Coach: NCAA playoffs gave an all-black team a shot

Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

EL PASO, Texas — Don Haskins said he would have never made history if college basketball followed football's postseason format.

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Photos by BRIAN W. KRATZER/The Gainesville Sun

Haskins coached the first all-black lineup to win the national championship in basketball, at Texas Western, in 1966. While college basketball teams compete in a postseason tournament, college football has never had such a system.

"If they played basketball like they play football, we would have never had a chance to win," he said.

Haskins coached at the school, now known as the University of Texas at El Paso, from 1961 to 1999. The historic significance of the 1966 championship was recounted in the 2006 movie "Glory Road."

Although Haskins' expertise is in basketball, the 76-year-old retired coach said he watched with interest Boise State's dramatic overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Like Haskins' national championship squad, Boise State beat a heavily favored team from a bigger university.

As the University of Florida and Ohio State get all the glory in the BCS National Championship Game, Haskins said people familiar with Boise State know they deserve just as much respect.

"Everyone in the West — we all knew how good they were," he said.

UTEP football coach Mike Price knows firsthand about Boise State. The teams played in Price's first year in El Paso in 2004, a game that Boise State won 47-31.

Price said he likes college football's bowl system the way that it is. Boise State's victory reinvigorates smaller college programs, he said, showing they can be players on the national scene.

"It creates interest, it gives something for the media to talk about," he said.

He said he could see a small playoff system in college football, perhaps involving four teams. But he thinks it could never be on the scale of the men's basketball tournament.

"I don't think that it's going to be a 64-team football tournament," he said.

The UTEP basketball team has appeared 16 times in the tournament. One of Haskins' biggest post-championship games was defeating then No. 1-ranked Kansas in the 1992 tournament.

He said the game showed the beauty of the playoff system, allowing smaller schools to prove they can compete. He said that was shown again last year by George Mason, which defeated several higher-ranked schools before losing to UF.

Haskins stayed 39 seasons at UTEP, and the school's basketball arena is named after him. The road beside the arena was named "Glory Road" after the movie.

Haskins said he didn't think much about the race of the players on the 1966 squad. He said he was just trying to recruit players with the best chance of winning, which they did in the championship game against Kentucky.

He credits his experiences growing up in Oklahoma for forming his outlook. He said his biggest disappointment with the movie was that it left out his teenaged friendship with a local black player, Herman Carr.

"I was kind of colorblind after that," he said.

Before he arrived, Texas Western had recruited and played black players. But other universities, including those in the Southeastern Conference, refused to offer scholarships to black players.

Texas Western's defeat of the all-white Kentucky squad was seen as opening the door for black players. In subsequent years, Haskins coached future NBA all-stars Nate Archibald, Antonio Davis and Tim Hardaway.

He was a mentor for future coaches, including current Southern California coach Tim Floyd and former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. He is also a good friend of Texas Tech coach Bob Knight.

He praised Knight's recent accomplishment of becoming the all-time winningest coach in Division I men's college basketball. He defended Knight's well-known intensity, saying he gets the best out of his players.

"Texas Tech is not a great team just because he's coach, but they play a heck of a lot better than they're supposed to," he said.

Haskins dismissed questions about how views of race have changed in the game over the decades. He said he answered endless questions when the movie was released.

"I'm sick of talking about it."

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