MURRAY — Former Murray State Head Men’s Basketball Coach Ron Greene is being remembered as much for how he treated others as much as what he did on the court.
Greene died last week at the age of 82, having been the only person to coach not only the Racers, but also the boys programs at Calloway County and Murray High schools. He also served stints at Loyola University in New Orleans, the University of New Orleans, Mississippi State and Indiana State.
However, it is the seven years he spent at Murray State, where he compiled a record of 119-78, for which he is most remembered as he helped return his alma mater to prominence. After winning just four games in his first season, the Racers would win three Ohio Valley Conference titles and played in the National Invitational Tournament three times, reaching the quarterfinals in 1980.
Greene was named OVC Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1983. He was eventually inducted into the Racer Hall of Fame.
“He was an exceptional person in many ways, a great coach and a dear friend . He had many achievements and affected many lives in an effective way,” said one of Greene’s assistants at Murray, Steve Newton, who came with Greene from Mississippi State.
Newton assumed the head coaching position with the Racers after the ’85 season, when Greene returned to his hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana to coach Indiana State. In 1988, Newton led the Racers to their first win in the NCAA Tournament, beating North Carolina State in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“I was fortunate. He gave me a break in my coaching career. I was coaching in Indiana, had coached at several high schools, and had helped him recruit players when he was at Loyola (1966-68) and New Orleans (’69-77) and he invited me to come down and become his assistant coach at New Orleans when he was starting the program there and we had a very successful program (where Greene was 146-65 wth the Privateers).”
Newton became an assistant at Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference while Greene remained in the Big City and continued to build the Privateers into a powerhouse. His exploits in New Orleans then were noticed by the brass in Starkville and Greene soon reunited with Newton as he took the head coaching job with the Bulldogs.
It would be a short stay, one year to be exact, but Greene’s Bulldogs became one of the best teams in the SEC. The ’77-’78 team was 18-9 took the national champions Kentucky to the wire before falling 56-54 in Starkville. Kentucky lost twice that year, to Alabama and Louisiana State, both of whom Greene’s Bulldogs swept in SEC play.
Greene was named SEC Coach of the Year.
“We had recruited a team that was Final Four capable and he came in and coached that team well,” said Newton, who, by the time Greene arrived in Starkville, had been joined by another assistant, Mike Dill. Both accompanied Greene to Murray when his college alma mater asked him to lead the Racers after only one season with the Bulldogs.
“Murray was a fantastic place to raise our three sons,” said Newton. “We were there 13 years before moving on to South Carolina. Racer Arena was a unique environment. That roar, I can still remember it. We were privileged to be part of that program there for many years and we (Greene and Newton) did stay in touch throughout my head coaching career and I counted on him as an outstanding friend and mentor.”
Dr. Bob Jackson is now the president of Murray State. In the early to mid-1980s, he was a student, spending many afternoons and evenings watching Greene’s teams at Racer Arena.
“I remember watching his him and his teams. What a fun time!” Jackson recalled last week. “He coached some wonderful talent that came through here and he had some wonderful teams. He left a lasting mark.
“I knew Coach Greene quite well. He and Steve and Mike, both friends of mine, Steve did wonderful things to carry on the legacy after Ron left for Indiana State and Coach Dill left to be a head coach at another institution later on. Ron Greene brought a lot of good coaches here and a lot of good student-athletes here, but he brought a lot of pride to Murray State as well. Those were some great years.”
Greene coached two OVC Player of the Year winners in Gary Hooker (1980) and Glenn Green (1983). Lamont Sleets was a Greene recruit and a three-time All-OVC selection. Greene also coached All-OVC performers John Randall (1979), Kenny Hammonds (1979), Ricky Hood (1982) and Craig Talley (1985).
Greene was also a standout basketball player in his high school days, playing under Indiana coaching legend Howard Sharpe at Gerstmeyer High School in Terre Haute. One of the teams on which Greene played advanced to the Indiana Final Four, having gone undefeated in the regular season, but was beaten by Indianapolis powerhouse Crispus Attucks in the semifinals.
However, Greene would eventually return to the high school level. After leaving Indiana State, he returned to Murray and decided to take the head boys job at Calloway. Much like his Murray State tenure, things started slow, then improvement was rapid and, by 1995, the Lakers were one of the top teams in Region 1.
Calloway won the Fourth District title in the regular season, then won the district tournament, edging eventual state semifinalist Marshall County. However, the Lakers bowed to Paducah Tilghman in the region semis. Greene would led the Lakers back to the semis a year later but those would be the two best seasons he had at either Calloway or Murray High, where he served three years as head coach from 2008-11.
Current Calloway Head Coach Brad Cleaver was part of the ’95 team and he said he will always remember his first thoughts about learning Greene was going to be coaching that program.
“Unbelievable!” Cleaver said. “To have a name like that come in was just phenomenal. To know that we would get the opportunity to learn from somebody with that type of experience and who had that big of a name? We couldn’t believe it. I mean, you had the SEC Coach of the Year at Mississippi State (and nearly beat eventual national champ Kentucky), who then coached at Murray State?
“Every kid who grows up in Murray wants to play for either Kentucky or Murray State, and here’s a guy who had either coached for or against both.”
Cleaver would eventually become a standout at Morehead State and he said Greene was instrumental in encouraging him to play at the college level.
“He loved his players and I knew he loved me,” Cleaver said. “You get a guy backing you like that and you feel you can do anything. I always felt that, as a player going to the college level, I was ahead mentally of all of the other players because I had one of the greatest teachers of the game of basketball.”
Cleaver also said that he consulted Greene’s knowledge after assuming the reins of the Calloway program. He said he and Greene went to lunch together in the past month-and-a-half to two months.
“We just talked basketball and about my team,” Cleaver said. “And I did a whole lot of listening, not a lot of talking. It’s just incredible, his amount of knowledge.
“He’s forgotten more basketball than I’ll never know.”