Classic CU is a part of the CUBuffs.com network. Brought to you by the
University of Colorado Athletic Department and the Univeristy of Colorado
Heritage Center, ClassicCU.com will feature top teams, players and athletes,
and events and moments from CU's rich tradition of excellence.
Walseth is still
CU men's and women's basketball coach Russell "Sox" Walseth
is honored during Women's Basketball Alumni Weekend 2003.
On Jan. 28, 2004, University
of Colorado coaching legend Russell "Sox" Walseth passed away at the
age of 77 after a two-year battle with cancer.
A player, coach and administrator, his
time at CU spanned 38 years, starting as an athlete in the 1940s when
he lettered a combined six times in both basketball and baseball. He
was likely the first and one of only a few to have coached both the
men's and women's basketball teams at the same NCAA school.
The following is a story published by
the Boulder Daily Camera on June 12, 2003.
(keyed in by CU student assistant Eddie Macsalka):
By NEILL WOELK
Camera Sports Writer
Never mind how long it’s been since he officially held the title.
He’s still The Coach.
Twenty years after he walked off the court in an official capacity for
time, 20 years after he left as the most successful men’s and women’s
coach in University of Colorado history, Sox Walseth still watches with the eagle
eye of a man who knows the game of basketball, inside and out.
The thick mane of white hair is thinning now, due to the reaction to the chemotherapy
he’s receiving than his 76 years.
And, he’s admittedly slowing down—again, mostly because of the cancer
he’s been battling now for almost a year.
But even that is just another battle he refuses to concede.
“There’s hope for the future,” Walseth said recently, “Some
people get through it.”
The battle, though, can’t keep him away from the Coors Events Center, where
the floor is emblazoned with “Sox Walseth Basketball Court.”
He’s at almost every home game, men’s and women’s. Even though
he’s technically a spectator, even though he’s no longer officially
associated with the CU athletics department, rest assured he can analyze each
game down to the last dribble.
Want to know the state of the current CU men’s program? Walseth can tell
you, from the guard play to the pivot. He knows where David Harrison is going
with the ball before Harrison does.
The women’s team? Same thing. What players are strong inside and outside.
What players should have the ball when the game’s on the line.
But more than anything, he can tell you why you should believe in CU—because
above all, the man whose playing and coaching career at CU spanned four decades
is still a Buff.
If people don’t like the way Ceal’s (women’s coach Ceal Barry)
teams are playing, there’s no hope,” Walseth, who was inducted into
the CU Sports Hall of Fame last fall, said recently. “And the boys…they
have a heck of a team. I think Ricardo (Patton) is doing a great job with those
guys. They’ve got a chance to get a little lucky along the way and really
have a good year.”
There’s no overstating Walseth’s influence at CU. He played on the
Buff team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1946. He coached the Buffs
to back-to-back Big Eight men’s titles and NCAA Tournament appearances
in 1962 and ’63, and won another conference title in 1969.
When he left the men’s program after his 20th year at the helm, he had
a 261-245 record—nearly twice the number of victories of any other coach
in CU history.
But he wasn’t finished. When the women’s team needed a coach after
Rene Portland’s departure, CU officials asked Walseth to step up. He did—with
three consecutive 20-win seasons, including a perfect 47-0 record at home, a
77-21 record overall and two national tournament appearances in the early 1980s.
Add it up and it’s 614 games as a head coach at Colorado. Five conference
titles and five national tournament appearances—and those national tournament
appearances came in an era when only conference champs were invited. Had Walseth’s
teams been playing when 64 teams played in the postseason, the number of tournament
appearances would have been well into double digits.
Walseth is a walking, talking history of Colorado basketball. He can remember
the tiniest of details from games he coached 40 years ago. He can remember every
player who dribbled a ball under his tutelage.
And every one of them is important, because every one of them is part of Walseth’s
His favorite team?
That’s easy. All of them. From the Big Eight tourney champs to the teams
that struggled to stay out of the conference basement, every one of them has
a place in Walseth’s huge heart.
“I never had a team I didn’t like,” he said. “Even when
things were going crappy, I still liked the kids. I figured it was my fault more
Walseth was famous among his players for his quick wit and self-deprecating manner.
But he also quickly earned their respect with his vast knowledge of the game.
“As a coach, he was a genius,” said ex-Buff Bob Bauers, who played
for Walseth from 1964-67. “He’d take (Ken) Charlton and (Milt) Mueller
and those guys and he’d win the Big Eight. They might not have been as
talented as other teams, like Kansas State, but he’d beat them. He’d
take a bunch of guys like we had when I was playing—a bunch of average
guys—and we finished second or third every year.
“He could coach with the best of them.”
While Walseth doesn’t have a favorite team or favorite players, he has
no problem picking out the best player he ever coached against.
“Chamberlain,” he said quickly, remembering when 7-0 Wilt Chamberlain
dominated the middle for the Kansas Jayhawks in 1956-57 and ’57-58.
Walseth also remembers his Buffs holding Chamberlain to six points in a game
at Balch Fieldhouse.
“We had a couple of guys and I told them, ‘I don’t care where
Chamberlian goes, you go with him. He goes to the washroom, you go with him,’”Walseth
“But they didn’t take into consideration the score. At the end of
the game, he’d go out to midcourt and we’d have two or three guys
following out there and we’d have one guy on defense underneath. They were
just laying them in.”
The Buffs led that game until the final few minutes, when CU had to leave its
zone and attempt to pres the Jayhawks.
“They beat us, but we were in the game,” Walseth said.
But talk to the people who played for Walseth and basketball is only a small
part of what they received from their coach.
“We were a family and he was responsible,” said Lisa Van Goor, who
played on Walseth’s great women’s teams. “People talk about
teams being close-knit, but we really were. He pulled us all together and made
basketball fun—and at the Division I level, that’s not easy to do.
“But the one thing I really remember is that he always opened his home
and shared his family with us. When you come in as a freshman and everything
is so new, having someone like him was incredibly important.”
Certainly Walseth’s record on the court speaks for itself. But his greatest
legacy may be the number of ex-players who remain close to their coach. With
Walseth, CU basketball was indeed a family.
“Playing for Sox was one of the best times of my life,” said Cliff
Meely, one of CU’s greatest players ever. “He stressed education,
and he didn’t let you forget that’s why you were at the University
“But even after I left, he stayed close. When I had (personal) troubles
after prop ball, he never questioned me or doubted me. He was just there to support
me. It was the same with my teammates. We were all part of a family, and we’ve
always been there for each other, and Sox created that feeling.
“And it’s still there today. We’re all still a family. It’s
why I love Sox.”
On paper, Walseth will be judged by his numbers. Certainly they are enough to
put him into the annals of great CU coaches.
But Bauers said the numbers aren’t the best measuring stick.
“He prepared you for life,” Bauers said. “You can talk about
wins and losses, but the real measure of a coach is the type of people he produces
after the game is over. What kind of people does he put into society? Are they
good parents, husbands, wives, successful in business and in the community?
“I’ll promise you this: I don’t know a coach who has been as
successful as he was. You cant put into words what Sox meant to me and everyone
else who ever played for him.”
Yes, he’s still the coach—and in the hearts of minds of those who
played for him, he always will be.