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An Interview with former Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart

The former Missouri basketball coach sits down with Rock Chalk Talk (!!!) and talks KU-MU rivalry and much more.

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Earlier this week, we told you about the Norm Stewart biopic debuting on the SEC Network on Sunday.  We were fortunate enough to get to spend some time to speak with Coach Stewart, and we are pleased to bring you the following interview (special guest appearance by Norm's dog if you listen to the audio).  The text has been edited for readability.

A quick background on Coach Stewart:

Norm Stewart played for Missouri from 1953-56, making the all-Big 7 team his senior year after averaging 24.1 ppg.  After graduation, he gave professional sports a try before getting into coaching the late 1950s.  Stewart became the head coach at the State College of Iowa (now Northern Iowa) from 1961-67, winning two conference titles and finishing second the rest of the time with an overall record of 97-42.

In 1967 he returned to MU as its head basketball coach.  Stewart coached at MU until his retirement in 1999, going 634-333 overall, including 33-41 against Kansas.  He won eight Big 8 regular season titles, including four in a row from 1980-83, and had 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.  Stewart was named AP Coach of the Year in 1993-94, a season that saw his team go 28-4 overall, including 14-0 in Big 8 Conference play.

In 1989, Stewart was diagnosed with colon cancer, missing the final half of the 1988-89 season.  He beat the cancer and returned to coaching the following year.

At the time of his retirement, over half of MUs wins were credited to Norm.  In 2007, Coach Stewart was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.


RCT with Norm Stewart

ANDYHello Rock Chalk Talk!  This is Andy, otherwise known as misterbrain on this site.  I'm joined here by Mike (mikeville) and we have a unique opportunity for you today. Earlier this week, we told you a little bit about the new film coming out from the SEC Storied series from ESPN Films called "SEC Storied: Norm" and today we have the pleasure of speaking with the subject of that film, Norm Stewart, legendary coach at Missouri.

ANDY:  Norm, I just wanted to start by asking, what does it mean to you to be able to sit down and tell your full story all at once?  Normally we hear bits and pieces about your early life or your coaching career or your work with Coaches vs Cancer, but this is a nice opportunity, I think, to bring all that together and tell the whole story at once.  What has that process meant to you?

NORM:  Well the first thing, we had the opportunity to put our basketball thoughts into a book when we were coaching and during that coaching period we had the opportunity to put our thoughts about some of the things that were happening in basketball in another book, and this was an attempt to -€” I say an attempt, this is an endeavor to put it into film over a long period of time.  And I was so appreciative that the people that did it, that Fitz Mitchell, who is one of the most outstanding people in the business, was selected to do this.  And so I thought he captured everything very well.  And so we were pleased that they did it, that he was selected, and we are proud that came out very well and captured a lot of the things about the past that I've been able to travel over a long period of time.

ANDY:  I think he definitely did a very good job of capturing everything there.  I know I learned a whole lot that I hadn't before, and it was nice to see the entire arc of your career.  Moving to a little bit about what the film covers, it talks about when you were coming out of high school, and how you were recruited by quite a few colleges in the area, including by Phog Allen at Kansas.  Since we cover Kansas, we're curious, what was it like being recruited by Coach Allen, how persuasive was he, and did you ever really entertain the idea of going to Kansas or did you always want to go to Mizzou?

NORM:  Oh, no, I entertained it.  It was very high on the list.  But you have to understand recruiting was done so differently in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s.  I was involved in the ‘50s, the early ‘50s, and Doc Allen had just come off of winning the national championship at Kansas in 1952 with Clyde Lovellette, the Kelley brothers, Bill Hougland, Bob Kenney, Lienhard, I can still name all the players.  And I know some of them, and know them very well.  But that was the situation, and Dick Harp was his assistant.  In fact, in regard to the family, I still see his grandson.  His grandson is a medical doctor there in Kansas City, a wonderful individual, and an outstanding doctor.  But it was something to consider, but again, at that time, it was just different, and the other people who were helping me make the decision pushed me a little bit, I think, toward Missouri.

