Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RIP "Spoon": Charlie Spoonhour, 1939-2012

(Image: Kansas City Star)

Legendary college basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour died in his Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home today at the age of 72. Spoonhour spent nearly 20 years as a head coach in NCAA Division I college basketball, having served as head coach at Missouri State University (then known as Southwest Missouri State), Saint Louis University and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). Spoonhour had been in poor health in recent years. He was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2010. He received a lung transplant at the Duke University Medical Center in August of the same year.

Charlie Spoonhour rose to prominence in the mid 1980s when he turned the university now known as Missouri State -- then, as previously noted, a little-known state school in the Ozarks known as Southwest Missouri State -- into something of a mid major college basketball powerhouse. Spoonhour had nearly twenty years of paid coaching dues under his belt when he arrived at the Springfield, Missouri, school in 1983 to begin his career as an NCAA Division I head coach, a mere year after the Southwest Missouri State men's basketball program began competing as an NCAA Division I institution.

During his time at Southwest Missouri State (1983-1992), Spoonhour led the Bears' basketball program from obscurity to relative national prominence (short-lived though it may have been). From 1986 to 1992, Spoonhour's Southwest Missouri teams were fixtures in the post season: during that stretch, the Bears made five NCAA Tournament appearances and appeared in the NIT twice. But it was the 1986-87 team that caught the attention of the the national media and thrust Charlie Spoonhour into the spotlight. Led on the court by future NBA point guard Winston Garland, Spoonhour's 1986-87 Bears steamrolled their way to the Mid-Continent Conference championship, finished the season with a 28-6 overall record and upset the Horace Grant-led, 13th-seeded Clemson Tigers in the NCAA Tournament. But "Spoon," as he was affectionately known, didn't gain notoriety solely on the basis of his on-court exploits. By the late 80s, the man at the helm of the little school from the Ozarks with the somewhat bewilderingly directional name (at least bewildering to media types in Manhattan and Bristol, Connecticut) had garnered the attention of the national sports media in part because of his endearing personality. A son of Kansas and Arkansas, Spoonhour combined a crusty, old school demeanor with a sharp wit and a folksy, yet charismatic persona.

In 1992, Spoonhour left Southwest Missouri to take on the challenge of returning the once-prominent Saint Louis Billiken basketball program to college basketball relevance. At St. Louis, the "Spoon" succeeded and then some. In seven seasons as the Billikens' head coach (1993 to 1999), Spoonhour's teams made three NCAA Tournament appearances; went from playing sparsely attended home games in a small, antiquated gym to regularly playing in front of full houses in the new 19,000 seat downtown St. Louis home that they shared with the National Hockey League's St. Louis Blues -- the then-newly-opened Kiel Center (now known as the Scottrade Center); and convinced the most sought-after St. Louis prep basketball star in a generation -- Larry Hughes -- to resist both the temptation of jumping directly from high school to the NBA draft, and the pull of playing for one of college basketball's high-profile, elite programs (Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, Arkansas, Missouri, etc.) in order to stay home and play for the Billikens.

As it happens, Hughes left college for the NBA after playing only one season (and it was a relatively tumultuous season at that), but his unexpected decision to stay home and play for Charlie Spoonhour made it abundantly clear that Coach "Spoon" had put the St. Louis Billikens back on the college basketball map. Unfortunately for St. Louis, the Billikens' time in the sun was short-lived. During Spoonhour's tenure, St. Louis was a program that routinely acquitted itself well in Conference USA -- when C- USA was considered a major conference (St. Louis' Conference USA rivals included Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, Memphis and Alabama-Birmingham [UAB]). But the program regressed to perpetual mediocrity shortly after Spoonhour's 1999 departure. The Billikens last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2000 ( under the stewardship of Spoonhour's successor, Lorenzo Romar).

Saint Louis' fortunes fell further in 2005, when Conference USA came apart after most of the aforementioned power programs left for the Big East. Saint Louis joined the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2006, where the Billikens remain. The Atlantic 10 is, to be sure, a quality league, but there's no doubt that its stature is a notch or two (or three) below the stature of the old C-USA. And it's only been in the last two years, under the guidance of another larger-than-life head coach -- Rick Majerus -- that the Billikens have been competitive in their new conference home.

