Vol Nation Mourns The Loss Of Legendary Coach Ray Mears

Ray Mears, the winningest coach in University of Tennessee basketball history, passed away at 1:15 p.m. today at NHC Health Care Center in Knoxville. He (born Nov. 8, 1926) was 80 years old. Arrangements are pending and will be announced by Rose Mortuary-Mann Heritage Chapel.

A native of Dover, Ohio, Mears led the Vols for 15 years from 1963-77. During his term, Mears tallied a remarkable record of 278-112 equaling an astounding .713 winning percentage. Mears averaged approximately 18.5 wins per season while at Tennessee.

The accomplishments by Mears over his 15 years have placed him in the top 20 of the Tennessee, SEC and NCAA coaching record books. Mears and his 278 wins currently places him No. 1 all time at Tennessee, and tied for eighth all time for the conference. In addition, his .713 winning percentage puts him seventh in the SEC.

In 21 seasons as a head coach Mears compiled a 399-135 record and a 74.7 winning percentage that currently ranks 17th among the winningest coaches in NCAA history.

Tennessee won three SEC championships with Mears as the head coach. Mears' teams won their first championship in 1967, then shared it in 1972, and again won it in his final season of 1977. The Vols also appeared in the postseason seven times under Mears. They made the NCAA tournament three times, the NIT tournament twice and once went to the discontinued Collegiate Commissioners Association meet. Mears also provided Tennessee with seven 20-win seasons during his time. Just as importantly, he created a rivalry with national power Kentucky and his fifteen wins over Adolph Rupp throughout his career at Wittenberg and Tennessee are the most by any Vol head coach.

NOTABLE QUOTES--

UT Director of Athletics Mike Hamilton:

“Coach Mears was a true Tennessee legend. He created a tradition of basketball success, pageantry, and fan support by which all future basketball teams and coaches will be measured. When speaking with fans of Coach Mears or one of his former players, everyone has a Stokely story or a memory of his great showmanship. He made a difference, he made an impression and he had great vision. He will be missed.”

Head Coach Bruce Pearl:

“Coach Mears was one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history. He brought a style of play and atmosphere to Tennessee basketball that will always be treasured. I feel very fortunate to have met him and to have spent time with him over the past few years. I know how truly excited he was about the resurgence of Tennessee basketball. I am glad that we were able to honor Coach Mears and John Ward last season and retire Bernard King’s jersey this season because their names will hang in the rafters forever.”

Former Voice Of The Vols John Ward:

“Perhaps more than any other person, Ray Mears made it comfortable for everyone to be a Tennessee fan by his marketing ideas. That made UT athletics inclusive rather than exclusive. Anyone could be a citizen of Big Orange Country. Ray Mears’ ideas made sidewalk alumni feel at home just as a much as a graduate with four degrees. That was his strength.”

Former Tennessee Basketball Coach Don DeVoe:

“Ray Mears was a giant in the giant in the basketball coaching profession. He took Tennessee to heights that they had never experienced before. More importantly he was a giant of a man and he will be missed by the basketball profession. I was the coached who replaced him but the support he showed me during that time of transition meant a great del to me. He was always looking for the positive things for Tennessee basketball and how we could improve.”

Ernie Grunfeld – Former Tennessee Forward (1973-77):

"I had the privilege to play for Coach Mears at the University of Tennessee. He was a very important part of my life and he will be greatly missed. I learned some great lessons from Coach. He was a great leader, innovator and an extremely competitive person. He taught me about hard work, dedication and loyalty — lessons that have stayed with me my whole life. His attention to detail was unmatched. He encouraged us to not only be good basketball players but also to be good human beings. I will never forget the four great years I had playing for Coach Mears in Knoxville. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Coach Mears's family as well as all Big Orange supporters.”

Ray Mears
Head Basketball Coach
University of Tennessee
1962-77

Tennessee’s emergence on the national scene as a college basketball presence coincided with the development of sports television and the arrival of Ray Mears on the UT campus as head coach.

Nicknamed for good reason, “The P.T. Barnum of Basketball,” Mears saw limitless possibilities in the relatively new medium, television, when he took the Vol reins in 1962. His foresight was remarkable in assessing the impact TV would have on athletics in general and college basketball in particular.

Not only did the energetic young coach exploit the show business side of basketball, he brought excitement to fabled Stokely Athletics Center with the intense style of play the Vols exhibited in becoming a regional and national power.

Mears led the Vols for 15 years from 1963-77. During his term, Mears tallied a remarkable record of 278-112 equaling an astounding .713 winning percentage. Mears averaged approximately 18.5 wins per season while at Tennessee.

Tennessee landed Mears from Wittenberg University in the spring of 1962. Mears tallied a 121-23 record at Wittenberg including four straight league championships from 1958-61. He also claimed the 1961 national championship at the NCAA college division. Mears also won 40 straight conference games from 1959-61.

