Gaines, Clarence Edward, Sr. ("Bighouse")

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GAINES, Clarence Edward, Sr. ("Bighouse")

(b. 21 May 1923 in Paducah, Kentucky), Hall of Fame college basketball coach and leading African-American sports figure who spent forty-seven seasons at Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina, amassing 828 career wins.

Gaines was the son of Lester and Olivia Bolen Gaines. An all-around student at Lincoln High School in Paducah, he played the trumpet in the school band, excelled in football as an offensive lineman, making the All-State team, and also played for the basketball team. Gaines graduated from Lincoln in 1941 as the class salutatorian. Given the segregated state of southern education at the time, it was virtually inevitable that he would attend an African-American college. The family's doctor suggested Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, his alma mater, where the football coach Eddie Hurt was his friend. Oral tradition has it that shortly after Gaines's arrival at Morgan State he attained his famous moniker "Bighouse." The business manager, observing Gaines's six-foot, two-inch, 250-pound physique, declared, "Boy, I never seen anything bigger than you but a house." Intending to become a dentist, Gaines majored in chemistry, graduating with a B.S. in 1945. At Morgan, football was his principal sport—he was named as an All-American—but he also participated in basketball and track.

At Hurt's suggestion, Gaines decided to spend a year as an assistant football coach at Winston-Salem Teachers College. Arriving in North Carolina, Gaines found a school with a total enrollment of under six hundred and a male enrollment, largely due to the wartime situation, of fewer than one hundred. Winston-Salem's football coach Brutus Wilson was a fellow Morgan State graduate who coached all sports at the tiny college; thus, when Wilson decided to move to nearby Shaw University, he literally took the athletic department with him. This left Gaines, at the age of twenty-three, in charge as the athletic director, athletic trainer, ticket manager, head football coach, and head basketball coach. Gaines coached the Winston-Salem Teachers College Rams football team for three seasons (1947–1949), compiling a record of 20–12–4 and being named the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Coach of the Year in 1948, when Winston-Salem finished 8–1. With veterans flooding into colleges under the GI Bill, Winston-Salem's enrollment and revenue grew, permitting Gaines in 1949 to give up football in order to concentrate on basketball. He also remained as the athletic director.

In 1950 Gaines married Clara Berry, a Latin teacher in Winston-Salem's public school system; they had a daughter and a son. Clarence Edward Gaines, Jr., eventually worked for the Chicago Bulls as a scout. Also in 1950, Gaines completed an M.A. in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York City.

Basketball at the historically African-American colleges in the South was growing in the 1940s under the influence of John McLendon, with whom Gaines developed a long-lasting professional and personal relationship and whose up-tempo playing style he followed. McLendon had learned basketball from the game's inventor, James Naismith, while a student at the University of Kansas, although he was not allowed to play on the segregated team. He began coaching in Durham, North Carolina, at North Carolina College (later North Carolina Central University) in 1940, remaining there until 1951. McLendon's teams ran, blocked shots, and pressed; their exploits, reported almost exclusively in the African-American press, were mostly unknown to whites but avidly followed by African Americans. As Gaines later recalled of his own athletes, "You couldn't get their name in the paper half the time." Regarding road trips, Gaines recalled that when his team traveled to Baltimore to play Morgan State, they stayed in an African-American hotel in Richmond, not stopping along the way, because "Virginia was full of rebels." The segregated setup meant, however, that Gaines had an ironic recruiting advantage: "We picked up a lot of the top kids because there was no place for them to go." Colleges outside the segregated region of the southern and border states did not follow a rigid color line, but integrated teams were rare throughout the country.

In 1949 African-American college coaches organized the National Athletic Steering Committee, whose goal was to integrate postseason tournaments. In 1953 the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), with its small-college membership, opened its Kansas City tournament to the African-American schools. Gaines's Winston-Salem teams went 80–55 in his first five seasons. The Rams ultimately won eight CIAA titles under his tutelage and won at least twenty games during eighteen of his seasons. Gaines was the recipient of the CIAA Basketball Tournament Outstanding Coach of the Year Award for the first time in 1953 and won that award on seven more occasions; six times he was named the CIAA Coach of the Year for basketball. In 1957 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) created the College Division tournament, which was open to African-American schools. Nashville's Tennessee State College, now coached by Gaines's confidant McLendon, won the NAIA championship that year, the first all-African-American team and the first team from an African-American college to win a national championship tournament.

Gaines's 1961 team, his best yet, went 26–5, won the CIAA, and was led by the player Cleo Hill, who, when drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, became the first player from an African-American college to be selected first in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. In 1963 Gaines recruited his greatest player, Vernon Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had starred for John Bartram High School. Monroe found Gaines to be a strict disciplinarian who would call the parents if he were experiencing a problem with a player. Gaines counseled Monroe, as he did others, on the need for self-control, limiting "flamboyance" as one tried to fit into the greater world outside of the African-American community. Monroe's dramatic spin moves on the basketball court, however, were encouraged by his coach. The Rams won more than twenty games in each of Monroe's four seasons at Winston-Salem, but his senior year proved to be the climax. The Pearl averaged 41.5 points per game and scored 1,329 total points for the season (with three-point goals not yet in the rules), still the fourth-highest scoring college player in a season as of 2001. In 1967 the Rams won the NCAA College Division (later Division II) national championship, 77–74, over Southwest Missouri State. They were the first African-American college team to win an NCAA basketball title, and Gaines became the first African-American coach to be named the College Division National Coach of the Year. Monroe, selected by the Baltimore Bullets in the first round of the 1967 NBA draft, was selected as the Rookie of the Year in 1968.

By 1967 even the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern Conferences had integrated their student bodies and athletic teams, changing the recruiting situation immensely. Outstanding African-American student-athletes had far more options. Now widely known because of his national championship and Monroe's success, Gaines chose to remain at Winston-Salem, piling up victories, shaping lives, encouraging what he called the "development of a complete person" in his players, and participating in his profession. He became one of the most respected and frequently honored citizens of Winston-Salem. He served as the president of the CIAA (1970–1974), was a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee (1973–1976), belonged to the board of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1980–1990), and was the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (1989). Upon his retirement in 1993, his record stood at 828–446. At the time, he was college basketball's second-winningest coach. His position slipped to third place in 1997.

Gaines's forty-seven-year basketball coaching career at Winston-Salem State University (1946–1993) spanned the eras of African-American college basketball, from relative obscurity in segregation to growing recognition in the beginning stages of integration, to renewed relative obscurity. His greatest season, 1967, was an ironic climax to the world of African-American college athletics as it stood on the cusp of large-scale integration. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Winston-Salem State University's "'Bighouse' Gaines Collection," donated by Gaines in 1997, is the repository of his career, and may be found on the website <>. The history of African-American college basketball, focusing on McLendon and Gaines, is treated in the eighth chapter of Billy Packer with Roland Lezenby, The Golden Game (1991). Gaines's relationship with Earl Monroe is described in Nelson George, Elevating the Game: Black Men and Basketball (1992). For a profile of Gaines, see Ralph Wiley, "College Basketball Preview 1990–1991: Bighouse," Sports Illustrated (19 Nov. 1990).

Lawson Bowling