BOZICH | C.M. Newton's towering impact on Kentucky & SEC - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | C.M. Newton's towering impact on Kentucky & SEC

Posted: Updated:
Former UK athletic director C.M. Newton left a towering impact across college sports. (UK Photo) Former UK athletic director C.M. Newton left a towering impact across college sports. (UK Photo)

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.

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.

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.

Ask Freddie Maggard, who played football, not baseball during the days when Newton led the athletic program at Kentucky.

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.
 

C.M. Newton changed history, changed lives and changed sports in the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the better.

Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

  • Sign Up for the WDRB Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
  • Sign Up for WDRB's Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 WDRB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.