The thirty-five year old Mears needed only one season as coach of the Vols to make an impact. He increased the win total from four the previous season to 13 during his first year. Also within the first three years, Mears provided Tennessee its first 20-win season, including a win at Kentucky in his first try.

The accomplishments by Mears over his 15 years have placed him in the top 20 of the Tennessee, SEC and NCAA coaching record books. Mears and his 278 wins currently places him No. 1 all time at Tennessee, and tied for eighth all time for the conference. In addition, his .713 winning percentage puts him seventh in the SEC.

In 21 seasons as a head coach Mears compiled a 399-135 record and a 74.7 winning percentage that currently ranks 17th among the winningest coaches in NCAA history.

Tennessee won three SEC championships with Mears as the head coach. Mears’ teams won their first championship in 1967, then shared it in 1972, and again won it in his final season of 1977. The Vols also appeared in the postseason seven times under Mears. They made the NCAA tournament three times, the NIT tournament twice and once went to the discontinued Collegiate Commissioners Association meet. Mears also provided Tennessee with seven 20-win seasons during his time. Just as importantly, he created a rivalry with national power Kentucky and his fifteen wins over Adolph Rupp throughout his career at Wittenberg and Tennessee are the most by any Vol head coach.

Mears, most recognizable for his orange blazer that he wore during games, twice was named SEC coach of the year. Both the Associated Press and fellow SEC coaches selected him for the honor in 1967 and 1977. In 1967, Mears guided his team, who was thought to be a non-factor in the SEC, to the school’s first SEC championship in 23 years.

Toward the end of his career, Mears had the opportunity to coach All-Americas Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. When the two of them graduated and claimed the SEC championship in 1977, Mears also retired as a champion head coach. Mears invented the saying of “Big Orange Country,” which is still used today at Tennessee. Ray Mears is a member of five different halls of fame including election into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1985, the Wittenberg University Hall of Fame in 1995, the Miami of Ohio Hall of Fame in 1978, the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Tennessee-Martin Hall of Fame. The multi-purpose room at Thompson-Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee is named in his honor.

Coach Mears also was the recipient of the 1996 Golden Anniversary Award given by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The award is given to a coach that has demonstrated 50 years of outstanding service to the game of basketball.

After Mears completed his time as Vols basketball coach, he then took a position as the director of athletics at the University of Tennessee-Martin in 1980, where he served for 10 years until 1990.

Mears graduated in 1949 from Miami University (Ohio), where he participated in basketball. Mears earned his master’s degree at Kent State University while starting his coaching career at the high school level in nearby Cleveland.

Mears and his wife the former Dana Davis have three sons: Steve, Mike and Matt.

Ramon (Ray) Mears

Born: November 8, 1926
Died: June 11, 2007
Native: Dover, Ohio
Graduate: Miami (Ohio) University, 1949
Career Record: (21 years) 399-135 (.757)

Wittenberg Record--

1956-57
15-6
.714

1957-58
19-3
.864

1958-59
19-3
.864
OAC Champions

1959-60
22-2
.917
OAC Champions/ Tourney Champions

1960-61
25-4
.862
OAC Champions/Tourney Champions

1961-62
21-5
.808
NCAA College Div. Champions/OAC
Total (6 yrs) 121-23 .840

Highlights:
Ohio Coach of the Year 1960 (Ohio College Basketball Coaches)
Team led NCAA College Division in defense three straight years
Ohio Conference record of 40-game league winning streak from 1959-61
School record 69 straight home winning streak

Tennessee Record--

1962-63
13-11
.545
6-8
7th

1963-64
16-8
.667
9-5
2nd

1964-65
20-5
.800
12-4
2nd

1965-66
18-8
.692
10-6
3rd (tie)

1966-67
21-7
750
15-3
1st SEC Champions

1967-68
20-6
.769
13-5
2nd

1968-69
21-7
.750
13-5
2nd

1969-70
16-9
.640
10-8
5th

1970-71
21-7
.750
13-5
2nd

1971-72
19-6
.640
14-4
1st (tie) SEC Champions

1972-73
15-9
.625
13-5
2nd

1973-74
17-9
.654
12-6
2nd

1974-75
18-8
.692
12-6
3rd (tie)

1975-76
21-6
.778
14-4
2nd

1976-77
22-6
.786
16-2
1st (tie) SEC Champions

Total (15 yrs)
278-112 (.713)
182-76 (.705)

Highlights:

SEC Coach of the Year 1967 and 1977
Led Tennessee to first appearances in the NCAA tournament (1967, 1976, 1977)
Winningest coach in Tennessee history by victories

Story Courtesy: UT Sports Information


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