Legendary basketball coach Billy Tubbs, an icon of the sport who won four Big Eight Coach of the Year awards in the 1980s while at the University of Oklahoma, died on Sunday morning after a long battle with leukemia. He was 85. Tubbs’ family announced his passing Sunday afternoon in a statement on OU’s Twitter page. He died in Norman, Oklahoma, a place he loved, surrounded by his family.
“Though his passing represents a tremendous loss for everyone close to him, our family is comforted by the knowledge he lived an extremely spirited life full of outstanding accomplishment in and out of sports,” the family said in its statement. “Many are aware of his remarkable achievements as a basketball coach, but we will remember him for way more than all of his wins, conference titles and NCAA Tournament success. He was a fierce competitor in everything he faced, and that was never more evident than in his final days.”
In 31 years as a head coach at four schools, Tubbs went 641-340 with 12 NCAA tournament appearances. He coached at four colleges, Southwestern, Lamar, two different times, Oklahoma and TCU.
He’s best known for his Oklahoma tenure, from 1980-1994, where his record was 333-132 and his fast-paced style was known as “Billy Ball.” Oklahoma had been to just one NCAA tournament in 32 seasons prior to Tubbs’ arrival. In his third season, he took the Sooners to the first of eight straight tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteens. His 1987-88 team featuring Stacey King, Harvey Grant and Mookie Blaylock went 35-4 and lost to Kansas 83-79 in the national title game.
Tubbs grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and attended Lamar Tech (later Lamar University) in Beaumont, Texas, graduating in 1957. He returned to Lamar in 1976 as the Cardinals’ coach, taking them to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet Sixteen run in 1980 before Oklahoma hired him.
As fate would have it, in his second stint with Lamar, who got his final coaching energies as he returned to coach there in 2003 and formally retired in 2011. The school dedicated the Montagne Center floor the “Billy and Pat Tubbs Court,” named in the honor of him and his wife.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Billy Tubbs,” OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Billy is one of the most successful, popular and colorful figures in the history of OU Athletics. His passion and vision of the game defined an era of Sooner basketball and forever changed the trajectory of our hoops program. His teams also helped usher in a fan-friendly style of basketball during a time when college basketball was really growing and evolving. His teams would go anywhere, at any time, to play anyone if it helped the program in the long run.”
After Oklahoma, Tubbs coached eight seasons at TCU, including one NCAA tournament berth but he always stayed close to Oklahoma.
“He had been gone from the University of Oklahoma since 1994, but it’s hard to express how much our family has always revered and continues to love OU,” his family said. “Just (Saturday) night he was wearing his “Cheer Like a Champion” shit while we watched the football team’s big win.”
He will always be remembered for his quick-witted humor and charm, coaching skills and his one-liners. RIP.