But while Saint Louis was fading from its brief, Spoonhour era return to college basketball's national scene, Charlie Spoonhour was busy trying resurrect another well-known college basketball program -- the once-fabled Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin' Rebels. In 2001, Spoonhour was hired to replace former John Calipari assistant and one-time coaching wunderkind Billy Bayno as the head basketball coach at UNLV after Bayno landed the historically scandal-ridden Rebels' basketball program in hot water with the NCAA (who'd have thunk it!) over improprieties pertaining to the recruitment of then-prep star Lamar Odom. At UNLV, "Spoon" did what he was hired to do: right the ship, make the Rebels' notoriously sleazy basketball program respectable, get the program off of the NCAA's hit list, and win basketball games. But Spoonhour inherited a program that the NCAA had placed on probation for four years as punishment for Bayno's sins. Spoonhour compiled a respectable 54-31 record -- not bad for a program on probation! -- but failed to win over UNLV alumni and fans the way he'd won fans over in St. Louis. Spoonhour abruptly retired during the middle of the 2004 season.

The following year, Lon Kruger was hired to steer UNLV back to respectability. Kruger succeeded in short order, but he couldn't have done so if not for the foundation that Coach Spoonhour had spent the previous three years laying down.

In the years that followed his retirement from the coaching ranks, Charlie Spoonhour did yeoman's work as a television analyst for Missouri Valley Conference men's basketball games. Though Spoonhour's TV work for the Missouri Valley never reached a big, national audience (thanks to the Valley's relative obscurity and strictly regional appeal), "Spoon" was easily one of the best color commentators in the business. Much like the "color work" that Bob Knight currently does for ESPN, Spoonhour drew on a lifetime of basketball knowledge to break the game down into terms that entertained, but more importantly, informed the viewer. His breezy, down-home style was engaging and fun, but if you listened closely, the "Spoon" could be heard putting on a veritable coaching seminar. A better example of "wit and wisdom" could hardly be found.

Charlie Spoonhour will be missed.



Fire Bruce Weber.

Hire Shaka Smart. I <3 Shaka!!! Then do whatever u have to do to keep Jerrance Howard on as an assistant.

And BRing BAck Chief Illiniwek!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This might be "off topic" by a bit, but since the nice SWPL at the NYT have made the unlikely case study choice of Cicero, IL, in order to to slam suburban America, yours truly can't resist dusting off an old, failed media narrative Re: Cicero.

For background: Al Capone took over Cicero's government in the 1920s. Since then, the Chicago mob has essentially run the town. Cicero's population is overwhelmingly Mexican (Puerto Ricans have been moving in recently, thanks to gentrification-induced displacement from Chicago), but its police force and city government have always been solidly Italian (and at the least, Mob-connected).

In the 90s and early 2000s, Cicero's mayor (called the "Town President") was Betty Loren-Maltese, widow of Cicero's former Township Assessor, deceased mobster Frank Maltese. The Chicago media started to notice how corrupt Cicero was when Ms. Loren-Maltese, some Cicero politicos and some mobsters went on trial for scamming Cicero out of $12 million (they were eventually convicted).

Now for the media narrative: The conventional wisdom among those in the Chicago media and polite society was that the only hope for ridding Cicero of its endemic corruption was to make sure that Latinos -- then known as Hispanics -- replaced whites in positions of power (yes, polite society actually exists in Chicago -- it's just not always where the real power brokers congregate). Cicero was, after all, 90% Latino, and since the city was run (as ever) by Italian mobsters and friends of mobsters, SWPL believed the obvious solution to the corruption was to transfer power to the disenfranchised Latinos.

For journos and polite liberals, that seemed like a no-brainer, since everyone apparently knows that Latinos are famously corruption-free ... especially the new arrivals from Mexico who are so numerous in Cicero (c'mon, just look at how well things work south of the border!).

Well, it was all probably well enough intended. But for some reason, it didn't quite go as expected.

To be sure, the whites who ran Cicero were wildly corrupt. They were the freakin' mafia, after all! But that doesn't explain the magical thinking of the media and polite white liberals. What evidence did they have that Latinos would be corruption-free? Is there something special about being Latino that makes one uncorruptible?

What's more, could the people who so decried white organized crime be naive enough to not realize that violent Latino street gangs have controlled large chunks of Cicero (and adjoining parts of Chicago) for years?

Well, long story short, it all worked out just great for everybody in Cicero. Purportedly reform-minded Latinos were, indeed, elected to fill previously-white-controlled positions of power. And of course, many of those Latino "reformers" turned out to be figureheads who represented the interests of -- wait for it -- Italian organized crime. Within a few years, Italians of questionable repute had retaken most offices in Cicero. And everything went back to normal.

So yeah, replacing corrupt whites with Latinos worked out really well ... for corrupt whites who had to lay low for a couple years. But they didn't go away. And Cicero just went right back to being Cicero.

BTW, the mob boss of Cicero (Mike "the Large Guy" Sarno) got sentenced to 25 years in prison yesterday.

Butler Bob said...

