Harry Lancaster’s Adolph Rupp: As I Knew Him is not what you would call a compelling read. It presents as a bit narcissistic, reading more like Lancaster’s UK coaching autobiography as opposed to a Rupp biography of the two’s time together. It does on some level impart a clear image of the Baron, just not quite as clear an image as one would expect from a book written about Rupp by someone who knew him so well. Lancaster might have been a little too close to the subject as they say.
The book traces Lancaster’s career with Rupp from about 1942 up to Rupp’s death in 1977. Lancaster regurgitates scores, stats, and exquisite details of some of the important games he witnessed, all of which made my teeth hurt, but you couldn’t write a book like this without that stuff.
I definitely was riveted to the brief discussion of the point-shaving scandal of 1951, which resulted in Kentucky having to sit out the 1952-53 season. I would have liked some juicier detail about that. Everybody loves a scandal.
But since my main purpose for reading this book was to learn a little about Rupp, here are the top ten things that interested me for one reason or the other:
1. Rupp was a University of Kansas graduate. So is Coach Cal. Eerie isn’t it? I also understand that Rupp once shot a free throw in a movie theater and went to hide in a warehouse, and that Coach Cal once shot a free throw in a warehouse and went to hide in a movie theater. Gives you goose pimples, doesn’t it? Oh, and what’s even crazier, Coach Cal was born in 1959, and in 1959, Rupp was 58! I’ll never understand the mysteries of this existence.
2. Rupp liked wearing brown suits when he coached and was thus dubbed “The Man in the Brown Suit.” He also enjoyed wearing red pajamas to bed, causing me to dub him “The Man in the Red PJ’s.” Oh, and he also wore some strange little khaki “practice uniform” shown above.
3. Rupp liked bourbon. Well, duh.
5. Rupp kept to himself and never had much to do with his players unless it was in the context of practice or games.
4. Rupp liked chili. Maybe THAT’S why he kept to himself.
6. Rupp was superstitious and considered it good luck to find, of all things, a hair pin on game day. Knowing of this superstition, the assistants and players would often plant a hair pin where Rupp would find it. On the days of important games, there might be several lying about.
7. Rupp usually had an angle and was prone to use individuals for his own purposes. He was also known to occasionally take credit for another’s actions. Oh well, who hasn’t or doesn’t?
8. Rupp once (at least once) slapped one of his players during a game. And didn’t get sued for it!
9. Rupp was a cheapskate and “never made any real money from his coaching salary at Kentucky.” My how times have changed.
10. Lancaster and Rupp had a falling out after Lancaster was appointed Athletic Director. The two never said more than “good morning” to each other for five years. The silence between the two was broken after Lancaster visited Rupp in the hospital. Rupp died three weeks later.
‘As I Knew Him’ touches ever so lightly on Rupp’s racism and his reluctance to sign Tom Payne, UK’s first African-American player. I’ll want to delve into that side of Rupp a little more at some point, but for now this info gives me a sufficient scent to set me afoot. The book at least whetted my appetite for scandal, which I’ll read about next in Betty Boles Ellison’s expose, Kentucky’s Domain of Power, Greed and Corruption.
It’ll probably take me a little longer to read Ellison’s since there aren’t any pictures. I hate that. Oh, and speaking of pictures, I just have to ask you what the UK athletic department (Back then it was called the Phys. Ed. Dept.) was thinking when they took the above picture of Bill Spivey and Bobby Watson during the 1949-50 season. Feel free to make up your own caption.