Jon Teitel's Coaching Greats Series: Former UALR Head Coach Mike Newell

December 26th, 2010
In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer spent some time with former Arkansas-Little Rock head coach Mike Newell. Coach Newell won 113 games in the first five years of his tenure at UALR and led the Trojans to three NCAA Tournament appearances. Also a head coach at Lamar from 1990-93, Coach Newell finished up a nine-year run at Arkansas-Monticello in 2010 and hopes to catch on with a Division I program as either an assistant or head coach in 2011.

Jon Teitel: You went to North Vermillion HS where you scored 54 points in a single game, set the school's all-time scoring record, and were named a Sunkist All-American. Was that game just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?

Mike Newell: I averaged over 30 points per game that year, and was one of the top scorers in the state. That 54-point game was in the state tourney at Purdue Arena and I just took (and made) a lot of shots and free throws.

JT: You signed to play for Press Maravich at LSU but after one year you transferred to Sam Houston State. Why did you want to go to LSU, and why did you decide to transfer?

MN: Freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity back then, and I think that was the first year that African-American basketball players competed in the SEC (Perry Wallace at Vanderbilt). I thought about going to Purdue, but the Dean of Sciences at Sam Houston State knew my family and was like an uncle to me. I still follow LSU and love them, and the man who recruited me (Joe Dean) is like a second dad to me. I started for three years at Sam Houston State and enjoyed my time there.

JT: What are your memories of the 1973 season when you were captain of the Bearkats (you went 27-0 in the regular season, then beat Wartburg in the first round of the NAIA tourney before a seven-point loss to Xavier)?

MN: We were declared AP and UPI champs and were the #1-seed headed into the tourney in KC, but lost to Slick Watts' team.

JT: You were hired by Billy Tubbs to be one of his assistant coaches at Oklahoma. Why did you take the job, and what made Tubbs such a great coach?

MN: I had always wanted to be a coach at the Division I level as quickly as possible. I met Billy briefly when I was at San Jacinto JC, and at the Final Four I asked him if he would consider hiring me if he got the head job at OK. When he did, he did. I think Billy was ahead of his time on the offensive end. He did not put anyone on the floor who could not shoot the ball, and was a great motivator so that his players had a lot of confidence.

JT: What are your memories of the 1983 NCAA Tournament in Evansville when you served as interim head coach at Oklahoma (you had an eight-point win over UAB, then lost to Indiana)?

MN: I was made interim head coach after Billy got hit by a car in January. A lot of people did not realize how serious it was; he almost passed away. Wayman Tisdale was a freshman on that team. I could not believe that we were going to play in my home state, as I grew up watching Evansville basketball. UAB was ranked and led by Coach Gene Bartow. I grew up as an Indiana fan...and of all things we got to play Indiana! We had a good shooter (Bo Overton) who got hurt before the tourney, but I put him in with one minute left as he hobbled around the court so that he could break the record for most games played in school history. Indiana put 7'2" Uwe Blab on Tisdale and dropped a guard to double-team him, so Bobby Knight had us well-figured out. I had a lot of family and friends come down, all of whom were IU fans. I knew the place would go nuts when Knight walked onto the floor, so I told my assistant Mike Anderson to tell me when the Hoosiers were coming out so that we could come out right behind them. We kept waiting and waiting but Knight never let them come out, so we decided to just walk out. The Hoosiers came out a minute later with a police escort and the crowd screaming, and my team just looked at them in awe.

JT: What are your memories of the 1984 NCAA Tournament (Roosevelt Chapman scored a career-high 41 points in a four-point win by Dayton)?

MN: Back then we got a bye for winning the Big 8, and as the #2-seed behind Georgetown, we were set up for an Elite 8 game of Patrick Ewing vs. Tisdale to get to the Final Four. I flew out early to scout SEC champ Louisville, and after Dayton upset them I told Billy that their only player we had to worry about was Chapman. Wayman sprained his ankle in the 1st half, and Chapman just went off on us. Give Dayton a lot of credit, as they beat Pac-10 champ Washington before losing to Georgetown. They were not a fluke.

JT: In 1984 you became head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, where you won 113 games in your first 5 seasons. How were you able to come in and have so much success right from the start?

