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Tubbs Thumpers Billy Tubbs, coach of soaring TCU, turns a deaf ear to critics who rip his run-up-the-score, take-no-prisoners style

March 02, 1998
March 02, 1998

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March 2, 1998

College Basketball [bonus Piece]

Tubbs Thumpers Billy Tubbs, coach of soaring TCU, turns a deaf ear to critics who rip his run-up-the-score, take-no-prisoners style

Pat Tubbs had to remind her husband, Billy, last Friday that it
was his crystal anniversary--15 years to the day since he nearly
died. When he was hit by a car while jogging in Norman, Okla.,
on Feb. 20, 1983, Billy suffered a fractured skull and a broken
pelvis and spent two weeks in intensive care. At the time, he
was the basketball coach at Oklahoma and the day before the
accident had lost to Kansas. His friend Barry Switzer, the
Sooners football coach, visited Tubbs in the hospital and told
him his injuries were his own fault: He never should have gone
out in public after losing to Kansas.

This is an article from the March 2, 1998 issue Original Layout

As a result of the accident, Tubbs lost all hearing in his right
ear, which was not as much of a loss for him as it would have
been for most people. Tubbs never listens anyway. "I always
figure, if you listen to what everyone is saying about you," he
says, "you'll go nuts."

Sometimes you'll go nuts even when you don't listen, and Billy
Duaine Tubbs is proof of that. Now in his fourth season at Texas
Christian and his 24th as a college head coach, Tubbs, a cocky,
colorful roundball raconteur, has a team that seems to share his
philosophy of life: Play hard, have fun and don't waste a second
worrying about what the rest of the world thinks. Tubbs's
15th-ranked Horned Frogs were 24-4 through Sunday and were
averaging 101.3 points per game, tops in the nation. They had
won their games by an average margin of 25.5 points, and, to
debunk the rap that their numbers were mostly a reflection of a
soft early schedule, they trounced then No. 11 New Mexico 95-64
at home last Saturday night to extend their winning streak to 13
games. TCU, which has gone undefeated in the Pacific Division of
the Western Athletic Conference this year, ran the Lobos out of
the Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, and then delirious purple-clad fans
stormed the floor and carried the seniors off on their
shoulders. "This is exactly why we brought Billy here," said
Horned Frogs athletic director Frank Windegger, surveying the
strange scene.

All season TCU has run the floor until the other team is
defeated and demoralized, and then the Horned Frogs run up the
score. Each game one of their goals is to score 100 points, and
although they came up short against New Mexico, they have hit
triple digits 14 times in 28 games this year, more often than
any other team in the country. They have three players in the
top 50 in the nation in scoring, including forward Lee Nailon,
whose 25.7 average through Sunday placed him second. The only
thing Tubbs's thumpers haven't done in great numbers is apologize.

"Let me ask you this: Do you know who is Number 1 in the nation
in margin of victory?" said Tubbs last Thursday. "I'll tell you
who--Duke. That's great for them. But they win games 90-40, and
that's O.K. We win 140-90, and some people have a problem with
that. Hey, we're going to play hard every minute of every game,
and I'm really not concerned with what the other team is doing.
We're struggling to put a program on the map and trying to get
into the Top 25, and I know how to get there."

Before Tubbs crossed the border into Texas four years ago, the
TCU basketball program was nothing more than a tiny purple spot
on the football-crazy Texas sports landscape. The Horned Frogs
had made the NCAA tournament just once in 23 years. "I grew up
in Texas, and I can tell you, basketball doesn't get talked
about until you do something special," says forward James Penny,
an 11.2-point-per-game scorer as TCU's sixth man. "Last year we
did pretty good, and we still only drew like 5,000 fans a game.
To get noticed and sell out the place, we had to break into the
Top 25."

Tubbs says he had "begun to burn out" at Oklahoma and wasn't
meeting "my own expectations." He had reached the title game in
1988 with a team that featured Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock
and had won more than 20 games for 12 straight seasons,
including more than 30 three times. In 1993-94 the Sooners
slipped to 15-13 and lost in the first-round of the NIT. There
were whispers from Oklahoma boosters that it might be time for a
change, and Tubbs broke his own cardinal rule. He listened. "It
was ridiculous," he says. "We'd win a big game, and people would
say, 'Well, they shot well, but they didn't block out on the
boards.' I just think things grew stale for me at Oklahoma. I
think it would be healthy if every coach changed jobs every five
or six years."

