Pete Newell on the bench Whether coaching with towel-chomping intensity (left) or, later in life, accepting the plaudits of the Haas Pavilion throngs (below), Pete Newell reigned as "America's basketball guru" for decades.

Pete Newell, Cal coaching legend, dies at 93

20 November 2008

Cal coaching great Pete Newell, who led the basketball Bears to the NCAA championship in 1959, died Monday, Nov. 14, after a long illness. He was 93.

Pete Newell wavingNewell guided Cal to four consecutive conference titles during his tenure as head coach, which began in 1954 and lasted until his retirement in 1960, the year he led the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Rome. After posting a 119-44 record at the helm of the Golden Bears, he served as Cal's director of athletics from 1960 to 1968.

Sandy Barbour, the school's current athletic director, praised him as "a gentleman, a leader, and a teacher," adding that "all of us in the Golden Bear family have heavy hearts today."

"We've lost one of the true coaching legends of our time," Barbour said. She called him "not only a coaching icon," but "an example to all of us of what an incredible impact our coaches and educators can have on our young men and young women."

The team's current head coach, Mike Montgomery, remembered Newell as "a great ambassador for basketball in general, a very gracious man. . . . He was good to everybody, had time for everybody. I think the game of basketball has lost a great friend."

The Bancroft Library's Regional Oral History Office conducted an oral history with Pete Newell in 1997.
Read his account of "UC Berkeley Athletics and a Life in Basketball".

Born Aug. 31, 1915, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Newell played college basketball at Loyola in Los Angeles. He began his collegiate coaching career at USF in 1946, and led the Dons to the 1949 National Invitation Tournament title. After a stint at Michigan State, Newell returned to the West Coast to take over the Cal program.

After leaving Cal in 1968, Newell worked in the front office of the Los Angeles Lakers and was instrumental in the trade that brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over from the Milwaukee Bucks. He later began his long-running and widely acclaimed Big Man Camps for collegiate and professional players. Since 2000, the National Association of Basketball Coaches has presented the Pete Newell Big Man Award in his honor.

In 1987, the playing surface at Harmon Gym (now Haas Pavilion) was renamed "Pete Newell Court." A statue of Newell was installed in the Haas Pavilion Club Room in the fall of 2006.

With an NIT crown at USF, an NCAA championship at Cal, and an Olympic gold medal, Newell is one of only three men in history to attain this "Triple Crown" of coaching. He was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, and was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a year later.

The Basketball Hall of Fame lauds Newell for his "amazing aptitude for evaluating talent and creating innovative coaching techniques. A master tactician, Newell established a system of tight, aggressive defense combined with a disciplined, patterned offense. . . . Through his coaching seminars, film programs, clinics, and Big Man Camp, Pete has brought his uncanny ability to teach basketball worldwide. In retirement, Newell has served the NBA as a scout, general manager, and director of player development. Considered 'America's Basketball Guru,' Newell is the man who dozens of pros seek when they need an expert opinion."

In 1998, the Regional Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library prepared a 400-page oral history of Newell's life in basketball and changes he witnessed over more than a half-century in the game, both collegiate and professional. He was presented with a copy at at the Pete Newell Challenge, an NCAA basketball tournament held at the Oakland Coliseum that December.