- C. M. Newton
- Hometown (Last School)
- Fort Lauderdale, FL (High)
- 1949-50, 1950-51
- February 2, 1930
Biography – Basketball Hall of Fame Inductions: Service to the Game, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (October 11, 2000) by Cesar Brioso
Raised in Fort Lauderdale, C.M. Newton has given half a century to basketball.
The ritual involved a bucket of pig slop, a blindfold and a coat hanger attached by wires to a small electric generator.
Back when C.M. Newton was three-sport star at Fort Lauderdale High School in the late 1940s, an athlete earning his first letter in a sport also earned himself initiation into the L Club.
“After they’d dump the pig slop all over you , then they’d shower you all of, but you’re blindfolded. Then they would sit you in a chair and have you grab a hold of two things,” said Dick Esterline, a Broward County high school basketball officials for 45 years and a teammate of Newton’s on the Flying L’s baseball, basketball and football teams. “Well, you didn’t it, but those were little coat hangers that were attached to wires and they had a little generator and they’d run electricity through you. You were sopping wet, and boy did you jump.”
It won’t be nearly as painful when Newton is initiated into an altogether different club Friday. That’s when he will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
In a basketball career that has spanned more than 50 years, Newton played on Kentucky’s 1950-51 national championship team and coached at Transylvania University, Alabama and Vanderbilt, integrating the basketball program at Alabama.
He served on the coaching staff of the 1992 Dream Team that won the gold medal at the Olympics and salvaged a scandal-ridden Kentucky basketball program as the school’s athletic director.
“I wasn’t a great player. I wasn’t a great coach. I wasn’t a great AD, but maybe it’s just a combination of things that got me elected,” Newton said.
“I don’t know what l was. For an old Flying L like me to get in there, that’s kind of mind-boggling, really.”
From L’s to Wildcats
Born in 1930 in Rockwood, Tenn. Newton was 9 months old when, in the middle of the Great Depression, his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, then a sleepy community of not much more than 20,000 year-round residents.
LONG ROAD: C.M. Newton was good enough out of high school to be recruited to Kentucky. Later, he coached at Alabama and Vanderbilt before turning to Kentucky as athletic director.
Living on a farm off State Road 84, Newton and his friends honed their basketball skills playing H-O-R-S-E on a court a few blocks south of Las Olas Boulevard by the beach.
Newton eventually was an all-state player in baseball, football and basketball at Fort Lauderdale High and played on state championship teams in baseball and basketball.
“If he didn’t play athletics, he would have achieved success [and] recognition in something else he would have gone into,” said Bill Huegule, a longtime Broward high school coach who was a batboy on the 1947 team that won a state baseball title. “C.M. was the type of person that you knew was a special person.”
Although just about everyone in town knew how talented an athlete Newton was, few outside his family knew of his father’s battle with alcoholism.
“The way you did it back then was to keep it as a secret.” Newton said, “But I was very proud that he first of all was willing to face that he had an issue and a problem and then were proud of what be showed in fighting that on a daily basis.”
While Newton’s father, Richard, was still struggling with his sobriety, Clois Caldwell, the basketball coach and assistant football coach at Fort Lauderdale High, became something of a mentor to young Newton, encouraging him in athletics.
By the time Newton graduated in 1948, he was good enough to be recruited by Adolph Rupp, the legendary basketball coach at college powerhouse Kentucky.
But with players such as Bill Spivey, Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan – all of whom are in the Basketball Hall of Fame (sic) – and Rupp employing a short bench, Newton was largely a role player with the Wildcats, one not always appreciated by Rupp.
Frustrated by his new guard’s play in a preseason scrimmage, Rupp pulled Newton off the court telling him. “You know what you remind me of? A Shetland pony in a stud-horse parade.”
Newton overcame that inauspicious start to play on Kentucky’s 32-2 national championship team in 1951, making what he called a “modest contribution” in Kentucky’s 76-74 victory over Illinois in the Eastern Regional title game, when Rupp called upon Newton’s defense against Illinois star guard Don Sunderlage at the end of the game.
“He won the game for us against Illinois,” Ramsey said. “He took on Sunderlage and held him down.”
FLYING L’S: CM. Newton and Jerry Howard, left, were named Most Athletic at Fort Lauderdale High School in 1948. Newton was a guard on the basketball team
Newton parlayed his experience under Rupp into his first coaching job, taking over at Transylvania in 1951, right after his senior season at Kentucky.
In the summers, Newton, who also pitched for the Kentucky baseball team, played in the New York Yankee’s organization after signing for a $10,000 bonus, playing with eventual Yankees Tony Kubek and Bill Skowron and for Mayo Smith, who went on to manage the Detroit Tigers.