So Tubbs resigned the Sooners job and signed on with Texas
Christian. When he arrived in Fort Worth in April 1994--tanned
and ready, as always, if not all that rested--he promised his
new bosses that he would put the Horned Frogs on the map, and he
promised his recruits they would play a lot of minutes and score
a lot of points. He sure doesn't want to break his promises.

Tubbs was born in St. Louis but grew up in Tulsa. He began his
coaching career at Division III Southwestern University in
Georgetown, Texas, before moving to Lamar and then Oklahoma.
He's 62 years old and stands 5'7", though he admits to neither.
He sounds like Jack Nicholson with a Texas twang and has the
same mischievous gleam in his eyes. "You know when people call
you a nice guy? When they're beating your butt," he says. "I
don't want to be loved. I just want respect."

At TCU, as everywhere, Billyball means running, dunking,
pressing, shooting and never saying you're sorry for scoring.
One goal: Make sure the fans have as much fun as the players. In
the increasingly homogenized, sanitized world of college
basketball, the Horned Frogs have made a splash with a
high-flying, fist-pumping, trash-talking fraternity in the
tradition of UNLV's Runnin' Rebels of the early 1990s.
"Sometimes we'll hear the players on the other teams say things
like, 'Man, I wish we could play like that,'" says Penny. "I had
a friend on another team who said after one game, 'Do you guys
just do whatever you want?' I said no, but I guess it looks that
way."

The Horned Frogs employ a relentless full-court press on
defense, and their offense is strictly north-south, attack the
hoop and fire away at all times. The only thing at TCU that goes
sideways is Tubbs's comb-over hairdo. The starters play most of
the game, regardless of the score, and they never let a big lead
affect their game plan. Against New Mexico last Saturday, Tubbs
took out star guard Mike Jones, the nation's No. 11 scorer
(22.4), with 8.9 seconds left in the game and a 31-point lead.
Nailon and starting guard Prince Fowler were on the floor at the
end, pressing still. "What can you say? Billy's Billy," New
Mexico coach Dave Bliss said afterward. "Most coaches are
concerned with what other people think of them. Billy never
gives it a thought." While at Oklahoma, Tubbs once flipped off
Colorado fans. Then there was the time he warned Sooners fans
over the P.A. system not to throw things on the floor
"regardless of how terrible the officiating is." He made few
friends in the Big East years ago when he suggested that their
plodding games not be viewed while operating heavy machinery.

Earlier this season, in the Horned Frogs' 138-75 nail-biter of a
win over Delaware State, Jones scored a school-record 51 points.
He played 37 of 40 minutes, and TCU was still pressing with four
minutes to go. Delaware State coach Jimmy DuBose called the
performance "an abomination of basketball." Tubbs disagreed.
"That's called winning," he said.

Nine days after Jones went for 51, Nailon erased his teammate
from the record book when he got 53 points in a 106-83 defeat of
Mississippi Valley State, making the Horned Frogs perhaps the
only Division I team ever to have two players with a 50-point
game in the same season. "I love records," says Tubbs. "My
players know if they have a big game, they'll stay out there no
matter what the score is. I remember as a player [at Lamar],
when I had my best game, I watched the last 15 minutes from the
bench. I like to see my guys put up big numbers."

"If we get up by 30, Coach Tubbs wants us to make it 40 or 50 or
60," says guard Malcolm Johnson. "Some people say Coach Tubbs is
hurting our reputation with his style, but he's always positive
about it. And with all the weapons we've got, we think we can
beat anyone--North Carolina, Duke, anyone in the country."

Like a lawyer citing a precedent, Tubbs refers his critics to a
124-80 pasting that Kentucky laid on overmatched TCU two years
ago. Tubbs recalls that the Wildcats were still running and
dunking and twisting the dagger in when the game was well out of
reach, and Tubbs insists he didn't blame them a bit. "I didn't
ask for mercy, because in this game, there is no mercy," he
says. "Letting up on your opponent is not conducive to winning."

