University of Kentucky Head Coach
He was born September 2, 1901 in Halstead Kansas. He grew up on his immigrant parent’s farm. His father died when he was just nine years old. He was instilled at an early age the value of hard work and education. Rupp attended the University of Kansas, where he was a member of the university’s Big Eight Conference Championship team of 1923. He was influenced by his coach Phog Allen. He graduated college in 1923 and went on to coach at the high school level in Iowa and Illinois.
In 1930, Rupp was hired by the University of Kentucky as head coach for their basketball team. When he was hired his contract stated that he was also to be an assistant football coach. Kentucky was not a basketball state before his arrival, it was Rupp that made Kentucky fall in love with Basketball.
Coach Rupp was the winningest basketball coach of his era, with a total of 876 wins. His record stood for 25 years, until North Carolina’s Dean Smith moved ahead in 1997. Even today only 4 men’s basketball coaches has been able to beat his record, including Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Rupp brought the fast break style to Kentucky, which remains its trademark even today. The Baron of the Bluegrass was known for being hard on his boys. He was a stern disciplinarian and fundamentalist. While it is often said it was hard to play for coach Rupp, his players respected him, even if it took years before they were grateful to have played for him. Vernon Hatton, of the 1958 NCAA Championship team said “It takes six or eight years to get over playing for Coach Rupp. Once you get over it, you get to like him.”
In 1951, after winning three titles in four years, a gambling scandal broke. Rupp believed that “gamblers couldn’t touch my boys with a 10- foot pole”, it turns out he was wrong. Five wildcats admitted being paid for shaving points in a 1948 game. The NCAA suspended Kentucky for the 1952-3 season.
Rupp only had one non- winning season, 1966-67. He won only 13 games, while losing 13 games. He career was nothing short of amazing. He was named coach of the year four times. He won four NCAA Championships, One NIT Championship, One Olympic Gold Medal, 27 SEC titles, and his teams were voted No. 1 in the final polls on six different occasions. Twenty Three of his players were voted All- Americans 35 times, and Fifty Two of his players were honored 91 times as All- SEC performers.
Was Rupp a racist? This is a question that is asked a lot today. Due in part to the movie Glory Road, about the 1966 National Championship game that pitted the all- black Texas Western against the all-white Kentucky team. It is hard to say for sure that personally he did not have any racist feelings but we can be sure that he did not have a problem playing black players. While only one black player, Tom Payne, ever played for Rupp at Kentucky, he was not the only black player to ever play for Rupp. Rupp started a black player in his first year of coaching high school basketball in Illinois, in the 1920s. He also selected the first African American player for a U.S. Olympic basketball team, in 1948. It is said that he vowed that no black players would ever play for him at Kentucky, but if this was the case why did he recruit black players. According to the Lexington Herald Leader March 31, 1990, he recruited at least 15 black players during his years at Kentucky, including Wes Unseld, Butch Beard, and Jim McDaniels. Rupp like most white men in his time, was likely at least a little racist by the standards that we hold today, but it is doubtful that he was the hardcore racist that he is made out to be.
“ I know there have been a lot of people who thought he was a racist. But I think the times can dictate how people act -- where you're brought up, how you're brought up. If he was a racist, he wasn't alone in this country. I'm never going to judge anybody. . . . That's a long time ago, too . . . You learn from the past, and you go on." - Orlando "Tubby" Smith, Chicago Tribune, "New Face Leads Kentucky These Days," November 30, 1997.
Off the court, Rupp was a farmer with a 500 acre farm where he raised 35, 000 pounds of tobacco a year and ran a herd of registered Herefords. He served as president of The Kentucky Hereford Association. In 1931, he married Esther Smith. Together they had a son Adolph Frederick Rupp II. Rupp was also a free- mason, and was Past Potentate of Oleika Shrine. He was a zealous fundraiser for Shiner’s Children’s Hospital.
After his forced retirement at age 70, Rupp was president of the Memphis Tams of the American Basketball Association and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Colonels. He died on December 10, 1977, in Lexington due to complications from cancer. When he passed flags across Kentucky flew at half- mast in his honor.