Legendary Kansas State basketball Coach Tex Winter turned 96 last week, which prompted this sports junkie to reread Ann Parr’s book entitled “Triangle Basketball.”
Ann’s late husband Jack Parr played for Winter and achieved All-American status for two seasons in the late 1950s. Her book tells Tex’s life story including his service in World War II and includes extensive interviews with his family.
I learned some new tidbits about Tex. He had a twin sister born 15-minutes before him, and in college was one of the nation’s top pole vaulters. Along the way, Tex played college basketball for Southern California.
Winter resides in Manhattan where he spent 19 years coaching, four as an assistant coach and 15 years as head coach, with his teams notching no less than eight conference championships. His career spanned six decades, including head coaching stops at Marquette, Kansas State, Washington, Northwestern, and Long Beach State.
Tex arrived in Manhattan in August 1947 as a $3,000 per year assistant coach for Jack Gardner, another Kansas State coaching legend.
Gardner’s first assignment for Tex was to drive to Wellington and recruit the state’s top high school player, a rising prep star named Ernie Barrett. Tex may have felt a little behind the eight ball on this one as Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) Coach Hank Iba, coming off back-to-back national championships had wanted Barrett in the worst way. Also, Phog Allen, who was building another powerhouse at Kansas University, was interested too. Still, when the dust settled, and after 30 or more trips to Wellington, Tex Winter, barely 25-years old and new to the coaching profession, won the recruitment battle, and Barrett was a K-Stater for life. Today, Barrett is honored with a statue in front of Bramlage Coliseum at Kansas State and is affectionately known as Mr. K-State.
In 1953, Tex was the youngest major basketball coach in the nation at 31 years of age while 90 miles up the road, Phog Allen, was the oldest skipper in the land. Tex once told how Allen nicknamed him “Texaco” and because of their friendship Winter was once invited to address the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce annual dinner.
UCLA legend John Wooden met up with Tex during his years coaching Washington and gained immediate respect for him.
“Even if all five University of Washington players should break their legs, there would be ample reason to fear Tex Winter,” Wooden said.
Bill Guthridge played for Winter at Kansas State. After serving a stint as an assistant coach, Guthridge departed for North Carolina to be Coach Dean Smith’s assistant, before being named head coach and often spoke fondly of his former coach.
“One of the reasons Tex has been able to stay at coaching so long is his ability to not get too high with a win or too low with a loss,” Guthridge said.
In some respects, many say Tex did his best coaching following his retirement from the college ranks. His transition lasted less than a week when Jerry Krause, the new General Manager of the Chicago Bulls, convinced Tex to relocate to the Windy City and assist in coaching a young star in the making Michael Jordan. His tenure in Chicago produced six world championships, and then it was on to the Los Angeles Lakers for three more NBA titles.
Phil Jackson, who served as head coach for all nine of those championships gives Winter substantial credit for making it happen. Jackson said he assigned the first 30 minutes of each practice to Winter for half-hour sessions on fundamentals.
Speaking of Winter during the peak of his coaching career, Jackson said, “He’s (Tex) gonna be the one guy I really miss when I hang this up.”
“I value Tex as a teacher and a mentor, but his value as a person of good character is even more important,” Jackson continued.
Parr writes that after winning the third championship with the Lakers in 2002, the organization made rings for players and the coaching staff in honor of Tex. Included within the jewel-encrusted ring were several triangle designs on the front, honoring Winter’s offensive scheme.
Throughout the book, Parr wrote about Tex’s former players and contemporaries said about him, and one is left with the impression that Winter was not only a great basketball mind but a man of integrity and character. And, for the record, the Bulls (with Jordan) did not win an NBA championship until they adopted Tex’s Triple Post Offense.
At a dinner in Hutchinson, on the eve of Winter’s speech to the Dillon Lecture Series in 2004, he was asked to name his favorite Chicago Bull and without hesitation responded, “Steve Kerr. He is just like all of us.”
In 2003, fans voted Tex Winter the Kansas State basketball coach of the century, and that he is.
Richard Shank is a retired AT&T manager, is employed in the health care industry and has farming interests in Saline County. Email: email@example.com.