Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
“Black” Jack Gardner’s Kansas State record, 147-81 (.645), was largely built over his final seven seasons when his mark improved greatly to 127-47 (.730). There were a pair of 20-win seasons and two Final Four appearances.
After helping the squad to back-to-back second-place conference finishes in 1952 and 1953, he handed the reins of the program to his assistant coach, Tex Winter, in 1953.
Yes. That’s the same Tex Winter of Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball fame, pioneer of the Triple-Post offense – assistant coach to Phil Jackson in both spots.
Yes, the ex-Redlands High star from the 1920s, Gardner, coached against the greats.
His Utah team (23-3, 1961-62) beat John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, 88-79, at the L.A. Sports Arena. Those were UCLA’s pre-dynasty days, in fact. In that same building a few years later, the eventual NCAA champion Bruins (28-2) posted a 30-point win over the Utes (17-9).
Times were changing.
Gardner left Manhattan in 1953 for Salt Lake City. Handed the coaching reins at the University of Utah, where he remained for 18 years, “The Fox” led the Utes to six appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two Final Four appearances.
Remember, this was an era when only 23 teams reached the NCAA field — not the 68-team tournament it is in modern times.
“The Fox” concluded his Utah career at 339-154. The Utes won seven conference titles. Between 1959 and 1962, his teams won 51 out of 56 at home. Like his days in Manhattan, where Gardner’s influence helped create the Ahearn Field House, again, Gardner’s presence led to the construction of a new basketball facility at Utah.
Against intra-state rival Brigham Young University, coached by Stan Watts, Gardner’s Utes held a narrow 19-17 mark against the Cougars in what was considered a highly intense rivalry.
Gardner (lifetime coaching record, 486-285) was inducted into 10 separate Halls of Fame.
- Southern Utah Hall of Fame
- Kansas Sports Hall of Fame
- Utah All-Sports Hall of Fame
- State of Utah Basketball Hall of Fame
- Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
- Helms Foundation Hall of Fame
- Kansas State University Hall of Fame
- Crimson Club (University of Utah)
- Modesto Junior College Hall of Fame
- Redlands High School Hall of Fame
- He was also the recipient of the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Golden Anniversary Award.
He was a consultant for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association from 1979 (when the team moved from New Orleans to Salt Lake City) until 1991. Gardner, who died on April 9, 2000, is credited with discovering Stockton while working for the Jazz.
That part of the story? Gardner wintered in Malibu, near the Pepperdine University campus. When Gonzaga (Wash.) University came to Pepperdine for a Big West Conference game, Gardner was watching. Stockton was a Zag.
In 1984, Stockton’s selection as the 16th player – the same draft as Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, among others – it was Gardner’s strong recommendation that left the Jazz with an eventual Hall of Famer.
That same year, 1984, was when Gardner himself was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. At that point, he was in the midst of a record-setting attendance performance.
Between 1939 and 1997, Gardner never missed a Final Four – whether it was coaching or attending.
In 1966, after Utah beat Oregon State, 70-64, the Utes found themselves up against a rather historical team – Texas Western University, later known as Texas-El Paso. In the 2006 motion picture, Glory Road, the story focused on coach Don Haskins’ decision to lead an all-black team into the 1966 season. They wound up in the championship against an all-white Kentucky squad.
There was no mention of the NCAA semifinals between Texas Western and Gardner’s Utes in that movie. Though Jerry Chambers, of Utah, was selected as that year’s Final Four MVP despite losing, 85-78, to Kentucky, the role of “Black Jack” was curiously absent in every movie theater.
Haskins may have changed the way basketball was played, but Gardner’s career seemed far deeper.
Part 4 on Thursday.