Image Credit: TSL File
Clarence “Big House” Gaines is one of the most accomplished college basketball coaches to ever roam the sidelines of any institution of higher learning.
Standing at an imposing 6’3” and weighing 263 pounds, the former Morgan State University football player would build the moribund Winston-Salem State University basketball team into a powerhouse. Not a “black” powerhouse, but a dynastic endeavor the likes of which very few could match. At large institutions, the mere mention of some of his contemporaries harkens to memories of great teams, accomplished players, and gaudy victories.
As Bobby Knight’s legacy is inseparable from the University of Indiana and the great NCAA Championship basketball seasons of UCLA cannot be recalled without remembering the late John Wooden, so too is Gaines forever a part of Winston-Salem State University. These basketball powerhouses and the individuals who led them to their greatest heights are almost interchangeable. But all things have a beginning.
As was revealed in the 2008 documentary “Black Magic” on ESPN, Gaines was not a basketball expert prior to accepting his position as head coach at WSSU. He was mentored by another legendary coach, James McClendon, of Tennessee A&I (Tennessee State University) who himself was groomed by basketball inventor Richard Naismith.
After the departure of incumbent coach Brutus Wilson, the athletic director who also coached basketball and football, Gaines assumed all of his responsibilities. He would only coach football for three years and was named CIAA Football Coach of the Year in 1948 after an 8-1 season. Big House would coach basketball at Winston-Salem State for 47 years and would amass a record of 828-447.
He would lead the Rams to eight CIAA titles and a Division II NCAA Championship in 1967 and at the time of his induction, was the only African-American currently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. Clarence “Big House” Gaines received eight CIAA Outstanding Coach Awards (1953, 1957, 1960, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1970 and 1977) and was inducted in the CIAA Hall of Fame (1975), NAIA Helms Hall of Fame (1968) and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1978).
Clarence Gaines would pass in 2005 from complications of a stroke, but that was after being honored by the University of Kentucky at Rupp Arena, named for notorious basketball segregationist Adolph Rupp. He was designated Kentucky Colonel by then-Governor Ernie Fletcher, the highest honor a native son of Kentucky can receive. In 2011, Collegeinsider.com named its award for Division II basketball coach of the year, for Gaines. His coaching acumen and the ability to turn boys to men was almost without peer. Big House is big time in any era and under any circumstance.