MIKE:  Hi coach, this is Mike.  Your '93-94 team you had at Mizzou is probably one of your more well-known teams, you went undefeated in Big 8 play, but I wanted to talk a little bit about your first NCAA Tournament team which was your 1975-76 squad; it was also your first Big 8 Champion.  Just talk about what place they hold in your heart and in your memory.

NORM:  Well my first team was '67-68 and those guys are still my favorites.  They're the only ones -€” we used to have medals or something if you won a championship, and they were the only team that didn't.  But some of my favorite guys are from that team.  But the '75-76 team was composed of Kim Anderson who is the current coach, a guy named Willie Smith who was a great player, Jimmy Kennedy out of St. Louis -€” they're favorites also, and other members of that team.  But if you mention one, you should mention them all and there isn't time.

The '93-94 team was a team that if you say, "What team got the most out of their talent?"  Probably it would be that team out of all of them.  And maybe there were teams in that group that they couldn't have beaten, but they were the ones who got the most out of their talent and got within an eyelash of going to the Final Four.  There was no center on that team as far as a "center."  I had a 4-man playing center.  We had no 3-man, and no point guard.  And yet they won all but two of their regular season games.  So, very special teams, and all of them become special, and the players become special.

ANDYCoach, a natural topic to discuss -€” and I know that the film touches on this as well -€” the Kansas-Missouri rivalry.  Do you have any moment that you could say is your favorite memory that comes out of that?  Or maybe even a least favorite memory?  Just anything that really sticks out in all that time that you were involved with the rivalry.

NORM:  There's many of them.  I remember the first time I visited there, and of course talked with Dr. Allen and Dick Harp, and competed against Ted Owens who I just saw two weeks ago.  We had a great visit, he and I and Billy Tubbs and Lon Kruger.  The games themselves, there were so many great games.  We lost some, we won some.  Special moments?  Roy Williams.  I did NOT want to make a tour of the league and get what we call the "ham and turkey" or whatever, and so I selected one school.  And the one school that I selected was because I got a great invitation from Roy to come to the University of Kansas, and I let that represent my being at all the institutions in what started out as the Big 6, Big 7, Big 8, and then Big 12 Conference.  And Roy and the University of Kansas were very gracious in having me there and giving me some time.  And so that was a memorable event also.

MIKECoach, how would you describe your overall relationship with Roy Williams?  I mean, he gave you a rocking chair, do you ever sit in that and relax a little bit?

NORM:  (Laughter) I know I still have it.  My association with Roy, and I've said this many times -€” since Roy represented Kansas, I represented Missouri, two schools that have this long-standing -€” well, what do we want to call it?  It's more than just competition.  But under those circumstances, Roy and I had a great association.  Ted and I had a good association.  But Roy and I had an outstanding association and talked about things that applied to coaching, applied to staff, applied to a lot of things.  And to me -€” and I've said this -€” I know people in Kansas didn't like the fact that he left.  But he went home, and he's done a fantastic job at the University of North Carolina.  He's an outstanding person and he's an outstanding coach, and he and I have a great association, and still do.

MIKE:  In the past, you've been, let's say, unwilling, to publicly comment on Missouri's move away from historical rivalries and over to the SEC.  I don't suppose there's any chance we could get you to talk about that this afternoon, is there?

NORM:  Well, I just didn't want to speak about it because I wasn't in the position.  I think I did say the fact that I thought they would play in the future.  And I think they still will, in some of the sports, anyway.  I mean, they're just so close.  But I understand.  And I understand it from the other side.   I understand why KU -€” you know -€” KU didn't leave the league.  Missouri left the league.  And I know that makes Missouri people unhappy.  But I can understand from the other side why they don't see it as necessary to play and compete.  But I think they will.  I say "I think ‘they' will" -€” I think both sides will find some way to make some sort of an agreement to compete against one another.  Unfortunately, that competition and fierceness of it comes about not so much from athletics as it does from history.  And I think that's the saddest point of it all, really.

MIKECoach, aside from maybe Allen Fieldhouse, can you pick out a specific arena or school that you just did not look forward to that road trip?