A stint with the Air Force cut into his basketball coaching and baseball playing, and by 1955 Newton had a career decision to make when he came out of the Air Force. On Dec. 22, 1951, Newton had married high-school sweetheart Evelyn Davis at Park Temple Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale, and their daughter Debbie had been born in 1954.
“[If] I wanted to go back to Transylvania and be the head coach, I had to give up baseball,” Newton said. “We had our first child, and it was very difficult to take a 1-year-old on the minor league baseball [circuit]. And the fact that I came out of the war and had not moved up in the organization made me decide that my best option would be go to another route.”
His decision to return to Transylvania launched a successful college coaching career, but 1955 also brought tragedy when his older sister, Jean, committed suicide.
“It was difficult,” Newton said “Anytime you lose someone at that age, I think that’s where faith comes in and where spirituality takes over.”
Newton and his wife took in Jean’s son, Bill Bryan, then 15.
“Evelyn was the real champ in that,” Newton said. “She really stepped up to the plate. She became a surrogate mother to Bill.”
A rising Tide
With Evelyn taking care of the family, Newton was building the program at Transylvania (a 169-137 record from 1956-68) and never planned to leave Lexington, KY., until he got a call one day from Paul “Bear” Bryant.
The Alabama football coach and athletic director wanted Newton to coach the Crimson Tide’s basketball team even though Newton was a relative unknown.
Assured by Bryant there would be no restrictions on recruiting, meaning he could recruit black players, Newton accepted the job for the 1969-70 season.
It had been less than five years since then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace made his stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent the university from becoming integrated, prompting U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to send in the National Guard to protect the first black students as they enrolled.
By the time Newton arrived at Tuscaloosa, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan still had an office at the end of University Avenue.
But Newton was merely interested in building a program that would be consistently competitive in the Southeastern Conference and signed Wendell Hudson, the first black scholarship athlete in University of Alabama history.
“It obviously creates some animosity by some,” Newton said. “It affected my family a lot more than it did me. They just heard a lot of things about their dad at school, some of the racist kind of stuff.”
It helped Hudson that the decision to integrate was supported by Bryant.
“When Coach Bryant said, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do here at Alabama,’ if you were an Alabama fan, then publicly you didn’t have anything to say,” said Hudson, now the athletic director at McLennan Community College in Waco. Texas.
It was was an altogether different matter when Alabama visited certain other SEC cities.
“[The South] still was a very tough place to go play from a racial standpoint,” Hudson said. “At the time the students sat behind the opposing team’s bench, and in a couple of places that was not a very pretty sight. We talked about it. [Newton] was embarrassed about a lot of things that happened and really was upset.”
But success silenced the nay sayers as Newton compiled a 211-123 record at Alabama between 1969-80; won three consecutive SEC titles (1974-76) and was named SEC Coach of the Year in 1972 and ’76.
But by the 1979-80 season, an 18-12 record brought rumblings from some Alabama supporters that the Tide had too many black players. And with fan support lacking, Newton used a postgame radio show to say the program was appreciated more away from Tuscaloosa than it was at home.
The end at Alabama was near.
After 12 years in Tuscaloosa, Newton resigned to become associate commissioner of the SEC in 1980.
But Newton wouldn’t be out of coaching long.
Coaching the Tide had established him on the national basketball landscape, and Vanderbilt came calling to make Newton its coach in 1982.
That year, doctors discovered Evelyn had lymphoma, a disease she would battle until her death in March.
“The only thing that’s regretful,” Newton said at a dinner honoring him in May, “is that Evelyn is not here to share it.”
Back to Kentucky
While he was in the middle of putting together a 129-115 record at Vanderbilt, Newton had “one of the most enjoyable and interesting experiences of my coaching career,” working as assistant coach to Bob Knight on the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold medal in 1984 in Los Angeles.
“To win a gold medal is just a very special thing when you’re representing the United States,” Newton said. “Boy, when you put USA on your shirt and go win that gold medal, that was just very special.”
In Nashville, Newton felt he had found a special place where he and Evelyn could finally down after years of bouncing all over the country.
That’s why at first he rebuffed overtures from his alma mater.
The University of Kentucky basketball program was mired in a recruiting scandal that cost Eddie Sutton his coaching job, and school officials wanted Newton to return home as athletic director and turn the program around.
“I never had any thought of coming back to Kentucky. I never had any thought of being an athletic director,” Newton said. “But once [UK President Dr. David] Roselle and the others convinced me that I was needed, I said, ‘Let’s just do it.'”
Returning to Kentucky, Newton in 1989 hired Rick Pitino, who restored the Wildcats to national prominence, bringing a national championship to Kentucky in 1996.
