Sunday, January 16, 2022

Coach Joe B. Hall

Just after I woke up Saturday, I got the news that former Kentucky Coach Joe B Hall had passed away at the age of 93.  That was a big deal to me.  Why do you ask?  Coach Hall was the UK coach when I first started rooting for the Wildcats in 1974.  He had a great team that year with guys like Keven Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner, Rick Robey and Jack Givens.  A couple of games that year I remember particularly well were two with Indiana.  Early in the year, Indiana was totally blowing out Kentucky at Assembly Hall.  The Indiana Coach Bobby Knight began complaining about a call.  Coach Hall make a joking comment to Knight.  Next thing you knew, Knight slapped Hall across the back of the head.  Cooler heads prevailed and nothing else happened.  But, you knew Kentucky wouldn’t forget that.  Indiana ended up facing Kentucky again in the Mideast Regional Finals.  Kentucky played a lot better and beat Indiana.  That would be only game Indiana lost over a two year period.  Kentucky got to the finals but lost to UCLA.  I won’t even go into how John Wooden was allowed to run on the court to complain about a call and not get Teed up.  😊

 Coach Hall was the coach when I was at UK from 1981-1983.  My dad and I went to the SEC tournament at Rupp in 1982.  Kentucky beat an Auburn team led by some guy named Charles Barkley and lost in the finals by two points to Alabama.   One of the worst losses of his career was in the first round of that year’s NCAA Tournament to Middle Tennessee.   I remember catching all sorts of grief from my friends at Murray State since they were in the OVC together and Murray had beaten them that year.  The next year, Kentucky lost in the NCAA tournament to Louisville in their first meeting in over 20 years.   Coach Hall took Kentucky to the Final Four the next year losing to Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team.  He coached one more year at UK.  In one of his finest coaching jobs, his 12th seeded Wildcats beat 5th seeded Washington and 4th seeded UNLV before losing to the Region’s top seed – St John’s. 

 I remember Coach Hall took a lot of grief in his career.  First, he had to follow the legendary Adolph Rupp as coach.  Secondly, he was always accused of not being that good of a coach.  I don’t understand that one.  He made it to three Final Fours and won the National Championship in 1978.  He always carried a rolled up program in his hand when he coached.  He often ran a defense you rarely see today – the 1-3-1 zone.  I remember when we played pick up basketball games, we’d try to run that defense. 

He didn’t just fade away after he retired.  He was a wonderful ambassador for the University of Kentucky.  He would go to practices.  He was seen all over Lexington and always had time for an autograph and to talk with fans.  John Calipari speaks fondly of how Coach Hall was encouraging when he first arrived at UK as coach in 2009.  He considered Coach Hall his mentor.  By the way, never leave out his middle initial (which stands for Beasman).  He was born in Kentucky in the little town of Cynthiana.  He played for Adolph Rupp in 1949 and was his assistant.  He’s the only player to play for a National Champion and coach a National Champion. 

As I’ve said before when people that were a big part of my youth die, it makes you feel your mortality.  I certainly have fond memories of him.  The first time I ever saw UK play was in Starkville in 1975 with my mom and dad and brother and sister.  My final memory I’ll share is when my brother Kevin and my cousins Tony and Neal Snelling would go to UK games with our dads to either Oxford or Starkville Mississippi.  We’d meet up with my Uncle Reggie in Jackson Tennessee and go to a game every year.  Those were certainly good times.  Coach Hall was the coach then too and the fans there would always yell at him to “Sit down!” as he paced the sideline.   Thanks for the memories Coach.