Suppose you followed Knute Rockne as football coach at Notre Dame, Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, John Wooden in basketball at UCLA and Red Auerbach with the Boston Celtics. And started off your very first year with a player expected to make an even bigger impact on basketball than Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
That's as tough as my trying to take over for Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post, even without Woodward and Bernstein to add to the pressure.
Dick Harp entered the equivalent of that scenario when he succeeded the immortal Phog Allen at Kansas for the 1956-57 season -- and inherited a promising sophomore named Wilt Chamberlain. The guys who followed Rockne, Wilkinson, Wooden and Auerbach didn't last as long or handle the post-legend challenge as well as Harp did in his eight years as head coach at KU.
Dick, onetime Kansas City Rosedale High all-sports athlete, starred at KU under Phog, assisted Doc for eight years and was handed the seemingly impossible job of following him as head man.
Not many have any idea of the problems he encountered trying to work with the stubborn, headstrong Chamberlain and get The Dipper to do what was best for the team and KU, on and off the court. Only Jerry Waugh, Dick's close friend and head assistant, and his dear and devoted wife, Martha Sue, really know.
And they, like Dick, are not kiss-and-tell types. They stood by their man, let the chips fall where they would and let a record of court success and helping a lot of young men in the realms of scholarship and citizenship speak for itself.
Dick resigned in favor of then-aide Ted Owens after the 1963-64 season. Harp posted a 121-82 (.596) record. And his groundbreaking efforts made it a lot easier for Owens to last 19 years on the same job.
A number of the guys Dick coached as an assistant and head man at KU are honoring him here this weekend. Such an honor is long overdue for an intelligent, intense, low-profile man of 75 who is as loyal to KU as anyone who ever graced this earth.
He's not the flamboyant, flashy type, yet he has one of the sharpest senses of humor I've been fortunate enough to encounter. He loves to laugh and to make people laugh with his unlimited supply of stories and anecdotes. He and "Mar'Sue" have retired here and Kansas University has never been represented with more dedication and dignity than it has been and is by these two.
Dick is still sought out by coaches, including former student Dean Smith and Roy Williams, for advice and counsel. He long has had one of the keenest basketball minds extant and is recognized for that. But like most of the great ones, Harp's best contribution to society is as a strong moral and ethical citizen.
He rankled some of the big cigars for KU because he wouldn't cheat and compromise high principles. Come 1963-64, he'd seen enough of the bigtime picture and was ready for a long career as a top executive of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Smith tried for years to lure Dick to North Carolina as an aide. After settling some family affairs, Harp heeded the call from 1986 through '89. "At great benefit to me," the respected Smith will tell you readily. "There's never been anybody I respect and admire more than Dick."
Harp was well aware of the potential of Williams and played a key role in his coming to Kansas ... another major contribution to the university he loves so much. The best compliment I can pay Roy is to say he's the same high-caliber human being as Dick Harp.
Dick is one of the very few people who have played (1940) and head coached (1957) college teams in the NCAA Final Four. He may be the only one ever to combine that doubleton with a head assistantship in two Final Four appearances (1952 and 1953).
Chamberlain seems to go out of his way to harpoon KU and Kansas, and has taken a number of cheap shots at Harp's coaching. But Dick is in good company. Wilt has had numerous barbs for almost any coach he's had. In retrospect, Wilt was supposed to be more revolutionary than sliced bread, the Salk-Sabin vaccines and a known cure for the common cold and cancer. When you tabulate where he ranks in the pantheon of immortals, he's at best a distant fourth.
All things considered, Harp did a great job of getting as much as he did from Chamberlain in The Dipper's two years here. The other players accepted certain things, assistant Waugh helped keep Wilt more focused on basketball than he preferred to be and Dick did a tremendous job of orchestration.
One of the best quotes came from Waugh after Wilt wrote in one of his books that he'd had more than 20,000 sexual experiences in his life. ... "That probably explains why he was late for some practices," deadpanned Jerry.
Dick did a lot of good things for a lot of young men, and that's reflected in the reverence they hold for him, and will show this weekend. One of my favorite stories about Dick's ability to inspire emerged the night Allen Fieldhouse was dedicated, March 1, 1955.
Phog Allen, the arena's namesake, refused to go into the KU dressing room and make it look as if he was begging his team to "win one for Phog." Harp was in charge.
Speaking as a onetime Jayhawk warrior, Dick simply told the team: "Few are privileged to wear the colors of Kansas. Nobody else will ever be privileged to wear them as you do tonight."
He was talking to a gang that included Gene Elstun, Dallas Dobbs, Bill Brainard, Lew Johnson, John Parker and Maurice King. They were major underdogs to Kansas State but roared out to win 77-67.
Elstun said, "There was no way we were going to be remembered as the guys who lost the night they dedicated this fieldhouse!" ... Added Dobbs, " ... not with the living legend himself sitting on our bench. Nobody could have made the challenge any clearer than Dick."
Harp has issued and met a lot of challenges on behalf of KU, and many people he influenced so favorably will be providing him with some more richly deserved feedback this weekend.