BOZICH | C.M. Newton's towering impact on Kentucky & SEC
Former Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton, who was 88 when he died Monday, left a towering legacy in race relations and leadership across college athletics.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The challenge writing about Charles Martin Newton isn’t making a list of the remarkable things that you remember the man achieved.
No, it’s realizing you were a lock to forget or overlook so many amazing things you should have remembered.
I learned that Monday night after the news spread that Newton, the former Kentucky athletic director and basketball player, died in Alabama. He was 88 — and Newton swept through college athletics with vision, courage, humanity and persistence.
USA Basketball mourns the loss of Hall of Famer C.M. Newton. The former USA Basketball president & coach was a positive force in basketball, collegiate sports & society overall. He will be missed by all who knew him & by those who felt his positive impact. pic.twitter.com/jhwYz4jvkJ— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) June 5, 2018
So many memories. Such a towering impact.
You have to begin with the two hands that Newton placed in the back of basketball in the Southeastern Conference before pushing it into accepting African-American players.
Not quotas. Not with clenched teeth. Not because of a nudge by the university president or court order.
Simply because it was the right thing to do.
This was the basketball coach at the signature university in the state that turned fire hoses and dogs on black citizens — and there was Newton welcoming Wendell Hudson and other African-American players into the Alabama program.
Tough to imagine leaving a greater legacy than being on the right side of history.
But Newton was only getting warmed up.
This is the guy gave up his coaching career to bring his alma mater (Kentucky) back from the scandalous behavior that left the program with NCAA penalties so severe the Wildcats disappeared from the NCAA Tournament and television for two years.
Less than a decade after Sports Illustrated embarrassed the program with its “Kentucky’s Shame,” cover, Newton’s rebuilt program won a pair of NCAA titles.
Until Newton arrived, Kentucky had no interest in playing a football game against the University of Louisville.
What could the Wildcats possibly gain by acknowledging there was another Division I program in the state?
C.M. Newton did not operate from Planet Fear.
This wasn’t about Kentucky or Louisville. This was about upgrading interest level and commitment to football in America’s most basketball-obsessed state.
Kentucky and Louisville will play for the 25th consecutive season on Nov. 24 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. I hope everybody takes a moment to remember and praise C.M. Newton.
I was convinced those things were the highlights of Newton’s Hall of Fame career — along with the job he did actually coaching basketball teams.
His Alabama teams were routinely terrific. Ask Bob Knight to name the squad he feared the most after Indiana’s undefeated run to the 1976 NCAA championship. Knight always begins with the Hoosiers’ challenging 74-69 escape against Newton’s Crimson Tide squad in the Southeast Regional in Baton Rouge, Ala.
Knight was so impressed by Newton’s sharp basketball mind and imperturbable nature that Newton served as his top assistant on the 1984 U. S. Men’s Olympic basketball team, the one that won the gold medal in Los Angeles with Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Sam Perkins, Vern Fleming and only college players.
Whenever Knight raged, Newton made certain the players returned to the joy of competing and winning.
It isn’t easy winning at Vanderbilt. Newton won at Vanderbilt in five of his eight seasons, finishing as high as second place in the Southeastern Conference and taking Vandy to the Sweet Sixteen of the 1988 NCAA Tournament.
He found this gangly 7-footer from Florida and developed him into the 1988 SEC Player of the Year. Ask Will Perdue about the lessons that he learned from four seasons with Charles Martin Newton, long before Perdue became a first-round draft pick who won multiple NBA championship rings.
As I said in the beginning, I thought I rememgered all the important things I wanted to say. Then I watched the tributes roll across social media, and I realized C.M. Newton earned a book, not a column.
Ask Tubby Smith.
We lost a wonderful person today in C.M. Newton. I want to first send out our dearest condolences to his wife, Nancy, his three children and all of their relatives. Coach Newton has been a mentor for me for a number of years and has guided my career from the first time I met him.— Tubby Smith (@CoachTubbySmith) June 5, 2018
I can’t remember seeing more joy in Newton’s face than I saw on the 1998 night in San Antonio, Texas when Smith, UK’s first African-American basketball coach, led the Wildcats to a national title. The work by Newton, a former player for Adolph Rupp, helped silence one of the narratives around Kentucky basketball.
Ask ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who never played nor coached for Newton.
Ask Indiana coach Archie Miller, whose interaction with Newton came after he had retired from coaching and leading programs.
RIP C.M. Newton, was incredibly iconic, but such a nice person! Spoke at his luncheon in Tuscaloosa when we played down there. He was very genuine. Thoughts and Prayers with his loved ones!— Arch Miller (@Archie_Miller) June 5, 2018
Ask Freddie Maggard, who played football, not baseball during the days when Newton led the athletic program at Kentucky.
Rest in sweet peace C.M. Newton. That’s my AD. Brought a small group into his office once a week to ask how he could better serve his athletes. Sad-sad day. Loved that man.— Freddie Maggard (@UKPlayerDevelop) June 4, 2018
Or ask Susan Lax, who couldn’t score a touchdown or make a three-point shot for the Wildcats. But she never had any doubts that Newton valued her contributions to UK athletics in the media relations department.
I first met C.M. Newton in 1997. He was the AD and I was petrified to interview with him because he was THE C.M. Newton. Just 2 wks after I started, my mom had a stroke. He made a point to seek me out, hug me and tell me everything was gonna be ok. I’ll never forget his kindness.— Slax (@slax0) June 5, 2018
C.M. Newton changed history, changed lives and changed sports in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the better.
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