When Pitino left to coach the Boston Celtics the following year, Newton hired Tubby Smith. He too, led the Wildcats to a national title in 1998.
In between guiding Kentucky athletics, Newton also found time to serve as president of USA Basketball from 1992-1996, overseeing the first Olympic Dream Team, which won the gold medal in 1992.
“There was only one Dream Team, and that was the first one,” Newton said. “They call them Dream Teams, but they’re not dreams compared to that first one.”
Not quite retired
As Kentucky’s athletic director, Newton didn’t focus only on basketball. He hired Bill Curry away from Alabama to be UK’s football coach in 1990.
But after leading the Wildcats to 1993 Peach Bowl, the remainder of Curry’s tenure was a disappointment as Kentucky went 26-52 in seven seasons. Newton fired Curry in what Newton called “the most difficult professional decision I ever had to make.”
A testament to Newton is that he and and Curry remain friends. “I had very bad feelings about the way it ended but not toward him,” said Curry, now a college football analyst for ESPN. “I think he best he could with that situation and supported us for as long as he could.”
In replacing Curry, Newton borrowed from Bryant, his former mentor at Alabama. As Bryant had done by hiring an unknown Newton back in 1969. Newton hired little-known Hal Mumme of Division II Valdosta State as coach on Dec. 12, 1996.
It proved to be a good decision.
With future No. 1 NFL draft pick Tim Couch leading Mumme’s “Air Raid” offense, the Wildcats reached the 1999 Outback Bowl, their first New Year’s Day bowl in 47 years, and ended last season at the Music City Bowl.
“He kind of downplays that, but the truth of the matter is it took a lot of courage for him to do it.” Mumme said. “He basically hired me over the objections of nearly every sane person in this business.”
Given all he had accomplished, Newton was looking forward to retirement, which became official in June.
He and Evelyn had grown attached to the Bahamas, where they would live with Newton filling his free time bonefishing, a hobby he became interested in as a kid on the flats of Biscayne Bay. But months before Newton’s scheduled retirement, Evelyn succumbed to cancer after an 18-year battle.
“With her death, it caused me to revisit some of my thinking,” Newton said. “I’m going to go ahead with the place in the Bahamas because I enjoy bonefishing, and I’ll spend time down there and can take the family down. But I’ve got to have a little something to do.”
That’s why he accepted Pitino’s offer to work as a consultant to the Celtics, helping with the draft and personnel matters. Newton also will continue to do some consulting work with the NCAA on basketball issues.
All that remains to cap his career is his induction into the Hall of Fame, were Ramsey and his son, Martin, will present him.
“I cant imagine how it’s going to feel.” Newton said. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life. Next to my family, it’s been the love of my life. To have that kind of romance for all those years with a sport and then end up in the highest honor court that you could end up is just beyond my dreams.”
Obituary – Basketball Icon and UK Great C.M. Newton Dies at Age 88, Louisville Courier-Journal (June 4, 2018) by Jon Hale and Fletcher Page
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Legendary former University of Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton died Monday at the age of 88.
A UK spokesman confirmed the news.
A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Newton left a major impact across college sports as a player, coach and administrator. The Rockwood, Tennessee native integrated the basketball programs as coach at Transylvania University and the University of Alabama and while athletic director at Kentucky, Newton hired Tubby Smith, the first African-American basketball coach in program history.
“I was not a social reformer,” Newton said after being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. “I was a basketball coach. In some ways maybe I was a little naive about that. To me, it was just the right thing to do now. It was kind of a no-brainer, really.”
A three-sport star at Fort Lauderdale High School in Florida, Newton lettered on Kentucky’s 1951 national championship basketball team and pitched for the UK baseball team.
“He was a great athlete and a real good guy,” said former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall, a teammate of Newton’s at UK. “He got along with everybody real well. Everybody liked C.M.”
Newton briefly pitched in the New York Yankees’ minor league system while beginning his coaching career at Transylvania, where he led the basketball, baseball, tennis and soccer programs.
At Transylvania, Newton recruited the program’s first African-American men’s basketball player and led the basketball program to its first-ever postseason appearance in 1962-63.
He was hired as the basketball coach at Alabama in 1968. In Tuscaloosa, Newton won three straight Southeastern Conference titles from 1974-76, signed Wendell Hudson, the program’s first African-American player, and won the SEC Coach of the Year award in 1972 and 1976.
During a December 1973 game in Louisville, Newton started five black players in the same game for Alabama, marking the first all-black starting lineup in SEC history.
“I have asked myself this many times. Would I have had the courage to do the right thing if I was in that same position at Alabama? I don’t know,” UK basketball coach John Calipari wrote in a recent blog post about Newton. “But I know this. He did. What is popular isn’t always right and what is right isn’t always popular. That is something we can all learn from C.M.”
