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HBCU Gameday Presents: The Mount Rushmore of HBCU Basketball Coaches

Editor’s Note: The third in our Mt. Rushmore series.

John McLendon was ahead of his time as a basketball coach. (Joanna McLendon photo)

John McLendon 

McLendon was selected to the pro basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor but he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest coaches of college basketball history. McLendon wasn’t allowed to play college ball at Kansas in the 30s, but he learned the game from it’s creator, James Naismith. McLendon would bring his knowledge across the country to North Carolina, where he turned NC College For Negroes (Now North Carolina Central) into a CIAA powerhouse and his players played in the infamous Secret Game. He also came up with the idea for the CIAA Tournament in the late 40s and let NCCU to eight conference titles (2 tournament) in the 40s and is credited as the creator of the fast-break.

After a year at the Hampton Institute, he went to Tennessee State, where he would win three-straight NAIA titles, becoming the first coach in college basketball history to win three-consecutive national championships. He later became the first black coach to coach at a predominately white institution when he took over Cleveland State in 1966. While his 496 wins may have been topped by other coaches on this list, his impact will likely never be touched.

Top Team: All of McLendon’s Tennessee State team’s were good, but the 1958-59 team went 32-1 en route to it’s third-straight NAIA Title led by a senior and future NBA All-Star Richard “Dick” Barnett.

Best Players: Harold Hunter, Dick Barnett

Clarence Gaines coached at Winston-Salem State for nearly 50 years. (Digital Forsyth photo)

Clarence “Big House” Gaines

Gaines came to Winston-Salem as an All-American football player from Morgan State and retired nearly 50 years later as one of the all-time great coaches in college basketball. When he arrived at Winston-Salem Teachers College, there were less than 100 males on campus and athletics were a joke. He coached both basketball and football, and admitted in his biography that he didn’t know too much about basketball. But by studying under John McLendon for a few years, he got the hang of it, and by the early 50s, his teams were routinely winning 20 + games in a talented CIAA conference.

Gaines will best be remembered for coaching two of the league’s signature players, Cleo Hill and Earl Monroe, as well as becoming the first black coach to win an NCAA Title (Division II) in 1967. His teams remained competitive during the 70s and early 80s, but a reduced recruiting budget hurt the program his final years at Winston-Salem State. Still, Gaines retired with 828 wins, second all-time when he retired in 1993. He won a total of eight CIAA championships and was the first black man inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. The Division II Coach of The Year trophy is named after Gaines.

Top Team: The 1966-67 Rams went 31-1, lead by Earl Monroe’s 41.5 points per game.

Best Players: Cleo Hill, Earl Monroe, Carlos Terry

Dave Robbins won three NCAA Division II titles at Virgina Union. (ESPN photo)


Dave Robbins

Robbins was a history-maker before he coached one game at Virginia Union. In 1978, the Gastonia, NC native was the first White coach in CIAA History. He initially met some resistance from outsiders, but his winning ways definitely helped win over VUU fans. Led by players like Charles Oakley, A.J. English and Ben Wallace, Robbins’ teams won 14 CIAA Championships, (including five-in-a row) and appeared in the Divsion II Tournament 21 times, winning three national championships. Only four of his teams won less than 18 games. His all-time record is an astounding 713-194.

Top Team: Charles Oakley’s 84-85 team went 31-1, but the 91-92 team that went 30-3 and won the D2 Championship Game by 25 might have been Robbins best squad.

Best Players: Charles Oakley, A.J. English, Terry Davis, Ben Wallace

Ben Jobe led Southern to a landmark win over Georgia Tech in 1993. (ESPN photo)

Ben Jobe

Like the other men on this list, Ben Jobe was a product of a segregated society, but refused to be defined by it. Jobe played his college ball at Fisk (TN) University and spent most of his career coaching at HBCUs. Jobe coached at Talladeg, Tuskegee, Alabama State and several other stops before making his mark at Southern University. Jobe made the Jaguars into a SWAC power and led them to a landmark victory over Georgia Tech in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Jobe ended his career with 524 wins as a head coach. The top minority coach in Division I basketball is given the Ben Jobe Award.

Best Team: 1993 team that defeated Georgia Tech.

Best Players: Avery Johnson, Bobby Phills 

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  1. Dr.Lepora

    August 7, 2014 at 7:12 am

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