Booooooo Digggettty Deeee Deeeeee

Well i be beein round them them capitol for them super bowl be looking round them espn folk for them Shelley Smith. I be thinkin she may be poppin up outside at one them flyin J's. They be beein havin them super bowl match for them colts and I been thinkin that they be havin them time to be seein some other important things in the capitol. uh huh uh huh. That be beein them kids learnin in them classrooms and playin basketball for them love for them game. That be beein Butler. Them kids be drinkin them carrot juice. Them kids at them Butler school be learnin the basketball skills while them kids at the wacky tobbaccy schools be learnin how them cocktails be mixin. All them espn folk be then surprisin when them Butler kids consistently be beein in them finals year after year. That aint beein no co incense that them kids who be learnin be playin better. uh huh uh huh. Thats why we be cuttin down them nets! Teeeeee Heeeeee! Shelley Smith gonna be retunin to them Hoosier state and we gonna be havin some good ole tango danin by Steamer's porch. Butler. We be cuttin down them nets!

Wrigleyville Illini said...

I used to want to fire Bruce Weber so that we could get Brad Stevens from Butler. But now I'm all about Shaka Smart. I <3 Shaka!!!!!!!! Stevens is a boring white guy. He plays a boring white guy style of basketball. Butler has to many white guys on the floor. Recruits from Chicago wouldn't want to play for some dorky white guy who plays a bunch of white players. That's a big part of our problem now. Clown shoes Weber is a dorky white guy who plays white players instead of the athletic talented guys on his roster. We don't need a clone of Clown Shoes. Besides, I cant see Stevens walking thru the streets of chicago in a green pimp suit with a cane and pullin 5 star recruits out of the Chi. But that's exactly what a cool young African American coach like Shaka would do. And don't forget Stevens just sits there like a bump on a log during games. He doesn't jump up and down after three pointers and he doesn't dance on the sidelines. No emotion. I want a passionate, emotional coach who jumps up and down on the sidelines and isn't afraid to dance during games. Kids can't relate to boring white guys like Brad Stevens.

Fire Bruce Weber.

Hire Shaka Smart.

Keep Jerrance Snacks Howard as assistant coach.

Bring back the Chief!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wrigleyville Illini said...

I've been throwing up in my mouth on repeat ever since Purdue took the lead in the 1st half tonight. FIRE WEBER NOW!!!!! FIRE WEBER NOW!!!!!!! Don't wait until the seasons over. Do it now. Hire Jerrance Snacks as intern coach. If Bruce isn't fired b4 work starts tomorrow, I'm going to slit my wrists!

See ya coach Brucie clown shoes!!!!! Don't let the door hit your sorry ass on the way out!!!! Maybe you can crawl back to Carbondale so thet u can suck ass there instead.

I mean, who takes a timeout when there team's on a run. ONly Brucie Clown shoes is that effen idiotic. Who drew up that play for Brandon on the last posession of the game? How is Brandon supposed to make a double pump 3 from the corner when he's triple teamed and his body's turned sideways? That's the best shot Weber could draw up for the last shot of the game? I mean, how do you shoot 15% from the freakin 3 point line against a team with a bunch of slow white guys from Indiana like Purdue???? Weve got the most talent and the most athletes in the B1G and Weber has us out there playing slow Weberball. How do you not turn your athletes loose against a bunch of slow white guys like Robbie Hummel and Larry Bird's nephew??? Weber's a freakin idiot.

Fire him now!!!!!!!!!!

Hire Shaka Smart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He's young and African American and charismatic and sexy and smart!!!!!!
Bruce clown shoes walks into the projects in Chitown to recruit and they laugh at his dorky loser white ass. Shaka walks into the projects in Chitown wearing a green pimp suit and a giant pimp hat with green shades and gripping a cane with diamonds on it and smiling with a gold tooth that's got a giant sparkeling diamond the middle and he pulls any freakin kid he wants. Hire Shaka, have him put on the pimp suit and go get Jabari Parker!!!!!!

SHAKA!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!! SHAKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!






Hardywtba said...

Play Dirt Bike Games Online - Free Dirt Bike GamesPlay free dirt bike games at dirtbikegames. You found the "dirt bike games psp" at UK. Gain access to exclusive games, win Awards, and receive free Miniclip Credits every week! Cool new free online car games, dirt bike games, play truck motorbike games, bmx, drag racing games, parking games in one web Games has tons of fun, free games that you can play online. Cooking Games Android Games Free - Free Android Game - Android Games Download - Best Android Games FreeBike, free online games, flash games, free flash games, online games, play gameLast updated 09 Apr 2012 : Welcome to free, secure motorcycle advertising. It gets so rough you'll be bringing home a Christmas tree.