MN: I was contacted by UALR about the job shortly after the 1984 NCAA Tournament. I love to recruit, and when you are a young coach you are really hungry to win. We got future NBA player Pete Myers in our first recruiting class. At the end of my tenure we were one of the top-5 winningest programs during that stretch. My 113 wins in five years was pretty amazing, as it ranked me ahead of such legends as John Wooden!

1986 NCAA Tournament

JT: Myers scored 29 points in 29 minutes as your team made 15-19 FG in the second half of a seven-point upset of #3-seed Notre Dame. How was your team able to shoot so well, and do you agree with others who consider it one of the biggest upsets in tourney history?

MN: I am a little biased, but if you check around a lot of people claim that it is still one of the top 3-4 upsets ever, if not #1. We started two freshmen on that team. What I remember is that the Irish did not bring their band up, as they were expecting to beat us and waiting to bring the band up for the following round. The game was in Minnesota with a crowd of about 30,000. By the second half with a chance to pull off the upset, we had a majority of the crowd cheering for us.

JT: You had a double overtime loss to North Carolina State. Do you think you should have won that game, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?

MN: To be honest, if we played Notre Dame 10 times they would have beaten us nine...but if we played NC State 10 times, we probably would have beaten them nine times! We missed a free throw at the end of regulation that might have won the game. We jumped out to a five-point lead in the first overtime. They had just put in the shot clock that year, otherwise we would have been able to hold the ball and win the game. NC State had some talented players: Chris Washburn, Charles Shackleford, etc. I went out to dinner with Jim Valvano later that spring, and he said that if we had made that free throw in regulation, not only would we have beaten his team, we might have beaten Iowa State (who upset #2-seed Michigan), and then would have played Kansas to get to the Final Four. When he broke it down like that, he got me fired up!

1987 Postseason NIT

JT: You had a one-point win over Baylor. How were you able to pull out the win?

MN: We were down one with one second left and got fouled, but were not in the bonus yet so we took the ball out of bounds. I told my guys to just go towards the basket and shoot the ball, so we did and got fouled. James Dawn made 2 free throws to win it with no time on the clock.

JT: Curtis Kidd made a layup with 35 seconds left to seal a six-point win over Stephen F. Austin. How good a player was Kidd, and did you think you had it wrapped up when he made that shot?

MN: Stephen F. Austin had the two best three-point shooters in the country. We were huge, as we started several guys who were 6'8" and 6'9". We put some our big guys out on the wing, and their shooters had a hard time getting open looks.

JT: You had a seven-point win over Cal. Were you getting nervous about all the close games, or did you think you finally had the momentum to go all the way?

MN: California had Kevin Johnson, but I felt like we had a good team. I remember that Eddie Powell made several three-point shots.

JT: Tim Legler scored 26 points (4-8 3PT) in a win by La Salle. How did the implementation of the three-point shot in the college game that year affect your coaching style, and was La Salle just on fire from behind the arc that night?

MN: I think they made their first seven shots, all of which were threes. However, they did more than just shoot from behind the arc, as they also had Lionel Simmons.

JT: Brian Carr had 18 points, nine assists and six steals in a nine-point overtime win for Nebraska in the third place game. Was it hard to get your team motivated for the consolation game, and was Carr just a one-man wrecking crew?

MN: Dawn had been the hero against Baylor, but missed some free throws in regulation before we lost in OT.

JT: What are your memories of the 1989 NCAA Tournament (Jeff Cummings held Pervis Ellison to only eight points before fouling out in a five-point Louisville win)?

MN: That was our best team. We could score, we could guard, and we had depth. We went to the Hoosier Dome and there were about 20,000 Louisville fans wearing red. We took the lead with about five minutes left but just could not hang on. Cummings was MVP of our conference tourney, but he ballooned to over 300 pounds the following year because his girlfriend's dad owned the best BBQ restaurant in town!

JT: What are your memories of the 1990 NCAA Tournament (Larry Johnson had 13 points and 12 rebounds in a 30-point win by #1-seed/eventual champion UNLV)?

MN: We just got a bad draw there, but they beat Duke in the final by 30 points so it was not just us! We had some good guards, but did not have enough size to guard their big men.

