Polk from the 1970 Archive
|Born||February 28, 1915|
Tell City, Indiana
|Died||March 18, 1986 (aged 70)|
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|1939–1943||Tell City HS (assistant)|
|1943–1947||Georgia Tech (assistant)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
|NCAA College Division Regional (1968)|
SEC Tournament (1951)
2 Southland regular season (1967, 1969)
|NCAA College Division Coach of the Year (1969)|
2× Southland Coach of the Year (1967, 1969)
MVC Coach of the Year (1970)
James Robert Polk (February 28, 1915 – March 18, 1986) was an American basketball coach. Polk coached the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Trinity Tigers, the Saint Louis Billikens and Rice University. He began his college coaching career as an assistant coach a Georgia Tech during World War II. His first coaching job was at his high school alma mater Tell City High, in Tell City, Indiana.
Polk was born in Tell City, Indiana and began to play basketball in the 4th grade. After high school, Polk attended the University of Evansville from 1936 to 1939. He worked part-time at several jobs, including sweeping out the University President's office, running a movie projector, bank teller and working in a tomato canning factory. to help pay his college expenses. He was a guard on the basketball team under long-time Purple Aces' coach Bill Slyker from 1935-36 to 1938–39.
In Polk's sophomore season (1935–36), Evansille finished 11–7. This would mark the best season for the Purple Aces during Polk's college playing career.
High school coaching
Polk began his career in coaching by accepting a teaching and coaching job at his alma mater Tell City High School, Tell City, Indiana. Polk had graduated only 8 years earlier (1931) after leading the Marksmen to their fifth IHSAA Sectional title. Polk assisted Ivan Hollen, who also began that season, replacing future Purdue Boilermakers' Head Coach Ray Eddy.
After a four-year tenure, Polk joined the U.S. Navy, he was assigned as a physical education instructor at Georgia Tech in the Navy's V-12 Program, he also assisted Georgia Tech head coach Dwayne Keith during the 1943–44 and 1944-45 seasons. After the war, Georgia Tech hired him as their assistant basketball coach.
In 1943, he enlisted in the US Navy and was assigned as a physical education instructor at Georgia Institute of Technology, he spent the 1943–44 and 1944-45 seasons as an Georgia Tech assistant to Dwayne Keith in addition to his US Navy duties, after the war ended he was hired in the same capacity by Georgia Tech.
In February 1947, Vanderbilt was pummeled by the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC Tournament 98-29, the Commodores Athletic Director (and football coach) Red Sanders decided to upgrade the basketball program by hiring a full-time coach and offering scholarships. His search led him to Bob Polk (another candidate who was interviewed for the job was the future legend, John Wooden, who had led his Indiana State Sycamores to a conference title and an invitation from the NAIA.
Polk coached the Vanderbilt Commodores from 1947 to 1961. There, he won the 1951–52 SEC Tournament. Polk's Vanderbilt teams recorded one losing season in 13 seasons and finished 2nd in the SEC on four occasions. His 1954-55, 1955–56 and 1956–57 squads all finished the season in the Top 20 Associated Press poll.
In his 13 seasons as Vanderbilt coach, Polk mined the rich Southwestern Indiana talent fields to build a consistent winner; players such as SEC First Team members Dave Kardokus (1951) and SEC Second team members Billy Joe Adcock (1948–50), Al Weiss (1951), Bob Dudley Smith (1951) and Dave Kardokus. Heart problems forced Polk to resign after the 1960-61 season. When he left, Polk was the leader in wins for the Commodores (197-106 .650) and had won the 1951 SEC Tourney.
Six of his players were drafted by NBA teams;
- Bill Depp – 1961 3rd round Boston
- Jim Henry – 1959 6th round Minneapolis
- Al Rochelle – 1957 5th round St. Louis
- Dan Finch – 1954 Minneapolis
- George Kelley – 1951 Indianapolis
- Billy Joe Adcock – 1950 Fort Wayne
Polk recovered quickly from his heart attack and accepted the head coaching and athletic director position at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Polk quickly turned the Tigers into a power, leading them from the depths of the Southland Conference to the title in four seasons; he was named the Southland Conference Coach-of-the-Year in 1967 following a record of 16-6. His 1967-68 team was even better, the Tigers racked up a record of 23-7 and advanced to the NCAA College Division Tournament, where the Tigers finished 3rd overall. He was also the NCAA National Coach-of-the-Year for the College Division (today's NCAA Div II) in 1968. In his four years at Trinity, Polk compiled a 70-28 record, a Southland title and a National 3rd-place finish. He was chiefly responsible for the Tigers moving to NCAA Division I classification, however, today they are a NCAA Div III school.
Following his successful tenure at Trinity, Polk accepted the head coaching job at Saint Louis University; he was the 16th head coach in Billikens history and quickly turned around the program. In his 2nd season, he led them to a share of the Missouri Valley Conference championship and was named the Conference's Coach of the Year. While at St Louis, he sent two players to the NBA; Harry “Tree” Rogers and Robin Jones.
In a return to bigger conference, he accepted the head coaching position at Rice after five seasons at Saint Louis. However, he was unable to duplicate the earlier success he enjoyed at Vanderbilt. Polk served as the President of the National Association of Basketball Coaches during the 197475 season.
In April 1977, Polk resigned from Rice and accepted a position as the assistant athletic director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). He retired from that position in 1977. He hired Gene Bartow to build the men's basketball program.
Polk died of heart disease at age 71 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on March 18, 1986. He is buried in Tell City, Indiana. He was memorialized by his induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Head coaching record
|Vanderbilt Commodores (Southeastern Conference) (1947–1961)|
|Vanderbilt:||197–106 (.650)||105–77 (.577)|
|Trinity Tigers (Southland Conference) (1965–1969)|
|1967–68||Trinity||23–7||5–3||2nd||NCAA Final Four|
|1968–69||Trinity||19–5||7–1||1st||NCAA Regional Quarterfinals|
|Trinity:||70–28 (.714)||19–13 (.594)|
|Saint Louis Billikens (Missouri Valley Conference) (1969–1974)|
|Saint Louis:||72–60 (.545)||37–33 (.529)|
|Rice Owls (Southwest Conference) (1974–1977)|
|Rice:||17–63 (.213)||6–40 (.130)|
Postseason invitational champion
- "Trinity (TX) Tigers Index | College Basketball at Sports-Reference.com". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Saint Louis Billikens Coaches | College Basketball at Sports-Reference.com". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Rice Owls Coaches | College Basketball at Sports-Reference.com". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "View Image". Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Vanderbilt Commodores Index | College Basketball at Sports-Reference.com". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "NBA Draft Picks From Vanderbilt University | Basketball-Reference.com". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "View Image". Archived from the original on 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2014-04-02.
- "NBA Draft Picks From Saint Louis University | Basketball-Reference.com". basketball-reference.com. Retrieved 2014-02-09.
- "Explosion: 1951 Scandals Threaten College Hoops".