Jon Teitel's Coaching Greats Series: Former Arizona State head coach Ned Wulk

December 8th, 2010
In the latest installment in his Coaching Greats interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Arizona State basketball players Tom Kuyper and Roger Detter. Both played for the late Ned Wulk, who is the winningest coach in school history and is a member of both the school's and the Pac-10 Hall of Fame in addition to having the floor at Well Fargo Arena named in his honor. Coach Wulk led Arizona State to eight conference titles and nine NCAA Tournament appearances during his time in Tempe.

Jon Teitel: Coach Wulk earned a Purple Heart and was an Army captain during WWII. Did you get a sense of his military background through his coaching?

Tom Kuyper: He was really organized and had a great sense of where the team was going; he was always in control.
Roger Detter: He was a very disciplined coach with meticulously-planned practices.

JT: Why did you want to play for him, and what made him such a great coach?

TK: His assistant Jim Newman was actually the one who recruited me. My first year at ASU was the first year that they moved from the WAC to the Pac-10, which was exciting.
RD: I looked at a lot of different schools. Part of the reason that I chose ASU was because it had a great baseball program, as I played both sports. Coach Wulk had been a baseball coach at Xavier in the past, and his up-tempo style on the basketball court was something that I liked.

JT: In 1957 he won a conference title in his first year at Arizona State. How was he able to be so successful so quickly?

TK: I know he was very intentional with what he wanted to do, so I am not surprised that he accomplished all of his goals.
RD: I have talked to guys who played for him back then, and I think that his up-tempo style of play caught a lot of teams off guard because it was so different than what they were used to.

JT: What are your memories of the 1963 NCAA Tournament (four-point overtime win over Utah State, Art Becker scored 23 points in a win over John Wooden's UCLA team [Wooden's last tourney loss before winning 38 straight tourney games], then Mel Counts had 26 points in a win by Oregon State)?

RD: It was the real heyday of ASU basketball featuring a great player in Joe Caldwell, and they beat a really outstanding UCLA team.

JT: In 1980 he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year. What did it mean to him to win such an outstanding individual honor?

TK: He was really a humble man, although he was super-confident. You never wanted to defy him. You would not hear him talk much about his great accomplishments, as it was not in his nature to brag, but I know that the other Pac-10 coaches respected him more than anyone else. Getting that honor must have been a huge deal to him.
RD: He was very proud of that accomplishment, not only to be named COY in a great conference like the Pac-10, but to later be inducted into the Pac-10 Hall of Fame was a great tribute as well.

JT: In 1981 he beat #8 UCLA in triple overtime (Johnny Nash made an 8-footer with two seconds left in double overtime) and upset top-ranked Oregon State on the road in the regular season finale (Byron Scott scored 25 points). Where do those wins rank among the best in school history?

TK: Beating #1-ranked Oregon State in Corvallis when they were undefeated has to be the biggest upset in school history. I remember that Byron and Alton Lister both played well, and I made the last basket of the game to put the nail in the coffin of the double-digit victory! I will never forget the UCLA game. It was so exciting that a fan in the upper-deck actually had a heart attack, so they had to bring in the paramedics and take him out. It was so loud that it sounded like a bunch of bees buzzing.
RD: I remember that we played an outstanding game against Oregon State, and the team took great pride in that.

JT: What are your memories of the 1981 NCAA Tournament (Tony Guy scored a career-high 36 points by making 13-15 FG in a win by Kansas)?

TK: That was such a disappointment. We were ranked #3 in the country going into the tourney and then we got beat. Kansas also had Darnell Valentine who was very good. We were coming in on an incredible high and were focused, but it was a combination of them playing great and us playing poorly.
RD: Those ASU teams had an outstanding array of players (Byron Scott, Fat Lever, etc.) and were such a unified team, so they were a joy to watch. Their teamwork embodied the essence of Coach Wulk.

JT: In 1999 the court at Wells Fargo Arena was named after him. What did it mean to him when they announced they were doing that?

TK: He did not want that honor because he was so humble. It might have been Fat Lever who convinced him to let them do that. I remember the ceremony in honor of that event. It was huge.
RD: I think he would have taken inward pride, but like many top coaches he was not looking for such accolades. At the time ASU had several other coaches who all ended up in the school Hall of Fame (Frank Kush in football, Bobby Winkles in baseball, and Baldy Castillo in track), and you would see them hanging out together back in the day.

JT: He coached at ASU for 25 years. What was the key to his longevity, and did he ever consider going elsewhere?

TK: I do not think he ever wanted to go elsewhere. He was instrumental in constructing the then-Activity Center, as he traveled around the country researching arenas at other schools. He was happy to have a facility that at the time was state-of-the-art. I think he also liked the move to the Pac-10 due to the increased competition (against teams like UCLA and Oregon State).
RD: I do not know if he considered going elsewhere but I doubt it. If you take away a 6-year time period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we had some weaker teams, he won about 80% of his games.

JT: When people look back on his career, how do you think he should be remembered the most?

TK: I love to remember him as a super-confident person who was very persistent and goal-oriented in the way he wanted us to work together on the court. At the same time, he was very humble and really cared about his athletes: his players were his priorities. I wish I could go back and play for him again because I honor and respect him so much.
RD: I think he should be remembered as the premier basketball coach in ASU history. As a strategist, he always knew what it would take to beat each opponent. He was great in the community and had great interaction with all the fans.

Coach Wulk is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Pac-10 history.

Arizona: Lute Olson (1983-2007) 589-187, 23 NCAA Tournaments, 11 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 1-time national COY, 7-time conference COY

Arizona State: Ned Wulk (1957-1982) 406-272, 9 NCAA Tournaments, 8 conference titles, 1-time conference COY

California: Nibs Price (1924-1954) 449-294, 1 NCAA Tournament, 7 conference titles

Oregon: Ernie Kent (1997-2010) 235-173, 5 NCAA Tournaments, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY

Oregon State: Amory "Slats" Gill (1928-1964) 599-393, 6 NCAA Tournaments, 5 conference titles

Stanford: Mike Montgomery (1986-2004) 393-167, 12 NCAA Tournaments, 4 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time national COY, 4-time conference COY

UCLA: John Wooden (1948-1975) 620-147, 16 NCAA Tournaments, 16 conference titles, 10 NCAA titles, 6-time national COY

USC: Sam Barry (1929-1941, 1945-1950) 260-138, 1 NCAA Tournament, 5 conference titles, 1 Helms title

Washington: Hec Edmundson (1920-1947) 488-195, 1 NCAA Tournament, 4 conference titles

Washington State: Jack Friel (1928-1958) 495-377, 1 NCAA Tournaments, 1 conference title