Gene Bartow Passes Away At Age 81
Jan. 4, 2012
MEMPHIS, TENN. -
Gene Bartow, the legendary college basketball coach and a native of Browning, Missouri, who led the 1973 Tiger basketball team to the NCAA National Championship Game against UCLA, has lost his long battle against cancer. Bartow, age 81, died on January 3rd at his home in Birmingham, Alabama.
Renowned as one of college basketball's most outstanding coaches, Bartow will long be remembered as a "true gentleman" of the sport. One of the most legendary athletic figures in the city's history, Bartow and his Tiger basketball teams have long been recognized for helping relieve racial tensions in the Bluff City following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.
"Gene Bartow was an outstanding basketball coach, an excellent administrator but more importantly, my friend," said University of Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson. "He accomplished with ease and grace what we all strive to be and to do in this industry. Gene was my confidant and I will greatly miss my time and talks with him."
After coaching at Central Missouri State (1961-64) and Valparaiso (1964-70), Bartow came to then Memphis State University in the fall of 1970. He immediately set about re-establishing a Tiger basketball program that had struggled to a 6-20 record during the previous season.
Inheriting players like Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, Fred Horton and Don Holcomb, Bartow improved the Memphis team to 18-8 in his first season as head coach and was 21-7 in 1971-72. With the addition of Larry Kenon in 1972-73, Bartow's squad ran off a 14-game win streak during mid-season, won the Missouri Valley Championship, captured the NCAA Midwest Regional and found itself in the National Championship game against UCLA. Despite a strong effort, the Tigers fell to the Bruins, but earned the respect of the college basketball world as Bartow was named the National Coach of the Year. He completed his Memphis coaching career in 1974 with an overall record of 82-32.
After coaching stints at Illinois and UCLA, Bartow returned to the South and took the athletic reins at newly-founded UAB. Serving as head basketball coach for the Blazers for 18 seasons, he compiled an overall record of 366-203. He led the Blazers to the NIT in the program's second year of existence and followed that up with seven-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including trips to the Sweet 16 in 1981 and the Elite Eight in 1982.
Bartow coached a total of 34 years at six universities. His overall record was 647-353, making him the 38th winningest coach in NCAA history.
Considered the "founding father" of UAB athletics, Bartow grew the intercollegiate sports program from its infancy into one that featured 17 sports and an annual operating budget that exceeded $8 million when he retired in 2000.
Not one to remain idle, Bartow returned to Memphis in 2001 to aid in the development of the NBA's local franchise, the Grizzlies, after the Vancouver franchise moved to the Bluff City that same year. He worked for 10 seasons with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, including four years in his role as president of Hoops, LP, which operates the Grizzlies and FedExForum arena.
One of the most loved and respected figures in Memphis and Birmingham sports history, Bartow was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 and will be officially inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame on May 19, 2012. Bartow's TSHF induction plaque was presented to his son, Murray Bartow, by TSHF President, Dr. Bill Elmendorfer in October.
Coach Bartow and his wife, Ruth, had three children and seven grandchildren. His son, Murray, is the head coach at East Tennessee State University.
On Sunday, Jan. 8, there will be a public visitation for Coach Bartow from 3-6 p.m. at Bartow Arena in Birmingham. Fans are welcome to come to the arena to pay their final respects to Bartow.
The funeral will be held Monday, Jan. 9 at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. The church is located at 2061 Kentucky Avenue, Vestavia Hills, AL, 35216.
Both events are open to the public.