NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – An author is taking another look at the legendary Adolph Rupp, a Kentucky coach largely regarded as a racist.
The story goes back to the historical 1966 NCAA championship that pitted the University of Kentucky, an all-white team, against Texas Western College, which played only African Americans.
Texas coach Don Haskins made the unprecedented move to select only black players to compete against Kentucky, and they ended up winning the game.
A new book written by David Snell, “The Baron and the Bear,” takes a close look at both coaches and why they may have had more in common than some might think.
“What happened in that game was transformative and polarizing at the same time,” explained Snell.
The game helped destroy stereotypes, opened the door for black athletes at southern colleges, and as the years went on, cast both coaches in definitive roles.
Haskins was seen as a civil rights hero, while Rupp was labeled a racist to some.
“I found out when I talked to the players and the assistant coach and the student manager of Rupp’s team, I couldn’t find one person who thought Rupp was a racist,” Snell told News 2.
Snell interviewed former players, assistant coaches, and others involved with both teams at the time.
“Haskins is not just the hero of the piece and Rupp is not just the villain,” stated Snell.
He points to a 1991 “Sports Illustrated” article with specific examples of Rupp’s behavior, along with the 2007 Disney movie version “Glory Road,” which strongly suggested character flaws.
“I think it was harmful to his legacy. At the time he died, conventional wisdom was– as it continues to be today– I think that he was a racist.”
Snell also weighed in on Haskins’ reputation as a civil rights leader.
“He is that but not because he set out to be. What he set out to do is win basketball games.”
According to Snell, Rupp was also trying to reach out to black athletes.
“When you look back at his coaching record, he was trying to recruit black athletes. He wasn’t very good at it. He had become aloof from the recruiting process for both white and blacks.”
In fact, Kentucky native Perry Wallace expressed interest in the school, but coach Rupp never met with him.
Wallace was intensely recruited by other schools and ultimately decided on Vanderbilt University.
“So, Perry Wallace broke the color barrier in the SEC but not at Kentucky.”
Snell says his research led him to believe Rupp was a man of his time, who did not take risks in the arena of social norms.
“It takes a special person to move beyond what is to what ought to be,” explained Snell. “He wasn’t that kind of a person. Now, does that make him a bad person? He was a coach. That’s what he thought about.”
David Snell’s book “The Baron and the Bear” is available on Amazon and will be in bookstores on Dec.1.