February 16, 1951|
|Died||April 2, 2011
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Head coaching record|
|Accomplishments and honors|
|No. 21 retired by the University of Memphis|
Larry Finch (February 16, 1951 – April 2, 2011) was a player and coach for the University of Memphis men's basketball team. He is perhaps most famous for leading the Memphis State Tigers to the NCAA men's basketball championship game in 1973 in a heroic loss to the UCLA Bruins, led by Bill Walton.
Finch was born in Memphis, and played basketball for Melrose High School (Memphis, Tennessee) in the Orange Mound section of Memphis. He then entered Memphis State and played basketball under famed basketball coach Gene Bartow. This decision was somewhat controversial for both Memphis' black and white communities, given the recent assassination of Martin Luther King and the resultant heightened strain on race relations in Memphis, not to mention so few local African-American prep stars had been able to wear a Tiger uniform to that point. Some had advised Finch not to go, but whether or not he saw it as an opportunity to do something even more meaningful than playing for his local university, Finch loved his hometown team. As he led the Tigers to new heights of success, at least during basketball games, Memphians had a chance to see things less in black and white and more in Tiger blue and gray.
In his senior year at Memphis State, 1972–1973, he and Larry Kenon led the basketball team to the Final Four. In the championship game, Finch scored 29 points, but lost to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, a game where Bill Walton went 21 of 22 from the floor. Finch graduated the all-time leading scorer in Memphis history, and is currently the second all-time leading scorer for the University of Memphis.
Finch was drafted on the fourth round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1973, but opted to join the local American Basketball Association team, the Memphis Tams. Finch played professionally for two years with the Tams, the Memphis Sounds and the Baltimore Hustlers and Baltimore Claws.
In the 1980s, Finch was an assistant coach for Dana Kirk at Memphis State. Kirk was forced to leave Memphis State after violating NCAA regulations and becoming the subject of a criminal investigation, and while asking for and getting immunity from prosecution in the Kirk trial, Finch was made head coach in 1986. He would remain at the school, which was renamed the University of Memphis in 1994, until 1997.
Finch posted 10 out of 11 winning seasons, seven 20+ win seasons, and six NCAA tournaments. He recruited and developed such players as Elliot Perry, Penny Hardaway, and Lorenzen Wright. His 1991–92 team led by Hardaway and David Vaughn went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. During his tenure, the basketball players began to graduate in high numbers.
As a player, Finch was known for his shooting prowess, and his skills remained intact throughout his coaching days; he would routinely win games of H-O-R-S-E against his players and against assistant coaches in long distance shooting contests after road game practices. Even while head coach, he maintained connections to his roots; he often visited Orange Mound barbershops, often delivering Memphis State posters and other team paraphernalia.
Despite Finch's overall success, during the mid-90's more and more local blue chip recruits began leaving for other schools, specifically Todd Day to the University of Arkansas and others to the University of Tennessee. This began grating on Tiger fans, who had become used to seeing national powers built on primarily Memphis-area talent. While there was the Elite Eight team of 91–92, several of Finch's teams were considered under-achievers, such as the highly touted 1995–96 squad which lost to 12th seeded Drexel University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Finch was forced to resign and his contract was bought out at the end of the 1996–97 season. The forced resignation was a public relations fiasco for the university and athletic director R. C. Johnson, as the deal was finalized immediately following Finch's final game in one of the concession areas of the Pyramid Arena. Although a portion of the fan base had become disenchanted with Finch, even some of his detractors were critical of the way school officials handled it. He left as the school's all-time winningest coach, a record which stood until John Calipari passed him in 2007–08. However, after all of the Tigers' wins in the 2007–08 season were vacated, Finch recovered his standing as the school's winningest coach.
In 1998, he ran for the office of Shelby County Registrar and lost to the incumbent by only 127 votes despite having no government experience. He was briefly in the running for coaching positions at Tennessee State, Georgia State, and South Alabama.
In 2002, Finch suffered a debilitating stroke. People close to Finch created the Friends of Larry Finch Foundation to help offset his medical expenses. In December 2006, the Foundation released a Larry Finch tribute CD called "Eye of the Tiger", featuring performers from Memphis' diverse musical community such as Al Green, The Bar-Kays, Gary Johns, John Kilzer, and Al Kapone.
Finch died on April 2, 2011, after a long illness.
Head coaching record
|Memphis State (Metro Conference) (1986–1991)|
|1986–87||Memphis State||26–8||8–4||2nd||Ineligible due to NCAA violations|
|1987–88||Memphis State||20–12||6–6||T–3rd||NCAA 2nd Round|
|1988–89||Memphis State||21–11||8–4||T–2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1989–90||Memphis State||18–12||8–6||4th||NIT 1st Round|
|1990–91||Memphis State||17–15||7–7||T–4th||NIT 2nd Round|
|Memphis State/Memphis (Great Midwest Conference) (1991–1995)|
|1991–92||Memphis State||23–11||5–5||T–3rd||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1992–93||Memphis State||20–12||7–3||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1994–95||Memphis||24–10||9–3||1st||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|Memphis (Conference USA) (1995–1997)|
|1995–96||Memphis||22–8||11–3||1st (White)||NCAA 1st Round|
|1996–97||Memphis||16–15||10–4||T–1st (White)||NIT 1st Round|
National champion Postseason invitational champion