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Moment of truth has arrived for UK administrators
Must put basketball program on right track
Along with a fresh breath of springtime, the moment of truth has arrived for University of Kentucky administrators who have been talking of institutional control and management style during most of the 12 months
1 f Russell Rice Cats' Pause Columnist
since that infamous Emery package "popped open" in a terminal in Los Angeles. With the proverbial broom having swept away what hopefully are the last remnants of a situation that has brought the basketball program to the height of embarrassment, the administration now must take steps to insure that its new administrative and coaching staff doesn't fall into the same trap that has kept the basketball program ensnared in a web created by big wins, big boosters, big exposure, big egos and big money, all of which have resulted in BIG TROUBLE.
The logical course would be to keep outside forces away from the new coach until he has time to settle in the job and chart his own course. It would seem that sessions between the old coach and the new coach could serve a purpose in discussions of personnel and team matters, but there is an inherent feeling that the old coach would introduce his successor to those same forces that have had so much influence on UK basketball for the past two decades.
Matters that should be addressed quickly by the administration include product endorsements, shoe contracts, radio and television shows, calendars, camps, clinics, courtesy cars, purchasing procedures, open bidding versus private negotiation, boosters and booster organizations, involvement by outside persons or organizations in tasks that could and should be performed by athletics department staff members, and private donations as salary supplements for assistant coaches, to name a few.
A deaf ear must be turned to arguments that exercise of "too much" institutional control would make the Wildcat basketball coaching job less attractive to the top coaches in the nation. The university should be looking for a coach whose main objective is to put the Wildcat program back on the winning track, both in victories and prestige, and not to become a millionaire during his first few years on the job.
?FOR ALL OF you out there who believe published reports that UK had a total attendance of 324,702 fans at 15 home games, an average of 21,647 per game, in Rupp Arena during the past season, and that a record crowd of 24,288 attended the UK-LSU game, which had a turnstile count of less than 20,000, then Loretta Lynn and I have some oceanside resort property that we'd like to sell you, cheap and unseen, in our old hometown of Van Lear in eastern Kentucky.
?CANCELLATION OF THE Committee of 101's annual postseason basketball banquet is reminiscent of a similar situation 16 years ago when the annual football banquet was cancelled by Cavan Barnette, Wildcat Club president and close personal friend of John Ray, after the athletics board refused to extend Ray's contract as head football coach. After cancelling the basketball banquet, the 101 group scheduled a private gathering for presentation of annual awards to the team. There was no such gathering for the football team after Ray's departure; instead, the sports information office contacted the sponsors, secured the awards and gave them individually to the players. There were no football banquets held during
the nine-year reign of Fran Curci, who succeeded Ray. Jerry Claiborne, through the K-Men's Association, resumed the banquets when he succeeded Curci in 1982.
PERSONAL OBSERVATION: The annual awards banquets should be for the players, not the fans and coaches.
?DURING A MEDIA function at the Southeastern Regional in Rupp Arena, we told good friend Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader that if we had one dollar for every time he has written "Emery package" during the past 12 months, Doris and I could begin my retirement by taking an extended vacation to Hawaii. Throughout the last months of the ordeal, Jerry and other local media reps have expressed sentiments that they wish "this thing would hurry and end." However, we wish to remind these gentlemen of the written and spoken word that perhaps never before have they had such exposure. The "probe" has resulted in a seemingly endless string of bylines, special reports, editorials, leaks, rumors, speculation, and lots of regional and national exposure for the UK media. The question now: When everything on the UK roundball scene has run its course, and "our" guys have come off a natural "high," what are they going to do for an encore?
?OUR SYMPATHIES TO Fred Conger, former Wildcat linebacker who received a crushed leg in a farm-implement accident last summer at Charlotte, N.C., where he is co-head football coach and baseball coach at Charlotte Latin, a private high school, and who had his woes compounded three weeks later when notified that his 19-year-old son Rick had leukemia. Conger's plight was brought to the attention of central Kentuckians by Phil Greer, a local realtor who played with Conger at UK and is president of the K-Men's Association.
"As alumni we try to help former K-Men through the association," Greer said. "We want to help Fred with his medical expenses. Normally, we would ask for donations through our newsletter, but that doesn't come out for two or three months. So now we're asking for our members and anyone else willing to help to send now."
