas, was born in Goldthwaite, Texas. In 1998 Conradt was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Fred Shelley Southwest Texas State University

Porter, David L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Basketball and Other Indoor Sports. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Porter, David L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.

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