Newton served as the chairman of the NCAA’s basketball rules committee from 1977 to 1980 and 1981 to 1989, overseeing the adoption of the shot clock and 3-point shot in college basketball.
After a brief stint as assistant commissioner of the SEC, Newton was hired as basketball coach at Vanderbilt in 1981. He won SEC Coach of the Year twice more (in 1988 and 1989) and helped reestablish a relationship between the program and former Commodore Perry Wallace, the SEC’s first African-American basketball player.
“When you think of vision, leadership and action (on the issues of race and sports in the South), he really does stand above all the rest,” Wallace told The Undefeated for a 2016 story on Newton’s impact in the SEC.
Newton served as an assistant coach for the United States gold medal team at the 1984 Olympics and helped construct the “Dream Team” as president of USA Basketball from 1992 to 1996.
In 1989, Kentucky hired Newton as its athletic director in the midst of a basketball recruiting scandal that would eventually place the program on probation.
“It’s the most difficult career decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Newton said after he was hired. “When I told my kids I was staying at Vanderbilt, I meant it. But a combination of things changed my mind: Kentucky convinced me I was needed, and that I was wanted in a very important time.
“If the situation that exists at Kentucky wasn’t there, there is no way I’d be leaving. But Dr. (David) Roselle convinced me that he wanted me to help give Kentucky the kind of athletic program I’ve always believed in.”
As it became more apparent the basketball program was going to be charged with NCAA rules violations, Roselle, the UK president at the time, reached out to Newton to gauge his interest in the athletics director job.
Newton initially told Roselle he planned to stay at Vanderbilt but eventually agreed to meet in person.
“What I knew was that C.M. was an alum, that his reputation was outstanding as a coach and as an honest, fair man,” Roselle, the UK president at the time, told Courier Journal. “He was exactly what UK needed.
“… The meeting lasted about three hours during which I became all the more certain that C.M. was the person UK needed and he decided he was willing to take on UK’s problem. During the past 34 years, I have led four different organizations and have hired hundreds of people. Hiring C.M. was as important and as successful as any other.”
Newton made two major hires in the men’s basketball program, first picking Rick Pitino to lead the basketball program back to prominence and later hiring Smith to replace Pitino. Both coaches won national championships while Newton was athletic director.
“C.M. was one of the finest people I’ve ever met,” Pitino said Monday night. “He was selfless and loved his alma mater. I learned a great deal from him. I was lucky to spend so much time with him in Lexington as well as Boston. He was a special husband, dad, coach and friend to so many. Our prayers are with his family.”
“Coach Newton has been a mentor for me for a number of years and has guided my career from the first time I met him,” Smith tweeted Monday night. “… He was a pioneer in a lot of areas, including having the courage to hire an African-American as coach at Kentucky and to recruit African-Americans at Alabama. He was a man that didn’t see color and was a genuine, caring man that we’ll miss dearly and that we loved dearly.”
Newton also hired Bernadette Mattox, the first African-American coach for the UK women’s basketball program.
His football hires were not as successful. Bill Curry was fired after compiling a 26-52 record in seven seasons and Hal Mumme, who led UK to its first New Year’s Day bowl in 47 years, was fired after Newton retired in the midst of a recruiting scandal that landed the program on probation.
However, Newton oversaw the expansion of Commonwealth Stadium, the construction of Nutter Field House and helped restart the long-dormant football series with the University of Louisville. The playing field at Commonwealth Stadium was named “C.M. Newton Field” in 2000 then renamed “C.M. Newton Grounds” as part of the facility’s switch to Kroger Field in 2017.
“C.M.’s arrival at UK was the stabilizing force that helped end a very forgettable time in UK basketball history,” said Oscar Combs, founder of The Cats’ Pause and longtime UK media member. “His ‘no-nonsense’ reputation with others around the nation and NCAA was as important to rebuilding the UK national image after probation as was the hiring of Rick Pitino. The fact that C.M. was a former Wildcat who once played for Adolph Rupp gave the situation even more credibility among Kentucky’s fandom.”
“C.M. was a very good coach,” Hall said. “He became a very astute and effective athletic director. … He did a wonderful job when he was here at Kentucky at AD. I couldn’t say enough good things about C.M.”
Newton announced his plan to retire as UK athletic director in December 1999 then was elected to the Hall of Fame five months later as he was finishing his final weeks on the job.
“Basketball has afforded me things I could have never gotten any other way,” Newton said in May 2000. “So I’ve tried to give something back. I assume that’s what this (honor) is for, because it sure isn’t because I was a great player, a great coach or a great AD. It must be a compilation of what I’ve given back to the sport.”