Remembering Gene Bartow

UABSPORTS.COM Gene Bartow had friends inside and out of the college basketball world, including former DePaul coach Joey Meyer, pictured with him here.
Gene Bartow had friends inside and out of the college basketball world, including former DePaul coach Joey Meyer, pictured with him here.

Jan. 4, 2012

The passing of former UAB men's basketball coach and athletic director Gene Bartow has already been felt throughout the landscape of collegiate athletics.

Bartow died Tuesday evening at his home in Birmingham at the age of 81 after battling cancer for two and a half years.

Bartow started the UAB athletics program when he arrived in Birmingham in 1977 and by the time he was finished, he had left an indelible mark on UAB and the city of Birmingham, among many other places.

Known as much for his grace and kindness as his success on the basketball court, here is how people who knew him are remembering the legendary coach ...

UAB President Carol Garrison
"To begin an athletic program from the ground up, UAB had to find a motivating force without parallel. Gene Bartow certainly was that person. He was a pioneer and passionate believer and leader in UAB athletics."

UAB Athletic Director Brian Mackin
"Coach Bartow is a beloved figure in college basketball and in the lives of many players and fans. He was a great man and dedicated leader who set a standard of excellence for UAB Athletics."

UAB Coach Mike Davis
"Coach Bartow meant a lot to me and was a mentor to me. I've known him a long time. He recruited me out of high school and has always been there for me. I watched him from afar when he was coaching and he welcomed me with open arms when I came to UAB. The basketball world lost not only a great coach, but a great man."

UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland
"Everyone in the Bruin family is saddened by the loss of Gene Bartow. We celebrate the life he lived, which he did so in exemplary fashion. He was a wonderful person and an outstanding coach and family man and will be dearly missed."

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero
"The UCLA family has suffered a great loss today with the passing of former Bruin men's basketball coach Gene Bartow. Gene had the unenviable task when he arrived at UCLA of following the greatest coach in college basketball history, John Wooden, and did so admirably. In fact, he led each of his Bruin teams to the Pac-8 title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, including a Final Four appearance in 1976, and compiled an astounding 52-9 overall record. More importantly, he was a wonderful man and a pleasure to be around, both during his time on campus and after. He will be sorely missed. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the entire Bartow family."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari
"Not only was Gene Bartow a great coach, he was a great man and a great friend. He's going to be sorely missed. His wife, Ruth, and I talked Monday morning. Both of us cried knowing that it was coming to an end. My heart and my prayers go out to the Bartow family. Words will never be able to describe how much Gene meant to me."

Former Auburn Coach Sonny Smith
"I was a Gene Bartow fan. He was the real deal in all aspects. He had an excellent basketball mind, was a great athletic director and just a good, good person."

Birmingham-Southern Athletic Director Joe Dean, Jr.
"Coach Bartow started an entire Division I athletic program from scratch, and by his fourth year he had the basketball program in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. No other school in the history of college athletics has done anything like that in such a short period of time. With all due respect to (former Alabama basketball coaches) C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson, and Sonny (Smith), coach Bartow, probably more than anyone, had the most dynamic effect on the sport of basketball ever in the state of Alabama."

Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson
"Gene Bartow was an outstanding basketball coach, an excellent administrator but more importantly, my friend. 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."

Memphis Coach Josh Pastner
"The best description I can give of Coach Bartow is he was as nice a human being and as good a human being as you'll find. It doesn't matter if you're the janitor or the president of the United States, he treated everyone the same. He was just a good person, an unbelievable soul."

West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins
"Coach was one of the great people in our business. He was what all of us should aspire to be in our business. He had compassion for his players, was always willing to help young coaches, had great respect for our profession and gave so much of his time to every institution that he ever worked for."

Ole Miss Coach and former UAB player Andy Kennedy
"In a pressure-packed profession, to accomplish everything he accomplished everywhere he went, and to do it with such a level head, it's uncommon in this field of trade. I don't know if Coach Bartow ever met a stranger and I've never heard anybody say anything negative about him. He just had this overall vibe that you felt good about. He was a man of the highest integrity."

