UAB coach keeps tradition going

Tim Klobuchar

In 1996, Alabama-Birmingham men’s basketball coach Murry Bartow had the unenviable task of replacing a legend. His predecessor won 648 games over 34 years, including the last 18 at the helm of the Blazers after founding the program in 1978.
Fortunately for Bartow, when asking the man who he supplanted for pointers on how to cope with the long shadow left at UAB, all he had to do was approach the guy sitting behind the desk with the “Athletic Director” sign on it and ask, “Dad, what should I do?”
The best advice Gene Bartow gave his son was pretty simple: Be yourself.
“He was UAB basketball, and he still is UAB basketball,” Murry Bartow said. “Those were big shoes to fill. He averaged 20 wins a year over those 18 years, so whether someone else would have taken the job or if it was me, it would’ve been a tough transition. But things have worked out well to this point.”
The younger Bartow won 18 games in his first year, and the Blazers have 21 this season coming into tonight’s second-round NIT game against the Gophers (16-15) at Williams Arena.
The elder Bartow knew what he was talking about when he was dispensing advice on replacing an icon on the sidelines. He took the job that no one could have ever lived up to — replacing John Wooden at UCLA when the Wizard of Westwood retired in 1975 after an untouchable 10 national championships.
So Murry felt safe following his father’s recommendation to be himself. His style happened to be an amalgamation of a few coaches, including two famous ones: cool and collected Gene, whom he played for in the early 80s and coached under later on; and fiery Indiana coach Bob Knight, under whom he served as a graduate assistant for two years, including the Hoosiers’ 1987 national title season.
“I absolutely loved my two years working for Coach Knight,” said Bartow, 36. “I think he’s one of the best there’s ever been in the game. I learned a great deal both on and off the floor from him. And certainly my father has been a major influence on me because I played and worked for him and spent a lot of time around him.”
The result has been a coaching style that falls somewhere between the two disparate sideline demeanors of his father and Knight. Junior guard Damon Cobb has played for both Bartows, and has noticed a big difference between them, at least in volume.
“Coach Gene was a little more laid back, at least when I was coming in,” Cobb said. “Coach Murry is more intense, in-your-face coaching and can get the streak where he likes to yell at you and get you motivated that way. Coach Gene was kind of laid back and expected you to do what you were supposed to do.”
One thing that hasn’t changed since the coaching switch is success. The Blazers got to the Conference USA title game last season and the NIT, and won a tough road game in this year’s NIT, snapping Missouri’s 13-game home winning streak on Wednesday, 93-86.
UAB is led outside by 5-9 shooting guard Cedric Dixon, the only senior on the team, who averages more than 13 points per game. Inside, the Blazers rely on forward Fred Williams, who averages 11 points and seven rebounds per game.
“We feel we’ve got good balance and good depth both on inside and out,” Murry Bartow said. “That’s one thing that’s made it a little more difficult to defend than in years past is that we can score either inside or outside.”
Murry Bartow might last as long and win as many games as his father at UAB. But since he shares the same surname as his predecessor, it’s impossible for the younger Bartow to make a name for himself at UAB. The Blazers’ home court, after all, is named Bartow Arena.
On the plus side, at least it’s not Gene Bartow Arena, a sign that his father’s legacy might not be as oppressive as one might think.
“My father is still our athletic director, but he’s made it a very major point to be hands-off and let me do the job and just run the program,” Murry Bartow said. “To this point it’s worked pretty well.”

Note: Tonight’s game will not be televised, the first time that’s happened for a Gophers home game since they played Robert Morris College in 1990. ESPN, the rights-holder for the NIT, decided to carry the Georgetown-Georgia Tech game tonight. MSC, which televised 17 Gophers games this season, did not want to bump its scheduled coverage of the Timberwolves-Utah Jazz NBA game.