Conger came to UK in 1966 from Feasterville, Pa., where he was a star guard with the Neshaminy High School Redskins. He broke a wrist in preseason practice as a UK freshman and missed action in the Kittens' first three games that season, but was a standout lineman in the season finale against Vanderbilt. Then he missed spring practice because of a knee operation that hadn't healed sufficiently, but he played well against Indiana in the 1967 opening game. Conger then received an injury in the second game, against Ole Miss. He earned his only UK letter that season.
Conger was an assistant at Penn, then for five years head coach at Merychurst College in Erie. He and Nancy and their two sons, Rick and Jeffrey, moved to Charlotte three years ago. While making extra money doing groundskeeping for Latin High, Conger fell off the back of a tractor and underneath a "drag box" used to landscape the baseball field. Emergency surgery was performed for a double compound fracture of his leg. Further surgery saved a foot from amputation.
Meanwhile, his son Rick spent more than 120 days in chemotherapy. After Thanksgiving, he came to the UK Medical Center in hopes of a bone-marrow transplant but was found to have a yeast infection, making him ineligible. The cancer was gone for two months, but then returned. The doctors gave him six months to live.
Those wishing to make a donation should send it to:
The Rick Conger Fund c/o K-Men's Association Benevolent Fund P.O. Box 22255 Lexington, Ky. 40522
?WHERE THEY ARE NOW:
—Mike Cassity (FB 1973, '74), former Wildcat assis-
tant under Fran Curci, has been selected as a defensive coach at Northeast Louisiana. He previously was defensive backfield coach at Western Kentucky, which means that former UK teammates Greg Nord, now a UK assistant, and John Nochta, teacher-coach at Bourbon County High, will have to travel several miles further to join Cassity in their never-ending quest for big bass.
—Larry Kirksey, who also was an assistant under Curci, has replaced Tommy Liggins as coach of running backs at Pitt, where Liggins remains on the staff as coach of tight ends. After leaving UK, Kirksey served several years as an assistant under Galen Hall at Florida.
?MAIL CALL: The following letter is from Turner Gregg, a three-sport star for the Wildcats in the mid-1920s:
A friend of mine who knew a great deal about my past, and especially about my athletic achievements, gave me a copy of the March 18 edition of The Cats' Pause, in which you had a story about the tragic death of Curtis Sanders. According to your story Curtis was the last survivor of the 1922 football team that defeated Alabama. That would indicate that 1 may be the only living survivor of that team. I was the quarterback of the 22, 23 and 24 teams, and played as many quarters as did Sanders. There were few substitutes in those days because if you were taken out in the first half you were through playing for that game. We played Tennessee at Knoxville in 1924 and our only substitution was made in the last minute of the game. Our center was knocked cold. We won that game 27-6. Made only two substitutions during the game, both in the second half. In those days, we played both offense and defense. I also was a pitcher on the baseball team and Michigan and Notre Dame were two of my victims one season. I made letters in three sports—football, baseball and track. One of my teammates, "Turkey" Hughes, beat me by also playing basketball. On June 5, I will be 90 years old and I am still active. In 1987, I shot my age in golf on several outings. I did not make it in '88 and have not played so far this year. I do not use a cart. There is no exercise involved in hitting or putting even if you are playing in the hundreds. When Happy Chandler was governor, he was also the receiver of the defunct Southern Life Insurance Co., which brought him to Louisville frequently. Wlxen he was here he would get in touch with me and we would play golf together (I lost). We also attended football games when Notre Dame played Southern California at South Bend or Chicago. He used to come by with his bodyguard of "Red" Roberts, George Chinn and Joe Burman, the golf pro at Frankfort. Tliey would pick me up and off we would go to South Bend or Chicago, wherever the game was played. I was certainly sorry to learn of Sanders' tragic death. He was a great athlete and a dear friend.
Turner Gregg Louisville
After leaving UK, Gregg coached "everything—you did that in those days'—for three years at Greenville High School, where his only two losses were to a Morganfield team coached by another former Wildcat, Earle Clements (1916), who went on to become governor of Kentucky and a long-time U.S. Senator Gregg coached two years at Maysville, giving them a district basketball championship in 1929, losing in the regional to eventual state champion Ashland. Then he spent four years with the Sutcliffe Co., opening up territory in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee and later was involved in the oil and gas business before retiring in 1965.