NORM:  Well, again, I'll have to tell you, I always looked forward to going to Allen Fieldhouse.  My thought was this, because I had people tell me they did not want to come to the Hearnes building.  After thinking that through, I thought, that's a circumstance of competition, of competing.  And to me, I would always tell my players, if you can't compete in Allen Fieldhouse, then maybe you ought to change sports.  Because it's a great place to play, a wonderful environment.  And we tried to do the same thing at the Hearnes building in Columbia, to make it a place where it was completely advantageous for us, but still was an environment for a great basketball game.

ANDYJust a couple more questions for you, Coach.  Something that was talked about in the film that I wanted to ask you about -€” it talks about when you were trying to make Missouri basketball a nationally known name, competing with the likes of UCLA and the other big programs -€” that you were willing to schedule any kind of game that you needed to, to get Mizzou on national television and get their name out there.  What was the craziest road swing or trip that you put together to try to further that goal?

NORM:  Well, again, you have to think back to a time completely different than it is now.  The craziest?  We played in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon, then played a noon game in the Meadowlands in New York on Sunday.  At noon!  I said a noon game.  And I had to make the arrangements.  And I had to, as they say, "pull some tickets" from some good friends who happened to have jet airplanes.  And I did not get any assistance from anyone.  It was based on whether I could pull that off or not.  So I not only was the coach, I was the travel secretary, the procurer of funds, and did the whole deal.  That was probably the craziest.

We played Ralph Sampson's Virginia Cavaliers, Terry Holland the coach.  We had them beat -€” it was a Sunday noon game, we had no time for preparation, obviously -€” we had them beat and we got Ralph Sampson in foul trouble.  I still see Ralph once in a while.  We got Ralph in foul trouble and they had to take him out, and that's when they regained the lead and beat us!  (Laughter)

ANDYThat definitely sounds like a completely different time with you having to do so much to get all that coordinated!  I just want to finish up with one more question; I know that towards the end of the film, it talks about your charitable efforts and how you were instrumental in creating the Coaches vs Cancer charity.  We'd just like for you to take a little bit of time to talk about the history of that foundation, what it means to you, and what can fans of any school do to get involved.

NORM:  Well it means a lot from the standpoint of raising money to try to defeat cancer.  But if you think about this a little bit, the reason that it is the only recognized charity of the NABC -€” The National Association of Basketball Coaches -€” and the way that I sold that program to the coaches was based upon the fact that they needed the image of being what they are, and that is good people that think about other people.  And the image that they had during that time, during about the '92-93 time, there was really a lot of changes being made, but they had the image of some guy making quite a bit more money than the average guy walking around on the street.  And they were seen on television yelling at kids.  And that's not who the coaches are.  They are a wonderful group of people.  They care about other people.  And they happen to make an inordinate amount of money now, which is great, and I'm proud of them.  But I'm proud of the fact that that group is completely volunteer, there are no paid employees as far as the coaches are concerned.  And they've raised over 100 million dollars.  And so that, to me, is the biggest factor.

MIKECoach, how can just a regular fan like myself or Andy, of any school, how can we get involved with Coaches vs Cancer?

NORM:  There are many high school coaches, but the main thing would be to go to Bill Self.  Bill is involved.  He has his own charity also.  Some coaches, like Bill, have their own charity.  But he does an event for us in Kansas City every year.   This year Bob Costas came in and was our emcee.  Bill and of course Coach Weber up at K-State, Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, and then the UMKC coach, and the coach and Missouri all come in and we have a big program.  And last year, I think they raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $350-400,000.  We're gonna get it to a million dollars in a couple of years.  But for a person to get involved, just remember, do what you can do.  If you call one of those coaches, or call his office, they may have something you can get involved with.  If not, make sure that your friend, or make sure that your parents, or make sure that yourself, that you go and do the tests that you're supposed to.  Because if we'll get tested, we'll eliminate cancer.

ANDYWell, coach, it was great to talk to you today.

NORM:  Alright.  Nice talking to you guys!  Have a good day!

ANDYYou too, thanks.

MIKE:  Thanks, Coach!

NORM:  You bet.  Bye.