One week ago the city of Louisville celebrated the life of Hall of Fame Head Coach Denny Crum. It was an event that showcased just how important Coach Crum was not only to his former players and colleagues but also to an entire community. As former player and Cardinal standout Junior Bridgman alluded to, Denny Crum came to the city of Louisville during a crucial time. He found success immediately upon his arrival and never looked back in terms of the positive impact he would make in so many facets of his personal and professional life.
But Coach Denny Crum didn’t become a great person and a Hall of Fame caliber head coach just after arriving in Louisville back in 1971. No, those attributes and characteristics were very much present well before he chose to leave the comfort of coaching under the greatest coach in college basketball history and take up residence 2,100+ miles in Louisville.
I recently had the good fortune to connect with one of Denny Crum’s former players. It’s a former player of Crum’s that many Louisville perhaps are not aware of. The former player’s name is Bob Hawking and he shared with me some thoughts from his days around playing for Coach Crum for two seasons (1966-68) at Los Angeles Pierce College – Denny Crum’s Alma mater.
Before Hawking stepped foot on Pierce’s campus, Denny Crum already had two full seasons under his belt as the head coach at that time. During Hawking’s first full season on the roster as a 6’1” guard, the Brahmas (a brahma is a type of bull for those of you scoring at home) finished second in their respective conference to Pasadena Junior College which was coached by a guy named Jerry Tarkanian. In the previous two seasons, however, Pierce had won the Western State Conference title in back-to-back fashion. It was apparent from year one that Denny Crum was a winner, plain and simple.
Following Hawking’s first full season on the team, (Coach Crum’s third completed) Pierce JC had compiled an overly impressive win-loss record of 71-25. Not only had he become a winner at his first head coaching stint, but Denny Crum was already making a name for himself as a fierce competitor around the city of Los Angeles and as someone that John Wooden was eye balling to bring back to UCLA.
What I found most endearing in my communication with Bob Hawking was what he said he still most remembered about Coach Crum after having played for him over 50 years ago: his wink. Hawking said that of course he could recall Coach Crum’s coaching prowess and knowledge of the game of basketball, but it was his wink that stuck with him. According to Hawking, Crum would always flash the affectionate wink that Louisville fans, players and community members would later in life come to love anytime he or his teammates did something positive. Hawking said it was Crum’s way of showing his approval but that he would also use the wink anytime he greeted you with a “hello” or when something out of the ordinary would happen in hopes of keeping things even keel. Clearly Denny Crum was playing the unofficial role of Cool Hand Luke years before Al Maguire would tag him with the nickname.
Personally, I think it speaks great volumes that a gentleman who played for Denny Crum over half a century ago was proactive in reaching out to me and going onto social media in order to share his feelings about a man he grew to love, respect and admire and who maintained those feelings throughout his life as a basketball coach, high school teacher and parent.
In terms of impact, let’s just say that Denny Crum made an overly positive one everywhere he went and coached with Bob Hawking, by no means, being the exception. After his playing days at Pierce JC would end, Hawking would finish his playing career at Cal State Northridge and later decided to get into coaching himself.
After graduating from college, Bob Hawking would go on to become the Head Coach at Simi Valley High School where he would coach the Bruin’s current day all-time leading scorer, Don MacLean (2nd is Lew Alcindor). Following a successful stint at Simi Valley, Hawking would enter the Division One Head Coaching rankings as a he become the Head Coach for the Cal State Fullerton Titans for six seasons. Denny Crum personally wrote a letter of recommendation on his behalf that Hawking believes helped him secure the head coaching position at CSF.
After leaving his position at Fullerton, Hawking would go on to become the Head Coach at Anaheim High School where he would find a great deal of success. At Anaheim, Hawking had the opportunity to coach his son, Quinn, who would develop into a standout shooting guard and would eventually walk-on at UCLA. Undoubtedly, Hawking even to this very day credits a lot of his success as a coach to the experiences he shared playing under and being around Denny Crum. In his closing comments to me about Coach Crum, Hawking told me that he’ll always remember him as someone who could uniquely be both highly competitive and easy going all at the same time.
Like Hawking, we as Louisville Basketball fans will forever be grateful for having had the opportunity to experience the life of Denny Crum in way or another. And whether you were a family member, a former player/colleague or just someone like me who admired the man from afar we can all likely agree that we were all blessed to have had the chance.
My remaining memories of Coach Crum will continue to be the National Championships, the rolled-up game program and all the big wins especially the one in Knoxville in March of 1983. But most of all, I will forever remember and admire how a Hall of Fame Coach would consistently make folks like myself feel like a Hall of Fame individual.