C.M. Newton, a Hall of Fame athletic director and coach whose basketball career spanned more than 50 years as a player and administrator, died June 4 at 88.
Officials at the University of Kentucky, where he had been a member of the 1951 NCAA championship squad, announced his death but did not disclose a cause or where he died.
Mr. Newton was 509-375 as a coach at Transylvania University, Alabama and Vanderbilt and worked on several NCAA Division I basketball committees.
He also influenced the selection of the original U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” in 1992.
As Kentucky’s athletic director, his hiring of eventual Hall of Famer Rick Pitino as men’s basketball coach helped the Wildcats overcome NCAA sanctions to win the 1996 national title.
He integrated Alabama’s basketball program and later hired Kentucky’s first black women’s and men’s basketball coaches — Bernadette Mattox and Tubby Smith, respectively.
“Integrating the program was the thing,” Mr. Newton said in a 1999 media guide biography. “It had importance not only at Alabama, but also around the league. We took in-state talent and won nationally. That opened the door for a lot of African American youngsters.”
Charles Martin Newton was born in Rockwood, Tenn., on Feb. 2, 1930, and was a baseball pitcher at Kentucky in addition to playing basketball.
He began his coaching career in Lexington at nearby Transylvania University before moving on to the Southeastern Conference at Alabama and Vanderbilt. The Crimson Tide won three consecutive SEC titles from 1974-76 under Mr. Newton and reached the postseason six times.
Mr. Newton also served as an assistant SEC commissioner. Kentucky coach John Calipari said Mr. Newton’s hiring of Smith motivated him to learn more about SEC history, particularly with integration.
“I asked him how he was able to have the courage to go against the grain in Alabama at that time,” Calipari wrote in a blog last week. “He told me, ‘I saw people as people. And I wanted to win. I was trying to bring in the best players. I didn’t care if they were black, white, green or gold. I wanted to win.’ ”
Vanderbilt hired Mr. Newton in 1981, and he went 129-115 with the Commodores, notching his 500th career victory in 1989.
He also coached Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16 in the 1988 NCAA Tournament with Barry Goheen knocking down not one, but two 3-pointers late in a dramatic overtime victory over Pittsburgh.
Mr. Newton returned to Kentucky as athletic director in 1989 to shepherd the men’s program’s recovery from NCAA sanctions that included a two-year postseason ban. His hiring of Pitino as coach was the key step in Kentucky’s difficult climb from the penalties.
“From a competitive standpoint, the key in my coming to Kentucky was to have men’s basketball succeed in a short period of time,” Mr. Newton said.
Kentucky’s journey included heartbreak, with a stunning 104-103 overtime loss to eventual champion Duke in the 1992 NCAA Tournament East Region final. A last-second jumper by the Blue Devils’ Christian Laettner won that game which has come to be called college basketball’s greatest contest.
A year later Kentucky was in the Final Four before climbing back on top of college basketball as the 1996 champion. Newton’s astute personnel decisions did not stop with Pitino.
In 1995 he made Mattox, a Pitino assistant, the Wildcats’ first African American women’s coach. The program went 21-11 in 1988-89 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, its first 20-win effort and postseason berth in nearly a decade. After Pitino left Kentucky for the NBA in 1997, Mr. Newton hired Smith as his replacement.
The Wildcats earned the 1998 national title in Smith’s first season, and Mr. Newton handing the first-year coach the championship trophy while serving as chairman of the NCAA Tournament committee. Mr. Newton retired as AD in 1999.
He also made his mark during the 1990s on the national level as director of USA Basketball from 1992-96, overseeing the U.S. Olympic Team’s roster transformation from college players to a collection of NBA superstars.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were the most famous of a powerhouse lineup of future Hall of Famers making up that initial 1992 “Dream Team” that dominated the Summer Games in Barcelona and won the gold medal.
Mr. Newton was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, three years after receiving the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
Newton had three children with his first wife, Evelyn, who died in 1999.
He is survived by wife Nancy, whom he married in 2002.