Denny Crum, the Hall of Fame college basketball coach who led Louisville to two national championships in the 1980s, died Tuesday at the age of 86.
Crum played college basketball under John Wooden at UCLA in the late 1950s, then joined the Bruins’ staff as an assistant under Wooden, helping the program to three national titles during his time there. Louisville hired the California native as its coach in 1971, and the program rose to national prominence under his watch.
Crum led the Cardinals to the Final Four six times — winning national titles in 1980 and ’86 — and made the NCAA tournament 23 times in his 30 seasons. He oversaw Louisville’s move from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Metro Conference to Conference USA, and his teams won 15 regular-season conference championships across the two different leagues.
In 1993, Crum became the second fastest coach to win 500 games. Nicknamed “Cool Hand Luke” for his calm demeanor, he had a 675-295 mark at Louisville before retiring in 2001.
“They don’t make them like Coach any more. Coach Crum was the type of coach that everybody gravitated to,” former Louisville star Darrell Griffith told WDRB in 2022. “He was just so personable. … He opened up this program to the city. Everybody was welcome. People feel that.”
Crum was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. Some 25 years later, he was one of six coaches to be honored with a commemorative bench around a statue of Dr. James Naismith outside the Springfield, Massachusetts-based hall. Naismith officials said the recognition was for a group that exemplified the values of the hall’s namesake: teamwork, determination, self-respect, leadership, initiative and perseverance.
Current Louisville coach Kenny Payne, who played for Crum from 1985-89, expressed prayers for Crum’s family and called his former coach a true treasure who gave so much to the school and community.
“Today is a sad day for me personally, as well as the basketball world,” Payne said in a statement. “My thoughts go through all the lessons that he taught, not just to me, but every player he ever came in contact with. … Rest in peace, Coach. You touched so many. Well done.”
Former Cardinals great Junior Bridgeman echoed Payne on Crum’s impact on generations of players.
“He said if you are good at what you’re going to do, we’re not going to worry about what the other team is going to do,” said Bridgeman, who played for Crum from 1972-75. “That’s a life lesson that’ll carry you farther and in whatever area you go into.”
Upon retirement, Crum started the “Denny Crum Scholarship Fund,” which awards scholarships to Louisville for students who show a “commitment to leadership and community service, academic achievement and volunteer involvement.” Louisville’s home court at the KFC Yum! Center is named after him.
Crum was hospitalized in 2017 after doctors said he suffered a mild stroke while fishing in Alaska. Two years later, he again was hospitalized after another stroke.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.