The Amazing Clarence E. (Big House) Gaines: In the World of College Basketball, Winston-Salem State University Coach Proved He's One of a Kind

Ebony, February 2002 | Go to article overview

The Amazing Clarence E. (Big House) Gaines: In the World of College Basketball, Winston-Salem State University Coach Proved He's One of a Kind


TO many, Clarence E. (Big House) Gaines is a living legend. The former Winston-Salem State University basketball coach is the winningest coach in the history of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and quite arguably, one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball.

Gaines' towering presence (6 feet 3, 265 pounds) is dwarfed by his solid reputation as a basketball coach, teacher, humanitarian and role model to the scores of "kids" (as he affectionately calls them) that he molded during his 47-year stretch at Winston-Salem State.

"The greatest pleasure I get out of athletics is to see all the guys we work with, who weren't supposed to make it [by society's standards], grow into successful young men," he says. "I've been around for a long enough time to have coached some of the guys who are now retired, and every time I see one of them I just smile."

Gaines began his basketball career as a player for Morgan State University from 1941-45. Upon graduation, he accepted a temporary assignment as assistant coach at Winston-Salem State, but two years later, he was promoted to head sports coach and athletic director. In 1949, he began coaching basketball exclusively.

Throughout his tenure, Gaines racked up a lion's share of honors and accolades: He was named CIAA Basketball Coach of the Year six times and Outstanding Tournament Coach eight times. He received lifetime achievement awards from the Indiana Sports Foundation and the Atlanta Tipoff Club, and he is enshrined in at least seven Halls of Fame.

Gaines may have been regarded as the gentle giant to those who crossed his path, but his "kids" --aka the ferocious Winston-Salem State University Rams--were known as a force to be reckoned with. Under Gaines' tutelage, the Rams were loved and feared for their dizzying speed and fast-breaking style that frequently overwhelmed their opponents.

Sports analysts and college basketball fans point to 1967 as Gaines' golden year. That year, the Rams, led by Earl (The Pearl) Monroe, posted a 31-1 record and won the NCAA Division II crown. Winston-Salem State University was the first historically Black college to win an NCAA basketball title, and the victorious coach was also named NCAA Basketball Coach of the Year.

During Gaines' coaching tenure, he led the Rams to 12 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships and, in 1993, retired with a record of 828 victories and 447 losses (a .649 winning percentage) under his belt. …

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