Pete Newell, one of only three coaches (along with Dean Smith and Bobby Knight) to win an NCAA title, an NIT championship and an Olympic Gold Medal, passed away yesterday at the age of 93. In addition to leading Cal to the 1959 collegiate crown, Newell is probably best known to later generations as a tutor to aspiring centers, along with being the GM that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. Recalling Newell’s 8 game unbeaten run against John Wooden’s UCLA, the SF Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins eulogizes, “he built empires out of sawdust.”
There was a landmark Cal-UCLA game, unencumbered by television interests, in which neither Wooden nor Newell had called a timeout. It was a source of pride for both men; forget the flash cards, the meetings or even an assistant coach. Their players knew what to do – any time, any situation – and they were in shape. Timeouts were a blatant sign of weakness.
With about four minutes left, Wooden had no choice; one of his players was noticeably dragging. He called time, and Cal went on to win. That was the spring of 1957, and the streak was born. “Do you know that they never beat us again?” said Newell, who retired three years later with eight straight wins against Wooden. “And they never played timeouts again with us. Psychologically, that had so much to do with our confidence every time we played them. Our guys just figured, ‘We never called timeout. They did.’ ”
A number of readers think I’m crazy in my unconditional admiration for Bobby Knight, but it stems from some unforgettable sessions I had with Knight, a Newell protÃ©gÃ©, during the research process. “I think Wooden was a very good coach, but I don’t think anything beyond that,” Knight told me during an interview rife with insight and good cheer. “I don’t say that to detract from Wooden, but come on, Pete Newell? He’s simply the best there ever was.”