Sunday, February 03, 2002

Former Bearcats coach dies at 85

'Players' coach' Jucker guided Bearcats to two NCAA titles

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Edwin “Ed” Jucker, who led the University of Cincinnati to NCAA basketball championships in his first two seasons as head coach, died Saturday at his South Carolina home. He was 85.

        Jucker coached UC to NCAA titles in 1961 and 1962, with teams of relatively unknown players. Oscar Robertson, an eventual Hall of Famer, had left UC one season before Jucker took over.

        “It's a terrible loss for Cincinnati basketball,” coach Bob Huggins said Saturday after UC's game at Marquette. “That's the guy who set the standard for what people want Cincinnati basketball to be and stand for.

        “... He and I had communicated since I've been here. He would watch all our games that he could get on TV, and he would drop me notes.”

        The late George Smith was the coach who built UC to national prominence from 1952-60, featuring Robertson from 1958-60. UC went to three straight Final Fours from 1958-60 but never won the championship.

        Jucker, who had been Smith's assistant since 1953, became UC's head basketball coach in May 1960 when Smith was elevated to athletic director. Rumors of change had been persisting for months, but nonetheless, the Enquirer reported that, “The announcement exploded like a bomb on the campus.”

        Jucker, then 42, inherited a program that had lost Robertson and three other stars, Ralph Davis, Larry Willey, and Mike Mendenhall.

        Jucker's first UC team (1960-61 season) struggled to a 5-3 start. But UC didn't lose another game that season and upset Ohio State in the NCAA title game.

        Jucker's team also beat Ohio State in the 1962 final. Jucker narrowly missed a third straight championship when the 1962-63 Bearcats lost to Loyola of Chicago 60-58 in overtime in the final.

        “If we had won one more championship,” Jucker later said, “we could have been, perhaps, the UCLA of our time.”

        UCLA won 10 NCAA titles in a 12-year span, culminating in 1975.

        Jucker's championship UC teams were composed mostly of unknown players who became household names in Cincinnati, notably Ron Bonham, Carl Bouldin, Paul Hogue, Larry Shingleton, Tom Thacker, Bob Wiesenhahn, George Wilson and Tony Yates.

        Jucker was known to most as a happy, humble man. He was “a players' coach” before the term became popular.

        “His relationship with his players is more like that of a big brother, rather than that of master or slave driver,” one according to one old newspaper account.

        Many old Jucker pictures show him smiling broadly. But he was also known for his quick temper.

        During UC's second NCAA title season, Jucker angrily threw a Cincinnati reporter out of a postgame interview session. The scribe had wondered aloud if UC, which had just won by 21 points, was “complacent with prosperity at times.” To which Jucker replied, “Get out!”

        After cooling off, Jucker held no grudge. He also once threatened to punch another reporter in the nose, only to shake hands with him soon after.

        Jucker's first UC team, featuring ball control and tight defense, at first was criticized by fans. “Let 'em run, Jucker,” was a familiar cry from the stands, but fans soon bought into the disciplined style that produced victory upon victory.

        Jucker's devotion to his craft led him to write a book, Cincinnati Power Basketball, at the height of his success. It had three printings.

        Jucker's system was widely copied, but some said the book indirectly caused his UC downfall. Opponents studied Jucker's theories and devised ways to beat his system.

        After his spectacular first three UC seasons, Jucker lasted only two more as UC's coach. In 1963-64, UC fell to 17-9 and Jucker had an emergency appendectomy.

        In 1964-65, UC slumped to 14-12 and Jucker resigned, citing, “The ever-increasing pressures of the job” that had undermined his health and that of his family.

        “I hardly know my family,” he said upon resigning. “I have four children growing up who hardly know me. They have got to come first.”

        Said former player Shingleton, “Maybe it was a case of he had been to the mountaintop, so where else was there to go?”

        Jucker's wife, Joanne, said years later, “When he was coaching the Bearcats, I felt as though people expected him to keep winning forever.”

        Jucker quit UC with a 113-28 record — his .801 winning percentage remains the school record — and took over UC's intramural program. But he wasn't through with coaching.

        In May 1967, Jucker was named coach of the NBA's Cincinnati Royals. Robertson and Jerry Lucas were the Royals' stars then, but Cincinnati didn't have much else. Jucker had two mediocre seasons, with 39-43 and 41-41 records, then was fired by team owner Max Jacobs in May of 1969.

        “I'll be back,” Jucker said.

        He was, but he never held such a high-profile job again. With a year left on his Royals contract, he stayed with the team in 1969-70 as a scout. His coaching replacement, Bob Cousy, never matched Jucker's best Royals season and the franchise moved to Kansas City after the 1971-72 season.

        In 1970, Jucker became chairman of the physical education department at Rensselaer Polytechnic (N.Y.). He had coached at Rensselaer before coming to UC in 1953.

        He had joined UC as an assistant basketball coach and head baseball coach. In baseball, he coached eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax when Koufax briefly played at UC.

        In 1972, Jucker became head basketball coach at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. The school had seldom seen a winner, but in five years Jucker's record was 82-42. He retired in 1977, again for health reasons, and at age 59 became Rollins' athletic director.

        Jucker's oldest son, Steve, played for him at Rollins.

        In 1983, Jucker finished his last year as Rollins' athletic director emeritus. He returned to Cincinnati in retirement, then moved to South Carolina.

        Jucker attended a UC game in 1992, was introduced to the crowd and received a standing ovation.

        Jucker grew up in Norwood. When he was in his first semester of high school, his family moved to Cincinnati and Jucker attended old Woodward High, from which he graduated in 1936. Jucker excelled there in basketball and baseball and later was captain and leading scorer on the 1939-40 UC basketball team.

        Jucker is survived by his wife, Joanne; sons Steve and Ken; two daughters, Judy Tregler and Karen Reddig; a sister, Doris Flaig; and five grandchildren, Kacie, Courtney and Abigail Reddig, and Jason and Rylie Jucker.

        A memorial service will be held in Cincinnati at a date to be determined.

        The family suggests memorial contributions to the Ed Jucker Baseball Endowment Fund, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45211.


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