In Lexington, Ky. they serve a dish called a Hot Brown—sliced turkey on toast covered with entirely too much melted cheese. It is a popular though poisonous-looking and mucilaginous affair. But the hottest brown of them all in Lexington—indeed, in all of Kentucky these days—is a bulky, jowly 56-year-old named Adolph Frederick Rupp, who has worn nothing but the color brown in suits, sox, ties and shoes for all his adult life. He thinks it brings him luck, and though it may, luck has played little part in making him one of the best-known figures in a state where the horse is king—and where Rupp is just the basketball coach of the state university.
After 27 years at Kentucky, Rupp's record reads: won 561, lost 97—an incredible 85-plus percentage. His teams have won 17 Southeastern Conference championships, one NIT and three NCAA titles, 20 assorted other tournaments and first place in national polls four times in the last nine years. It is easily the most impressive record in the nation, and Rupp is an impressive figure as he tours the state's banquet circuit, regaling his audiences in an acquired Kentucky accent superimposed on his native Kansas twang. "All I want out of life," he tells them, "is to get a bunch of boys together and whip somebody else." Year after year, he does just that—and with Kentucky boys almost exclusively. Year after year his players move up to the pro ranks, where, along with players trained by Duquesne's Dudey Moore and De-Paul's Ray Meyer, they are far better prepared than most other collegians.
One reason for Rupp's success is the incontrovertible fact that he knows his business and can pass on what he knows to his players. The other is the fact that he considers basketball a business.
"I teach basketball here at Kentucky," he explained last week. "I teach it the way they teach chemistry or economics—no nonsense. I don't give a damn what anybody says about me or my methods—I'm not running a popularity contest. Look at my record. Who knows better than me how to coach basketball?"
December 16, 1957
Basketball practice at Kentucky is run along the lines of a drill session at the Marine boot camp on Parris Island. The indoctrination starts in a player's freshman year, when he is handled chiefly by Rupp's assistant, a burly, rugged taskmaster named Harry Lancaster, who is easily as strict as Rupp and knows basketball as few assistants anywhere do. Freshmen learn what's expected of them—undivided attention, no gawking, no wisecracking, speak when spoken to. Visitors are barred at all practice sessions (says Rupp: "They don't allow visitors in chemistry class, now do they?"). A player whose attention wanders momentarily will be bawled out in colorful language before the whole squad and dismissed—for the day or week, perhaps for good. After every practice the squad is graded and the day's marks posted. Each crop of Kentucky players passes the word along to the next, with the result that discipline on the varsity is as automatic as it is among Parris Island graduates.
Last week, Rupp broke another of his rigid rules and allowed a visitor to have lunch with him and the squad the day of Kentucky's opening game with Duke. For 25 minutes, no player said a single word. Some ate and studied a thorough, nine-page scouting report on Duke that they'd gone over several times before; some just ate, expressionless. Rupp turned to his guest. "Now isn't that wonderful?" he said proudly. "That's the way we do things. Those boys are concentrating on basketball, getting themselves ready for tonight."
It is impossible to go to Lexington without being impressed with Rupp's basketball achievements. And it is impossible to stay there any length of time and not be persuaded that he has taken a large measure of fun out of the game for his players.
His squad this year is a typical one—13 from Kentucky, one each from Georgia and Illinois. There is hardly a single outstanding talent, but Rupp has drilled and driven them to a level of efficiency few coaches could attain with better natural talent. They beat three excellent teams in their very first week of play—Duke, Ohio State, Temple—and will beat many more groups of young men who play college basketball simply as a sport, not as a job to be done for a stern and demanding boss.
Rupp's methods get that job done. The proof is in the record books. If other methods of coaching basketball yield equally valuable results in areas other than the record books, Adolph Rupp is unaware of them.