Former "Voice of the Blazers" Gary Sanders
"It has always been my position that Gene Bartow was the only person who could have pulled off what I call `The UAB Miracle.' He had the three things necessary to get the program going in a hurry. One, he was able to put together a good schedule because of his friends in coaching. Two, he could get players because of his connections in the Memphis area and other places. And three, he was able to go out and get radio and TV sponsors to get exposure from day one. I was privileged to handle play-by-play for UAB's first game against Nebraska in 1978 and there were more than 14,000 people there. From my experiences in many years around basketball, Gene Bartow was the only one who could have done what he did."

Former UAB player Steve Mitchell
"We enjoyed a player-coach relationship for four years and then as a young man after my playing career ended, he was more of a mentor to me and more of a father figure really. There wasn't a major decision in my life that I made without consulting him or bouncing something off of him. He was a man of incredible integrity, extremely loyal and a family guy."

Former DePaul Coach Joey Meyer
"Outside of my dad, the person who had the most influence on my basketball career was Coach Bartow. I can't tell you how much I respect him. I succeeded a legend in my father at DePaul and he had succeeded John Wooden at UCLA, so he was able to help me through the pressures of that challenge. Whenever we talked, he would always end the conversation by saying, `stay tough.' He was, of course, a great coach who really understood the game, but it's really on more of a personal level for me. There are a lot of stories between the Bartows and the Meyers, and he was just very special to me."

Former Bartow assistant and Ole Miss Coach Lee Hunt
"There's nobody in the country that could have done a better job than what he did at UAB. He did an amazing job setting up that program. He was the best in America at public relations. He was a fundraiser, recruiter, coach, athletic director, really a jack of all trades. He had the reputation of being `Clean Gene.' He could walk into a room and people would immediately like him. Because of that, he was always able to recruit and always had players. He was one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He was a great friend and like a brother to me."

Former Valparaiso Coach Homer Drew
"My life intersected with Gene in many different areas, going back to my high school days when he was coaching in the St. Louis area while I was playing. He was always an excellent coach, but more importantly, he was always a very gracious, very compassionate man of character. After I got the job here at Valpo, we became long-distance friends, and he really served as a good mentor, someone who was very knowledgeable and willing to share."

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive
"Gene and I met when he brought UAB into the Great Midwest Conference in 1991 and then into Conference USA, where we worked together for 11 years. While he was a consummate gentleman, he was a fiery competitor both on the court and in the meeting rooms. Gene is in the Basketball Hall of Fame and, if there were a hall of fame for athletics directors, he would be a charter member for what he accomplished at UAB. I will always cherish my 22-year friendship with Gene and Ruth."

Memphis Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins
"Gene was a great member of our community, outstanding person, outstanding coach, and he was a great friend to me since I've been here in this organization."

Former Birmingham News sportswriter Wayne Martin
"As a sports writer assigned to cover UAB, I was probably more of a spectator than a participant in Coach Bartow's life. Those who played for him and worked with him were probably touched more by his life than those of us who observed and reported. But if his touch on my life was light, the impact on my life was tremendous. My sincere hope is that when my time comes, I will have had the positive impact on someone's life that Coach has had on mine."

Former Memphis Press-Scimitar Sports Editor George Lapides
"When you consider what a gentleman Gene was, in addition to what he did for this city in the early '70s when this city was so racially divided after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., he might be the top sports figure in Memphis history."

Former Memphis player Billy Buford
"He truly loved us as people. I had struggles in the past with alcohol and drugs, but he never quit believing in me. Even since he had been sick, I'd call him, and he'd end up telling me, 'Billy, I love you and I'm praying for you.' When he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame a couple of years ago, he had me fly with him to share that experience."

Memphis Grizzlies Owner Michael Heisley
"Gene, beyond his numerous coaching accolades, was an outstanding gentleman, a brilliant mind, and a person who touched countless hearts and made even bigger contributions than as a coach. The Grizzlies and the entire basketball community mourn his passing. My heart goes out to Ruth, his children and grandchildren during this difficult time. I will miss this gentle Christian man enormously."

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