Thursday, February 7, 2013

Whatever Happened to Ed Jucker?

When I first started learning about the history of college basketball, I was struck by the mysterious career of Ed Jucker.  In the early 1960's, Jucker was one of the greatest coaches ever -- he took Cincinnati to the national title in 1961 and 1962, and went back to the finals in 1963.  But he left UC after the 1965 season, spent two years coaching the Cincinnati Royals in the NBA, and then disappeared.

Well, he didn't literally disappear.  According to Wikipedia, he went to Rollins College in Florida, a Division II school.  But he never returned to Division I basketball, you never saw him on TV, you almost never heard anyone talk about him.  It was very odd.  Five years in Division I, two national titles, and a record of 113-28.  His record in the NCAA Tournament -- 11-1 -- is still the best ever.

But that success came at a big emotional cost.  Here is an excerpt from a February 1963 article in Sports Illustrated:

Successful though he is, Jucker usually has the harried mien of a longtime loser.  Basketball coaches are a notoriously nervous lot, but shortly before the start of every Cincinnati game Jucker looks like a man condemned to die.  His skin turns several shades paler than normal, accenting his heavy beard and making him look old (he is 45).  His eyes are strained, as if pleading for help, and beads of sweat line his forehead.  He develops a cough, though his health is perfect.  He keeps glancing at his wrist as if checking the time, but he wears no watch.  "In the last few minutes before a game," says Tulsa's coach, Joe Swank, "Juck wouldn't even remember his name."  Backslapping well-wishers stop by the bench to wish Jucker luck.  "I nod yes and no," admits Jucker, "but I don't even know what people are saying to me."

Walter Bingham, "The Coach of Every Year," Sports Illustrated (Feb. 11, 1963) at 47-48.

Jucker lived to be 85, and when he died in 2002 the New York Times reported that he had left UC after the 1965 season because the job pressure was affecting his health and his family.  We can only hope that he was happier at Rollins.