Iba, Henry Payne ("Hank")
IBA, Henry Payne ("Hank")
(b. 6 August 1904 in Easton, Missouri; d. 15 January 1993 in Stillwater, Oklahoma), pioneering collegiate basketball coach famous for his patterned offense and tenacious defensive style of play.
Iba was the son of Henry Burkey Iba, a department store salesman, and Zylfa Dell Payne Iba, a homemaker. He had one sister and three brothers, two of whom, Clarence and Earl, would coach basketball at the college level. Iba attended local schools, graduating from Easton High School in 1923, and he grew to six feet, two inches tall and 185 pounds. While at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, which he attended from 1923 through 1927, Iba participated in a wide range of sports, including football, basketball, baseball, and track. He finished his schooling at Maryville State Teachers College in Missouri, obtaining a B.S. in physical education in 1928.
In 1927 Iba began his coaching career at Classen High School in Oklahoma City; in his second year, the team won the state basketball championship. He moved to Maryville State to coach from 1929 to 1933, then to the University of Colorado for the 1933–1934 season. He then went to Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater as a basketball coach for the Cowboys from 1934 until his retirement in 1970. He also coached the baseball team from 1934 to 1941, persuading the future major league pitcher Allie Reynolds to give baseball a try. In the midst of these early coaching years Iba married Doyne Williams on 25 August 1930. They had one son, Henry Williams "Moe" Iba, who played for his father (1958–1962) and went on to coach basketball at the college level.
Iba employed seminal coaching schemes with his basketball teams. His "motion offense" relied on a thoroughly practiced passing game to spread the opposing defense. The team ran play after play until the opponent made a mistake, allowing an A&M Cowboy to streak to the basket for an easy score. Iba responded to critics of his ball-control tactics by saying, "I want my boys to shoot. I love my boys to shoot. But, glory be, make it a good shot." His defense tactics had an even more lasting influence. The coach schooled his teams to play a physical half-court, man-to-man defense, characterized by players helping out their teammates. Fans often heard Iba's hoarse voice bellowing, "Help! Help! Help!" to keep the opposing offense at the perimeter.
Iba made it clear from the beginning that he was in control and devoted to discipline. After swishing a shot in practice a player asked the first-year coach, "Is that the way to shoot that shot, Hank?" The thirty-year-old coach responded, "You don't know me well enough to call me Hank, son." From then on it was "Mr. Iba" to all but his close friends, who called him Henry. Mr. Iba would not tolerate mistakes, especially mental mistakes. Players heard, "Cut that out!" roared from the sideline at a misstep in practice or a game. Iba was an advocate of hard work, scheduling a total of nine hours of practice on Christmas Day or New Year's Day to instill the discipline needed to run both an offense and a defense dependent on teamwork and close timing. Although he was gruff and demanding, Iba was known as a gentleman off the court, and his former players regarded him as a close friend for life.
The Cowboys were in back-to-back National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in 1945 and 1946. These accomplishments were products of Iba's discipline, but also reflected his ability to teach. Bob Kurland, at nearly seven feet, enrolled in the Cowboys program in 1943. He was gangly, not particularly coordinated, and lacked stamina—an unlikely prospect for basketball success. Yet Iba pushed him to develop physically, and redesigned the A&M offense and defense, stationing Kurland under the basket to take advantage of his height. In response to Iba's tactics, goal tending became illegal after the 1943–1944 season. Iba not only endorsed the new ruling but reworked his defense again to allow Kurland to continue to exert a commanding presence.
Henry G. Bennett, the president of Oklahoma A&M, appointed Iba as the athletic director in 1935 to put the university on the map athletically. Iba responded. By 1967 Oklahoma State University (the name changed in 1957) was second only to the University of Southern California in NCAA team championships. The basketball team did much to add to A&M's renown. In addition to winning two national championships, the Cowboys played in the 1949 NCAA final game, losing to Kentucky 46–36. They played in the inaugural National Invitational Tournament (1938) and three others (1940, 1944, and 1956).
Iba was the head coach of an unprecedented three Olympic basketball teams (1964, 1968, and 1972). Only his 1972 team failed to win a gold medal, in one of the most controversial contests in Olympic history. The U.S. team appeared to have defeated the Soviet Union's team by one point, but a courtside Olympic official twice ordered three seconds to be put back on the clock. The U.S.S.R. made a disputed basket during the third playing of the last seconds and won the gold. The U.S. team, with Iba's approval, boycotted the medal ceremony.
The final decade of the Iba era was not as illustrious as his earlier coaching years. Critics claimed, with some justification, that the game had passed him by. The principal problem was Iba's aversion to recruiting. Before the NCAA banned the practice, he selected his players from regional tryouts. Iba found having to coax young men into his program distasteful. Equally loathsome to him was the increasingly popular up-tempo style of basketball. Nonetheless, fourteen Missouri Valley Conference titles, a Big Eight Championship in 1965, and an overall record of 767 collegiate victories against 338 losses testified to his coaching prowess. The records of the men he taught to coach—Don Haskins (University of Texas at El Paso), Jack Hartman (Kansas State), Eddie Sutton (Oklahoma State)—demonstrated that the Iba style, especially his defensive approach, could be successfully incorporated into a faster game. Sutton and Haskins sought Iba's advice up to his death at age eighty-eight from heart failure. He is buried in Stillwater's Fairlawn Cemetery.
Iba's honors were extensive: National Coach of the Year in 1945 and 1946, Basketball Hall of Fame, Olympic Hall of Fame, and Missouri and Oklahoma Halls of Fame. The tributes were well deserved. Iba was an influential tactician and exceptional coach. When he had good, but not great, players he molded them into a smoothly working team that could dictate the tempo of a game and usually win. When he had or developed exceptional players, such as Kurland, Iba was flexible enough to tailor his style to the talents of his team and defeat anyone.
John Paul Bischoff, Mr. Iba: Basketball's Aggie Iron Duke (1980), thoroughly covers Iba's life and career through the 1972 Olympics. In a sparkling overview of Iba's career, Michael McKenzie presents vignettes and anecdotes in Oklahoma State University: History-Making Basketball (1992). For a more workmanlike treatment, see Doris Dellinger, A History of the Oklahoma State University Intercollegiate Athletics (1987), which furnishes a year-by-year review of Iba's basketball seasons and adds details on his role as the athletic director. Obituaries are in the New York Times (16 Jan. 1993) and the Daily Oklahoman (16 and 17 Jan. 1993).
William H. Mullins