Norm Ellenberger was head coach of the University of New Mexico Lobo basketball team from 1972 to 1979, winning Western Athletic Conference championships in 1974 and 1978 and compiling an overall record of 134-62 (.684). His players included NBA defensive stand-out Michael Cooper. Ellenberger was dismissed as Lobo head coach due to a recruiting scandal known as Lobogate.
Ellenberger later became lead assistant coach under Don Haskins at UTEP (1986-90) and Bobby Knight at Indiana (1990-2000). He served as an assistant for the Chicago Bulls (2000-2003) before coaching boys and girls high school basketball in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He returned to coaching professional basketball in 2012 as an assistant for the New York Liberty of the WNBA.
Ellenberger graduated in 1955 from Butler University, where he played for basketball coaching legend Tony Hinkle. Ellenberger was also captain and all-Conference player on the football team, and he pitched a no-hitter on the baseball team (in 2012, he was inducted into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame). After a brief stint in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, he taught science and coached basketball and other sports from 1957-64 for the New Haven High Bulldogs, near the Indiana farm where he grew up.
In 1964 Ellenberger began coaching at Monmouth College, a Division III program in western Illinois, where he led the football, basketball, and baseball teams at one point. His basketball teams compiled a record of 30-36, including a 14-8 campaign in 1965-1966.
On April 13, 1967, Ellenberger was hired as lead assistant by Coach Bob King at the University of New Mexico. Under King, the Lobos had run a highly methodical offense, controlling game tempo by emphasizing defense. King gave Ellenberger leeway to open up the offense with a more balanced attack. Despite losing key players to graduation, the 1967-68 Lobos won the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championship and made the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history. In March 1972, King was named Assistant Athletic Director, and Ellenberger was promoted to head coach. King left the following year to become head coach and Athletic Director at Indiana State University.
Under Ellenberger, the Lobos won WAC championships in 1974 and 1978 and compiled an overall record of 134-62 (.684). The team's success, along with his energy and enthusiasm, made Ellenberger popular among Lobo fans and beyond. He became a local celebrity in Albuquerque, a restaurateur and man-about-town, earning the nickname "Stormin' Norman" for his flashy attire, fiery coaching style, and flamboyant personality. The Lobos were frequently ranked among the top 25 in the nation under Ellenberger, and attendance for Lobo games at The Pit was regularly among the top five in college basketball. The 1973-74 team won the WAC championship and became the first Lobo squad to win a NCAA tournament game. The 1977-78 team was his best at New Mexico, led by Michael Cooper, who went on to become one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. The Lobos were ranked for most of the season, peaking at #5, winning the WAC championship, and reaching the NCAA tournament. Ellenberger was voted runner-up for the US Basketball Writers Coach of the Year award.
The turning point in Ellenberger's career came with the "Lobogate" recruiting scandal, involving forged academic transcripts, payments made for bogus Junior College credits, and other devices to attain eligibility for players who lacked academic credentials. In an investigation into illegal gambling, the FBI had placed a wiretap on the phone of a major Lobo booster. While Ellenberger was visiting this booster, in November 1979, he took a call on the tapped phone from an assistant coach. They discussed an arrangement to transfer bogus credits from a California Junior College to the office of the UNM registrar. Based on this conversation, the FBI launched an investigation into the recruiting activities of Lobo coaches. Ellenberger was fired on Dec. 17, 1979. The investigation led to a federal indictment of Ellenberger on seven counts of fraud and forgery of academic transcripts, but he was acquitted of those charges at trial. In July 1981, however, he was convicted by a state District Court on 21 of 22 counts of fraud and submitting false public vouchers. The judge deferred sentence, placing Ellenberger on unsupervised probation for a year, and all counts were formally dismissed in 1983. The NCAA investigation into the scandal found 34 violations of recruiting rules, and the Lobo program was placed on probation and banned from post-season appearances for three years.
Despite the scandal, Ellenberger remained popular with many Lobo fans. He continued to live in Albuquerque, where he owned a restaurant, appeared in TV commercials, coached the city's Continental Basketball Association team and a women's professional team, and continued to attend Lobo games. Some fans felt he had been unfairly dismissed and even wanted him to be rehired as coach of the Lobos. His ability as a basketball coach had never been in question, and in 1986, former rival and longtime friend Don Haskins hired Ellenberger as his lead assistant at UTEP, where he would coach for four years, even serving as interim head coach for one season while Haskins was side-lined due to health problems. Another longtime friend, Bobby Knight, hired Ellenberger as his lead assistant at Indiana, where he coached for ten seasons, from 1990 to 2000.
Ellenberger spent the next three seasons as an assistant to Tim Floyd with the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. While in Chicago, Ellenberger became enamored with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and bought a lakeside cabin near Watersmeet. In 2003 he accepted a position as head coach of the girl's basketball team at Lakeland Union High School in nearby Minocqua, leaving at the end of the 2004-05 school year. He then coached at the Conserve School in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. In 2009, he became assistant coach at Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, Wisconsin. He won Coach of the Year in three different districts over those years, and in 2011-12 he led the Watersmeet Lady Nimrods to the Porcupine Mountain Conference title. Later in 2012, he returned to professional basketball as an assistant for the New York Liberty of the WNBA. His love of basketball keeps him returning to coaching, but he has a similar passion for the outdoors, regularly fishing, canoeing, and chopping wood at his lake shore cabin.
Ellenberger can be seen briefly in the 1994 movie, Blue Chips, squatting in a timeout huddle next to Bobby Knight. He also appears in an episode of the 2007 documentary series, Nimrod Nation, aired on the Sundance Channel, as an assistant coach for the Watersmeet Nimrods, the subject of the series.
Head coaching record
|Monmouth College (IL) (MCAC) (1964–1967)|
|New Mexico Lobos (WAC) (1972–1979)|
|1972-1973||New Mexico||21-6||9-5||T-2nd||NIT 1st Round|
|1973-1974||New Mexico||22-7||10-4||1st||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1977-1978||New Mexico||24-4||13-1||1st||NCAA 1st Round|
|1978-1979||New Mexico||19-10||8-4||3rd||NIT 1st Round|
National champion Conference regular season champion Conference tournament champion
- Peter Brown, Butler welcomes newest Hall of Fame inductees, The Butler Collegian, Oct. 2, 2012.
- Bobbi Roquemore, Ellenberger enjoys the simple life, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 25, 2004.
- K.C. Johnson, Why does Ellenberger coach? It's "what I do", Chicago Tribune, May 09, 2001.
- Monmouth College Men's Basketball Record Book, pp.2-3.
- Richard Stevens, Ellenberger, Colson Find Good Times, Bad Times, With Lobos, New Mexico Official Athletics Site, June 13, 2013.
- Mark Smith, Lobos went Stormin’ with Norman, Albuquerque Journal, June 23, 2013.
- New Mexico Lobo Basketball 2012-13 Media Guide, p.130.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p. 114.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.146.
- Lee Benson, This is Just Norm-al for the Miners, Deseret News, March 11, 1989.
- Media Guide 2012-13, pp.4,102.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.104.
- William C. Dowling, Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University (2007), pp.13,19-26.
- Dowling (2007), p.26.
- Dave Anderson, Sports of the Times; in The Pit, Lobogate Lives, N.Y. Times, Apr. 3, 1983.
- Mark Smith, Lobogate Destroyed Basketball Program in '79, Sept. 15, 2007.
- Curt Holbreich, Lobos Going From Pit Toward the Penthouse, L.A. Times, Jan. 14, 1988.
- Mark Smith, Give Him Liberty, Albuquerque Journal, Apr. 1, 2012.