Tubbs' death hits coaching peers hard

May, 11, 2009
05/11/09
12:26
PM ET
The fast talking made him hard to understand sometimes.

The seemingly always scratchy voice made you concentrate on his every word.

And when you did, what you heard from Jimmy Tubbs was his passion for basketball, and through his devotion to the game, his passion for life.

This man loved hoops and didn't hesitate to spend a few minutes on the phone, or in person, discussing his devotion.

A former head coach at SMU and assistant at Oklahoma and at SMU, who won a state championship at Dallas' Kimball High, Tubbs couldn't stand idle if he was in a gym.

"Every time Coach would come by Kimball and watch us practice, he would end up in a full sweat,'' said current Kimball coach Royce Johnson, who played for Tubbs at Kimball from 1986-90 and whose father Goree replaced Tubbs at Kimball before him.

"He would always end up talking to the team and take our practice in a better and different direction."

On Saturday, lost amid the death of NBA Hall of Fame and Dream Team gold-medal winning coach Chuck Daly, Tubbs died in Dallas. He was 60 years old.

A cause of death hadn't been determined as of Sunday night. But his best friend, Georgia State assistant coach Paul Graham, said Tubbs suffered from high blood pressure.

Tubbs leaves behind a young adult son, Andrew.

"I just talked to him Thursday and on Friday he went to the hospital,'' Graham said. "He woke up sweating, but he wasn't hot. He was cold. He told his girlfriend that he didn't feel well and then Friday night they said he was doing better. On Saturday, he passed away."

Tubbs was nowhere near the legend of Daly.

But he was just as beloved within his peer group in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro high school basketball community and within college basketball, notably in the Black Coaches Association.

Tubbs' coaching colleagues, nearly all of whom called him a good friend, were crushed.

Tubbs was Graham's best man in his wedding. The two coached together at Kimball in the 1970s when Graham was the head coach. They were inseparable.

Graham said he credits Tubbs for calming him down because he had a tendency to go off at times. Graham, a former head coach at Washington State and longtime college assistant at Oklahoma State, SMU, New Mexico, Colorado and now Georgia State, said the best years of his coaching life were with Tubbs. He said the two would spend Sundays in the 1970s (when they were on the Kimball staff in their 20s) playing ball. They were always together in the backcourt.

"He worked his ass off,'' said Graham, who will be a pallbearer and speaker at the Thursday funeral in Dallas. "He'd be in the office at 7 a.m., and then when I'd call him, wherever he was [at Oklahoma or SMU], he would be there late at night. When I was out of a job [after being fired at Washington State], he would call me every day. We lost a good man, a guy that cared about kids, a wonderful honest human being."

"This is tough, real tough for me,'' said Tony Benford, an assistant at Marquette and former assistant at Nebraska, Arizona State and New Mexico and a former player at Texas Tech. "I spoke to him at least once a week. I've known him for over 25 years. He was a special guy, so genuine. He had no enemies. He was a mentor to me and one of the first guys who I talked to about coaching.''

Johnson said Tubbs was the reason he chose coaching. "I didn't know anybody who disliked him,'' Johnson said. "He would do anything to help you.''

Tubbs' dream was to coach SMU. Johnson said while he was playing for Tubbs, he always mentioned two jobs: SMU and North Texas. That showed just how much he believed in the Dallas-area basketball community. These weren't national jobs. He just wanted to continue to give back to the community in which he developed his pride in the game.

Graham had followed then-SMU coach Dave Bliss to New Mexico as an assistant. The next SMU coach, John Shumate, plucked Tubbs from Kimball just as Graham had done when Bliss hired him. "We were two of a kind, PG and JT, but Jimmy never thought he'd get the SMU head coaching job,'' Graham said.

Tubbs spent 12 seasons as an assistant at SMU working under Mike Dement and Shumate. He was an assistant on the 1992-93 Southwest Conference team that reached the NCAAs. He went to work for Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma and got a shot at being the head coach at SMU after Dement was forced out in 2004. Tubbs wasn't the first choice, but there was a groundswell of support for him in the Dallas basketball community.

"When he got that job, he called me and he was crying on the phone,'' Graham said. "He worked his whole life to get to that point. That was his home. He busted his ass to get that job. There was no BS to Jimmy. He loved the game. I would always tell him to slow down, he was talking so fast and to relax on the sideline. Every play, and every step he took, he did it 100 percent."

Tubbs spent two seasons with the Mustangs, compiling a 27-30 record. He had a 232-42 record in eight seasons at Kimball.

But his SMU coaching career ended with a thud. He was fired in April 2006 after reports of NCAA violations. The allegations were that Tubbs practiced the Mustangs more than the NCAA maximum 20 hours a week and that he had accrued outside money for meals for freshmen Bamba Fall and Brian Morris when they were recruits. SMU had an unofficial no-tolerance policy after its history of violations in football that led to the infamous NCAA "death penalty" in the 1980s, which shut the program down.

A year after Tubbs' firing, in September 2007, SMU announced that the NCAA had completed its review of the men's basketball program and wouldn't take any action. The NCAA ruled SMU's response to its self-reported violations during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons were fine. The investigation of Tubbs in April 2006 resulted in his firing. Tubbs was still paid the final two years of his original four-year contract, estimated at $600,000.

The damage was done. Tubbs was devastated by the way his career ended.

Graham said Tubbs got shafted at SMU.

Rob Evans, the former Arizona State head coach and longtime assistant at Oklahoma State, New Mexico State, Texas Tech and now at Arkansas, was a close friend of Tubbs, too. He said he didn't know all the details of the SMU ousting, but said that Tubbs was sorely disappointed. "He had gone home, gotten a shot and was so excited,'' Evans said. "He was just one of a kind. No one ever had a bad word to say about him -- no one. And in this profession that is rare.''

Miami head coach Frank Haith, a former Texas assistant, knew the man he had to meet when he came from Wake Forest to the Lone Star State. "[Tubbs] was one of those guys that lifted everybody around him,'' Haith said. "He could talk to anybody. He was a great man, one of the all-time nice guys in the profession.''

Graham and his wife, Vanessa, are heading out Tuesday morning to drive to Dallas for the funeral. Their hearts are heavy with mourning for the man they have cherished for decades.

"He told me on Thursday that he had just paid off his house,'' Graham said. "He talked about coaching again and finding the right situation. We always envisioned one of us getting a job again and getting back together as a staff. We had so much fun coaching together. Man, I'm going to miss him."

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?