Jeff Hall, a starting guard on Louisville’s 1986 national champions under the late Denny Crum, said his former coach leaves behind a remarkable legacy.
Crum, who died Monday at the age of 86, was nicknamed “Cool Hand Luke” bt former commentator Al McGuire, won two national titles at Louisville during an incredible 30-year Hall of Fame career from 1971-2001. He is one of only 14 coaches in NCAA history to win two or more titles. Six times he guided the Cardinals into the Final Four, including four times in the 1980s. Only five coaches all-time coached more Final Four teams than Crum, who amassed a 675-295 coaching record, including 42-22 in the NCAA tournament.
Hall was a freshman on the 1983 Louisville team that lost to Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma team with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the Final Four. That was the same Houston team that N.C. State stunned in the finals. Louisville reached the NIT final four in 1985 and won it all against Duke in 1986.
“I respected him greatly,” Hall said of Crum. “The first thing that comes to mind, from my perspective, he saw me for the second time and said, ‘You could play down here.’ I’m thankful he had the confidence in me, and I played four years (for Louisville).”
Hall said that trust factor between player and coach only grew during his playing days with the Cardinals. While admitting there were some tense conversations between them, Crum never sugar-coated anything and, more importantly, never lied to him about anything.
“There was a very serious side to Coach,” Hall said. “We had conversations at Louisville and a couple I didn’t want to hear. But there are times when coaches and players lad to lay the cards on the table. I still say, to this day, everything he told me prior to committing to Louisville, while at Louisville and once I graduated at Louisville, he never once lied to me. As a young man, it’s what you hope for and as an older man, it’s what I appreciate.”
Hall had a spectacular career with the Cardinals, scoring 1,294 points and averaging 8.9 points per game while playing in 145 games. He averaged 12.1 as a junior and 10.3 as a senior, shot 51 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line in his career. The long-range specialist didn’t have the advantage of the 3-point shot or those numbers would have risen dramatically.
“Coach was one of the old school coaches,” Hall said. “It was ‘Yes you can play or no you cannot play.’ Serious talks you had to have. He provided me the opportunity to play at a high level. Coach was serious, but also fun to be around. He was 80 percent serious, (but) he didn’t mind joking around. We never had a conflict. We had some man-to-player discussions: This is how I want you to fit in, this is what you need to work on. He would definitely break your game down and tell me things I was doing well and things I didn’t do well.”
Hall was recruited out of tiny Fairview High School in eastern Kentucky and the Cardinals came after him hard for two years as did Morehead State University with coach Wayne Martin. Others jumped into the recruiting battle much later, including the University of Kentucky who tried to snatch him up at the end of the recruiting cycle.
“I grew up in eastern Kentucky so, of course, UK was important,” he said. “Louisville recruited me hard for two years, Kentucky recruited me hard for one week. My friends and everybody was yelling at me that I need to go to Kentucky. Why would I do that to go down there and sit for four years? They really didn’t want me.”
During Hall’s playing days at Louisville, a local radio station broadcast the Cardinals’ games so everybody could keep up with him. He even turned some once diehard Kentucky fans into Louisville fans – at least during the time he played for the Cardinals.
Hall said the more difficult decision was turning down Morehead State. “To this day, I love Wayne Martin. My mom loved Wayne Martin and Clem Haskins (then the head coach at WKU) second. Coach Crum didn’t make the top two. I had to go where I felt like there was a need and I had the ability to fill that need for them. I think it worked out pretty well for all of us.”