To Tubbs, each game is a classified ad for the Frogs, each
scoring record another neon sign in the store window. And he's
right. When Nailon is asked why he chose TCU, he says, "I like
Coach Tubbs's style of play and the way he likes to run up the
score."

Tubbs, who won his 500th career game this season, is the first
to admit that he and his staff do what they have to do. Fort
Worth, after all, is still not a must-see stop on the recruiting
tour for the best of the blue-chippers. Four of the five Horned
Frogs starters are transfers, three from junior colleges. The
6'9" Nailon is the most imposing of the four. He transferred
twice while still in junior college--from Butler County (Kans.)
Community College to Southeastern Community College in West
Burlington, Iowa, and back to Butler--before arriving in Fort
Worth. Even after committing to TCU, Nailon, a lefthanded
post-up scorer with a soft touch, had second thoughts about the
school and telephoned Tom DeBaets, who had been his coach at
Clay High in South Bend, with his concerns. "Since TCU had the
word Christian in its name, Lee was worried that he would have
to go to religion classes and wear a coat and tie all the time,"
says DeBaets.

"I just wanted to know, 'Is it Catholic? Would I have to wear a
uniform?'" says Nailon. "But it's not like that at all."

The fans have fallen in love with Nailon even though in early
January he was arrested following a fight with his girlfriend in
his dorm room. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and
was ordered to pay $165 in court costs. Tubbs forgave his star,
suspending him for just one game.

Nailon has hinted that he might pass up his senior year at Texas
Christian and take a shot at the NBA. The fans carried him on
their shoulders alongside the seniors after the win over New
Mexico. Now they hope he can carry the Horned Frogs to the WAC
title and beyond. "You've got to understand the mentality of the
people in this part of the country," says Tubbs. "Winning isn't
good enough. They want to win big. They like big things--big
numbers, big scoring. It's got to be big to get their attention."

Except, of course, in the case of basketball coaches. Small and
stubborn will do just fine.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB ROSATO FLYING FROGS Nailon scored 31 points last Saturday when TCU staked its claim as the top team in the WAC by pasting New Mexico. [Lee Nailon in game]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB ROSATO IN THEIR DEFENSE The Frogs aren't just an offensive machine, as Dennis Davis proves by putting the clamps on the Lobos' Royce Olney.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BOB ROSATO [Billy Tubbs]

TEAMS OF THE CENTURY MARK

At its current rate TCU will finish the season as one of the 15
highest-scoring teams of all time. However, that's not so
unusual for an outfit coached by Billy Tubbs (above). Three of
his Oklahoma squads also made the list.

SCHOOL SEASON SCORING FINISH

Loyola Marymount 1989-90 122.4 Made it to the West Regional
final

Loyola Marymount 1988-89 112.5 Lost in the first round of
the NCAAs

UNLV 1975-76 110.5 Made it to the second round
of the NCAAs

Loyola Marymount 1987-88 110.3 Made it to the second round
of the NCAAs

UNLV 1976-77 107.1 Reached the Final Four; lost
in semifinals

Oral Roberts 1971-72 105.1 Did not make the NCAAs with
a 26-2 record

Southern 1990-91 104.4 Did not make the NCAAs with
a 19-9 record

Loyola Marymount 1990-91 103.6 Did not make the NCAAs with
a 16-15 record

Oklahoma 1987-88 102.9 Reached the Final Four; lost
in title game

Oklahoma 1988-89 102.2 Made it to the third round
of the NCAAs

Oklahoma 1989-90 101.3 Made it to the second round
of the NCAAs

TCU 1997-98 101.3*

Southern 1993-94 101.0 Did not make the NCAAs with
a 16-11 record

Jacksonville 1969-70 100.3 Reached the Final Four; lost
in title game

Jacksonville 1970-71 99.9 Lost in the first round of
the NCAAs
*Through Sunday

"Duke wins 90-40, and that's O.K.," says Tubbs. "We win 140-90,
and it's a problem."