JT: In 1990 you left to become coach at Lamar but resigned 3 years later amid allegations that you verbally abused some players. What is your side of the story?

MN: It was basically a contract that they could not afford, and I accepted a buyout. This is the 1st time I have talked about it in 17 years, and it soured me on college athletics to get caught up in a political nightmare. There were allegations, but they would not have bought me out if the allegations were true. I thought that I could win quickly, but I probably overscheduled a bit.

JT: After leaving Lamar you became a scout for the Miami Heat, then coach of the Shreveport Storm of the CBA, then a scout for the Detroit Pistons. How did you like being a scout, and what is the biggest difference between coaching college players and coaching CBA players?

MN: I am very good friends with Alvin Gentry, but the scouting thing was not a full-time gig. The CBA thing was a joke. It was my worst year in basketball, but I enjoyed working with the young, underpaid men. When your players make $400/week and your opponents make $2000/week, it is hard to compete.

JT: In 2001 you became coach at Arkansas-Monticello, where you ended up coaching your son Nate. Why did you decide to get back into college coaching, and what was it like to coach your son?

MN: Pete Maravich was a senior when I was a freshman at LSU, and that was where I first got to see the interaction between a father and son. I saw Tommy Tubbs try to play for his dad Billy at Oklahoma, which I do not think was a good experience for him. I called my friend Homer Drew and told him that I was thinking of getting back into college coaching and wanted to get his take on coaching your own son. He told me that if my son could play and was the best player on the team it would be pure joy...and if not then it would be pure misery! I was runner-up for a Division I job, and ended up taking a Division II job. Nate could have played Division I, as he scored over 15 points per game against the Division I opponents we faced. He was the best player on the team (along with Billy McDaniel), so it was a joy. He scored over 2,000 PTS and anytime you can do that it is pretty impressive.

JT: In 2010 you resigned as coach at Arkansas-Monticello. Why did you resign and what do you hope to do in the future?

MN: I had been at UAM for nine years, and even though I had the winningest decade in the program's history, I had no full-time assistants and a horrendous budget. Down there they care about deer hunting first and football second, while basketball is even farther down the line. You just get tired of beating your head against the wall. I did not get the support I needed. We were ranked as high as 5th in the country at one point. I have not told anyone this before, but I turned down an offer from Marquette because I loved Little Rock. I told Bartow that we could make UAM into another UAB, so I kept turning down job offers. I recently finished up my summer camps and am giving some private lessons, but in 2011 I will see if I can get an assistant or head job at a Division I program.

Coach Newell is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Sun Belt history.

Arkansas State: Dickey Nutt (1995-2008) 189-187, 1 NCAA Tournament, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY

Arkansas-Little Rock: Mike Newell (1984-1990) 133-60, 3 NCAA Tournaments, 3 conference titles, 2-time conference COY

Denver: Terry Carroll (2001-2007) 79-99, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY

Florida Atlantic: Sidney Green (1999-2005) 54-121, 1 NCAA Tournament, 1-time conference COY

Florida International: Shakey Rodriguez (1995-2000) 79-66

LA Lafayette: Jessie Evans (1997-2004) 118-80, 2 NCAA Tournaments, 4 conference titles

LA Monroe: Mike Vining (1981-2005) 401-303, 7 NCAA Tournaments, 7 conference titles

Middle Tennessee State: Bruce Stewart (1984-1991) 141-76, 3 NCAA Tournaments, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY

New Orleans: Tim Floyd (1988-1994) 126-59, 2 NCAA Tournaments, 4 conference titles, 1-time conference COY

North Texas: Johnny Jones (2001-present) 150-121, 2 NCAA Tournaments, 2 conference titles

South Alabama: Ronnie Arrow (1987-1995, 2007-present) 177-128, 3 NCAA Tournaments, 3 conference titles, 3-time conference COY

Troy: Don Maestri (1982-present) 463-334, 1 NCAA Tournament, 6 conference titles, 5-time conference COY

Western Kentucky: Edgar Diddle (1922-1964) 759-302, 3 NCAA Tournaments, 10 conference titles, 1-time conference COY