Gene Bartow Passes Away At Age 81

Gene Bartow's hiring in 1977 launched the UAB athletic program.

Jan. 3, 2012

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Gene Bartow, the Hall of Fame coach and father of UAB Athletics, passed away Tuesday evening at his home in Birmingham.

The legendary former UAB basketball coach and athletic director was 81 years old. He had been battling cancer since being diagnosed in April 2009.

One of the most respected figures in intercollegiate athletics, Bartow served as UAB's first athletic director from 1977 until his retirement in 2000, taking the Blazers from their infancy into a 17-sport athletic program. He coached the UAB men's basketball team from its inception until 1996.

A 2009 inductee into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, Bartow led teams for more than 34 years, coaching at Central Missouri State, Valparaiso, Memphis State, Illinois, UCLA and ultimately UAB. He compiled 647 wins and coached his teams to 12 NCAA tournaments, a pair of Final Fours and one national championship game appearance. He was the national coach of the year with Memphis State in 1973.

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

In 18 years at the helm of the UAB men's basketball program, Bartow owned a .643 winning percentage with a record of 366-203. He coached the Blazers to 11 seasons of at least 20 wins.

Bartow led the Blazers to the NIT in the program's second year of existence and followed that up with seven straight NCAA tournament appearances, including trips to the Sweet 16 in 1981 and the Elite Eight in 1982. In all, he guided UAB to 14 postseason appearances, 10 of which were NCAA tournaments.

In 1997, a year after his retirement from coaching, UAB renamed its basketball venue, Bartow Arena, in his honor.

"Coach Bartow meant a lot to me and was a mentor to me," said UAB men's basketball coach Mike Davis. "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."

As athletic director, Bartow oversaw UAB's move from the Sun Belt Conference (1978-81) to the Great Midwest Conference (1991-95) and then on to its current home in Conference USA starting in 1995. He also realized his dream of an intercollegiate football team at UAB when the Blazers took the field for the first time in 1991 at the Division III level and rose to Division I-A by 1996.

A 1989 Alabama Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a member of the inaugural class of the UAB Athletics Hall of Fame, he was voted as one of the top 10 most influential figures in Alabama sports for the past century by The Birmingham News.

After his retirement from UAB, Bartow continued his work in the sport of basketball, later serving as president of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

Bartow is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Huffine, and their three children, Mark, Beth and Murry, who is the head men's basketball coach at East Tennessee State.

The inaugural UAB Health System Gene Bartow Classic, a men's basketball game to benefit the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, was held in December 2009. The Bartow Classic, along with the Pink Zone women's basketball game, raise money for the Gene Bartow Fund, which also receives donations and support from other targeted fund-raising events.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and UAB Men's Basketball are teaming up again on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, for the third Bartow Classic fundraiser.

Sponsored by UAB Medicine, the game with Memphis will tip off at 8 p.m.

A portion of the proceeds from the game will be donated to the Coach Gene Bartow Fund for Cancer Research. Tickets for the game, which will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network, are $27 for lower level reserved seats and $22 for upper level reserved seats and can be purchased online at or by calling 205-975-UAB1 (8221).

For updated information about Coach Bartow's visitation and funeral arrangements, click here.

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