Jon Teitel's Coaches Interview Series: Former Murray State Head Coach Steve Newton

October 18th, 2010
In the most recent installment in his coaching greats interview series, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Murray State and South Carolina head coach Steve Newton. Newton's accomplishments include four conference titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons at Murray before moving on to transition the Gamecocks into the SEC from the Metro Conference. Now retired from coaching, Newton is running a social marketing business with his wife.

Jon Teitel: You played at Indiana State in the early 1960s. How good a player were you, and how did you help pave the way for the Larry Bird era?
Steve Newton:
I played for Hall of Fame Coach Duane Klueh, who himself had played for John Wooden. We had some very competitive NAIA teams and a good following. I was fortunate to have been selected for the All-Decade team of the 1960s. I recruited Bird when I was an assistant coach at Mississippi State, but he ended up going to Indiana (Bird eventually transferred to Indiana State). I have only missed one Final Four in the past 41 years so I definitely remember the 1979 title game against Michigan State. I had actually worn #33 when I played, so when I attended the ceremony to retire Bird's #33 jersey, I got a kick out of it!

JT: You served as an assistant coach under Ron Greene at New Orleans, where your team lost the 1975 Division II title to Old Dominion (and captain Oliver Purnell) by two points when Wilbur Holland's jumper at the buzzer hit the rim twice before bouncing out. Did you think Holland's shot was going in, and what did it mean to you to win the title?
I recruited a guy named Wilbur Phelps as a freshman, who at the time was the leading junior college scorer in the country. When I went back to recruit him the following year, I could not find him. It turned out that he had changed his name to Wilbur Holland, which was great for us because a lot of other schools were unable to track him down! I always thought his shots were going in, but somehow that one did not (Phelps eventually played several years for the Chicago Bulls).

JT: In 1985 you became coach at Murray State, where you ended up coaching four straight OVC Player of the Year winners (two each by Jeff Martin and Popeye Jones). Why did you take the job at Murray State, and who was the best player you coached there?
I became head coach when Coach Greene moved to Indiana State. They were very equal in terms of their contributions to winning teams, but they were very different types of players. Jeff was a great scoring guard while Popeye was a great rebounder. In terms of overall ability, I would probably have to go with Popeye, but Jeff certainly elevated us to the level of winning a tourney game.

JT: What are your memories of the 1988 OVC Tournament final (three-point win over Austin Peay)?
All of our games against Austin Peay were legendary, as they also had a fine program and were one of our most heated rivals. Whether home or away, our games against them always seemed to be decided by just a couple of points. Lake Kelly was their fine coach and good recruiter who always had his teams extremely prepared.

JT: What are your memories of the 1988 NCAA Tournament (Jeff Martin scored 23 points in a three-point win over #3-seed NC State for the first tourney win in school history, but eventual tourney MOP Danny Manning had 25 points in a three-point win by eventual champion Kansas)?
I knew Kansas coach Larry Brown from competing against him in AAU ball. We prepared for the tourney by playing a strong preseason schedule, as I thought that playing good teams on a neutral court was the best preparation. We tried to approach it from the standpoint that we could play with anyone, and we put in a matchup zone defense to try and guard Manning, which worked pretty well for us. We had a shot to win it at the end, but they made some late free throws to get the victory. Larry called me afterward and asked me how it felt to finish second in the country. I asked him what the heck he was talking about, and he said that our team had played his team harder than anyone else.

JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA Tournament (Greg Coble hit a three-point shot at the end of regulation to send it into overtime, but Popeye Jones' 37 points were not enough in a four-point loss to #1-seed Michigan State)?
Michigan State had future NBA star Steve Smith, but we had a good defensive guard named Paul King (whose jersey was later retired). We decided to reverse the ball to Popeye as the last man down the court, and he did a great job that night. Coble hit a great shot on a play we drew up during a timeout. It was a great moral victory, but we were an eyelash away from something pretty special.

JT: What are your memories of the 1991 NCAA Tournament (Robert Horry had 21 points in a ten-point win for Alabama)?
Alabama had the most talented team that we played in the tourney (Horry, Latrell Sprewell, and James Robinson), and we had problems matching up with them. Coach Wimp Sanderson is one of my best friends, and he is always well-prepared.

JT: In 1991 you became coach at South Carolina as they were entering the SEC, but resigned two years later to become assistant athletic director. Did you have any regrets about leaving Murray State, and how did it feel to resign as coach but stay in the athletic department?
I had been at Murray State for over a decade as assistant/head coach and had a good team coming back, but I was flattered to get a good offer from South Carolina. It was quite a challenge to bring a team from the Metro Conference into the SEC, but I had no regrets because I always wanted to go to a school that had a chance to be competitive and make the Final Four. I had been an assistant AD at both Murray State and New Orleans, so I was prepared to take that same role at South Carolina. I got into the head coaching business a bit late because I was an assistant coach for 17 years, so it was just good timing for me to join the administration.

JT: What are you doing now, and what do you hope to do in the future?
I am retired from coaching. I always had an interest in business, so my wife and I started a social marketing business and accomplished a lot. We currently stay busy marketing nutritional products and spending time with our grandchildren. I did some color commentary work for a few years and enjoyed it very much.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
We had a lot of success at Murray State, and were able to take the program to another level and raise the bar there. We reached our goals of winning a tourney game and maintaining our success in the conference. We were able to identify talent like Jeff and Popeye, and put together not just a strong team but a strong program. A large portion of our student-athletes graduated, and I was happy to put together teams with strong chemistry who played to their full potential.

Newton is also on Jon's list of the best coaches in OVC history.

Austin Peay: Dave Loos (1990-present) 331-276, three NCAA Tournament appearances, five conference titles, five-time conference Coach of the Year

Eastern Illinois: Rick Samuels (1981-2005) 344-349, two NCAA Tournament appearances

Eastern Kentucky: Paul McBrayer (1946-1962) 219-144, two NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles

Jacksonville State: Mike LaPlante (2000-2008) 95-137

Morehead State: Bobby Laughlin (1953-1965) 166-119, three NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles

Murray State: Steve Newton (1985-1991) 116-65, three NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year

SE Missouri State: Ron Shumate (1981-1997) 306-171, seven conference titles, two-time national Coach of the Year

Tennessee State: John McLendon (1954-1959) 149-20, five conference titles, three NAIA titles

Tennessee Tech: John Oldham (1955-1964) 118-83, two NCAA Tournament appearances, three conference titles, four-time conference Coach of the Year

Tennessee-Martin: Bret Campbell (1999-2009) 125-168, one conference title, one-time conference Coach of the Year