The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Joe B. Hall, basketball coach who led Kentucky to 1978 NCAA title, dies at 93

Former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall in 2019. (James Crisp/AP)
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Joe B. Hall, who guided the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team to a national championship in 1978, died Jan. 15 at his home in Lexington, Ky. He was 93.

The university announced his death in a social media post, citing a message to current coach John Calipari from Mr. Hall’s family. No further details were immediately available.

Mr. Hall, who played one season at Kentucky in the 1940s and was a longtime assistant coach for the team, became the Wildcats head coach in 1972. Despite his success as a coach, which included three trips to the Final Four, Mr. Hall could never quite escape the shadow of his predecessor, Adolph Rupp, who had built Kentucky into a college basketball powerhouse.

In Mr. Hall’s first season, the Wildcats were 20-8, but they followed that with a 13-13 campaign, their worst record in 50 years. Led by Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner and Rick Robey, Kentucky bounced back the next year and reached the 1975 Final Four for the first time in nine years. The Wildcats lost the championship game 92-85 to UCLA in Coach John Wooden’s final game with the Bruins.

Three years later, Mr. Hall and Kentucky went 30-2 and beat Duke 94-88 to win the NCAA title in St. Louis, behind 41 points from Jack “Goose” Givens. It was Kentucky’s fifth championship and first in 20 years. More than 10,000 fans greeted the team when it returned to Lexington.

The Wildcats also reached the Final Four in 1984, losing to Georgetown in the national semifinals. Mr. Hall retired a year later with a career record at Kentucky of 297-100 in 13 seasons.

Tough as it was to succeed Rupp — who won 876 games in 41 years as Kentucky’s coach — Mr. Hall said that the example set by the “Baron of the Bluegrass” made it possible.

“I fell in love with the Kentucky program before I came here as a student and played under Coach Rupp, came back and assisted him for seven years,” Mr. Hall told the Associated Press in 2017. “I was infused with a spirit that made some players work harder. And I think it made me work harder.”

Mr. Hall coached 24 players who were drafted into the NBA, including five first-round selections. He was named the national coach of the year in 1978 and Southeastern Conference coach of the year four times. Seven of his players earned all-American honors.

The bespectacled coach, known for wearing a bright checkered sport coat on the sidelines, is immortalized with a statue outside the players’ dormitory. Mr. Hall’s homespun manner and Southern drawl were on display for several years during a daily morning radio show he hosted with former Louisville coach Denny Crum.

Joe Beasman Hall was born Nov. 30, 1928, in Cynthiana, Ky. His father ran a dry-cleaning business and was a county sheriff, and his mother ran a flower shop.

After one year at Kentucky, he transferred to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. He later returned to Kentucky and graduated in 1955.

His coaching career began in high school before he went on to coach at Regis College in Denver and Central Missouri State. He joined Rupp’s staff as an assistant coach in 1965.

After Calipari took the head coaching job at Kentucky in 2009, he brought Mr. Hall back into the heart of the program, calling him “my friend, my mentor and an icon in our state and in our profession.”

Mr. Hall was a frequent presence at Kentucky practices and games. The retired coach would sometimes provide the “Y” when cheerleaders spelled out the state name during timeouts.

In retirement, Mr. Hall had a thoroughbred horse farm. His wife of 55 years, Katharine Dennis Hall, died in 2007. Survivors include three children; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Joe B. Hall had four children instead of three.