Ray Mears (coach)

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Ray Mears
Sport(s) Basketball
Current position
Title Head coach
Biographical details
Born (1926-11-08)November 8, 1926
Dover, Ohio
Died June 11, 2007(2007-06-11) (aged 80)
Knoxville, Tennessee
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1957–1962
1963–1977
Wittenberg
Tennessee

Ray Mears (November 8, 1926 – June 11, 2007)[1] was an American collegiate basketball coach at Wittenberg University (1957–1962) and the University of Tennessee (1963–1977). His career record of 399-135 (.747) still ranks among the top 15 all-time NCAA coaching records for those with a minimum of 10 seasons. Mears is largely regarded as the father of University of Tennessee basketball and was known for his trademark orange blazer, which he wore during games. Mears is also credited with coining the phrase "Big Orange Country." [2] Mears was born in Dover, Ohio.[3] and was married to the former Dana Davis. They had three sons: Steve, Mike and Matt. Ray Mears Boulevard in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he died,[4] is named for him.

Early years[edit]

Mears played college basketball at Miami University as a walk-on, graduating from there in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in education.[3] He was also a member Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity.[5] He earned his master's degree at Kent State University while coaching at West Tech High School in Cleveland, OH. He is a member of the Miami University Athletics Hall of Fame and contributed to Miami University's national reputation as the "Cradle of Coaches."

Coaching start[edit]

He first coached at Cadiz High School in Ohio's Harrison County in 1949, where he doubled as head basketball coach and assistant football coach. In 1950, he left Cadiz for a two-year stint in the Army, returning to the head basketball coaching position at West Tech in 1952. That team won the district championship and finished second in the city of Cleveland. Mears spent four successful years at West Tech.

Mears next moved to Wittenberg University (Springfield) as head basketball coach, assistant football and head tennis coach. In six seasons at Wittenberg, he led the Tigers to four Ohio Conference titles and a 121-23 record. It was at Wittenberg where Mears developed his reputation as a great teacher of team defense. For three seasons, Wittenberg was ranked No. 1 in defense in the country and produced two first-team All-Americans. In 1960-61, the Tigers won the small college basketball title.[3] Mears was named the Ohio Coach of the Year in 1960.

The move to "Big Orange Country"[edit]

From Wittenberg, the 35-year-old Mears traveled to The University of Tennessee, becoming one of the NCAA's most successful coaches during his 15-year stint there. He compiled three Southeastern Conference championships between 1962 and 1977 [6] and an overall winning percentage of .713. Mears was twice named the SEC Coach of the Year (1967 and 1977). He coached 12 All-Americans at Tennessee, including NBA stars Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. He retired in 1977 after 21 years of college coaching and a 399-135 record with no losing seasons and a .747 winning percentage. After leaving coaching, he served for 10 years as Athletic Director at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

One of the prime achievements of Mears' tenure at Tennessee was the introduction of the phrase "Big Orange Country" to the Volunteer fans. As an Ohio native, Mears recalled the Steubenville "Big Red" and liked the name and all it implied. The Volunteers and the Knoxville area took it to heart, along with the innovative pre-game shows Mears brought to spectators. Mears would often, particularly for big away games, walk the entire perimeter of the floor in his Big Orange sportcoat, both engaging and enraging opposing teams' fans. He also had to have green jello for the pre-game meal. Once at an away game the team was eating at a restaurant and the restaurant thought it would be funny to make orange jello. Mears got very mad and the man had to go to the store, buy green jello, prepare it, and serve it. It turns out Tennessee won the game by a couple of points. Coach said it was the green jello. Ray Mears was coach to legendary Tennessee players such as Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. He was one of the SEC coaches (Adolph Rupp- UK, Dale Brown- LSU, CM Newton-Vandy, Rick Pitino-UK, Wimp Sanderson-Alabama and Nolan Richardson (Ark) that raised the league to one of the U.S.' best basketball conferences.

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Wittenberg Tigers (OAC) (1956–1962)
1956–1957 Wittenberg 15–6 10–3
1957–1958 Wittenberg 19–3 14–1
1958–1959 Wittenberg 19–3 13–1 1st NCAA Division II Sweet 16
1959–1960 Wittenberg 22–2 12–0 1st
1960–1961 Wittenberg 25–4 10–0 1st NCAA Division II Champions
1961–1962 Wittenberg 21–5 10–2 NCAA Division II Great 8
Wittenberg[7][8]: 121–23 69–7
Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) (1962–1977)
1962–63 Tennessee 13–11 6–8 7th
1963–64 Tennessee 16–8 9–5 2nd
1964–65 Tennessee 20–5 12–4 2nd
1965–66 Tennessee 19–8 10–6 T–3rd
1966–67 Tennessee 21–7 15–3 1st NCAA Midwest Regional 4th Place
1967–68 Tennessee 20–6 13–5 2nd
1968–69 Tennessee 21–7 13–5 2nd NIT Consolation Final
1969–70 Tennessee 16–9 10–8 5th
1970–71 Tennessee 21–7 13–5 2nd NIT Quarterfinal
1971–72 Tennessee 19–6 14–4 T–1st
1972–73 Tennessee 15–9 13–5 T–2nd
1973–74 Tennessee 17–9 12–6 2nd CCA 1st Round
1974–75 Tennessee 18–8 12–6 T–3rd NCI 1st Round
1975–76 Tennessee 21–6 14–4 2nd NCAA 1st Round
1976–77 Tennessee 22–6 16–2 T–1st NCAA 1st Round
Tennessee: 278–112 182–76
Total: 278–112

      National champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion

References[edit]

  1. ^ Legendary Vols' Basketball Coach Ray Mears Passes Away The Chattanoogan June 11, 2007
  2. ^ Nashville City Paper "Legendary UT coach Mears dies at 80" June 12, 2007
  3. ^ a b c "Former Wittenberg coach, MIami U. player Mears dies". Associated Press via Dayton Daily News. June 12 2007 accessdate=October 29, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Legendary UT Coach Ray Mears Passes Away". University of Tennessee Men's Athletic Department. 2007-06-11. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  5. ^ The Rainbow, vol. 132, no. 3, p. 53
  6. ^ Nashville City Paper "Legendary UT coach Mears dies at 80" June 12, 2007
  7. ^ 2010 Wittenberg University Men's Basketball Record Book, p. 5.
  8. ^ 2010-11 NCAA Men's Basketball Record Book, p. 26.