Political correctness, meet Billy Tubbs, but be forewarned: He’ll run up the score on you, too.
Tubbs shook up the staid Big Eight, turned games into sprints by introducing a style that was called a “disgrace to basketball” by late Kansas State coach Jack Hartman and laughed all the way to 641 victories, 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and eight conference titles while coaching at Lamar University (twice), Oklahoma and TCU.
Viewed as an outsider when he came to OU from Lamar in 1980, Tubbs embraced the role and played such a great villain in enemy arenas.
All these years later, what sort of reaction would the man who inspired the wrath of Allen Fieldhouse crowds receive when he spoke at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce awards banquet Friday night in the Holidome?
Tubbs, 74, wowed the crowd with funny stories, insights on the art of salesmanship and the importance of staying committed to a cause. The 500 attendees, some of whom initially weren’t quite sure what to make of the decision to bring Tubbs back to town, laughed, listened and gave him a passionate ovation.
Afterward, at a back table in the hotel bar, Tubbs told riveting stories for a few more hours.
“We’re all acting in a play, and I played the rebel,” Tubbs said before heading off to bed. “I really enjoyed coming back here. This was a great day.”
Most highly successful college basketball coaches have engaging personalities, otherwise they would have lost recruiting battles and then their jobs. It’s no surprise he won over former enemies. Coaches’ popularity can depend on geography. Bill Self is revered in Lawrence, reviled in Champaign, Ill.
“When I came to Oklahoma, the two best juniors in the state were Wayman Tisdale and Bill Self,” Tubbs said. “I decided to go after Tisdale.”
Tubbs, now athletic director at Lamar, talked about the importance of defining roles. Two players had vital roles on his teams. One was the “airport guy.” Tubbs found a player as close to 7-feet as possible and didn’t care if he could play a lick.
“When we walked through an airport, I wanted to make sure everyone knew they were looking at a basketball team,” Tubbs said.
Watching the late Jim Valvano run this way and that, looking for somebody to hug after coaching North Carolina State to the 1983 national title, made Tubbs realize he needed a designated hugger.
“He was the guy who might get in the game at the very end if we’re up by 50 points,” Tubbs said. “He knew his job was to come hug me after we hit a game-winning shot. I didn’t want to hug the sweaty players. I was wearing $2,000 suits.”
Tubbs’ Sooners set the record for points in a half with 97 against U.S. International.
“I told my players before the game to shoot for 100 points in the first half,” he said. “We got to 97 and kept shooting three-pointers, instead of driving in for two layups. That was my fault. I think they thought I meant it had to be exactly 100. I didn’t tell them 101 or 102 would be fine.”
His team fell short by three points. He’ll get over it. After all, in one day the man won nearly 500 new friends.