Off The Record: Ex-UK coach likes Dems and Cats

September 08, 2003|HERB BROCK

One of the long-standing debates over former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall has nothing to do with his skills as a coach. It has to do with his middle initial. What does that "B." actually stand for? The allegedly dull Hall has playfully, winkingly and mischievously kept the debate alive for three decades by declining to reveal the answer.

Of course, the many UK Cat fans who thought Hall stockpiled a lot of talent and had only one NCAA title to show for it and those who believed their beloved Adolph Rupp could've done a better job coaching that talent from the grave than Hall did on the bench would insinuate their evaluation of his roundball skills into the what's-the-middle-name debate. "Bumbler," "Boob" and "Bird brain" would be some of their entries into the debate.

Others, including popular Louisville radio personality Terry Meiners, insist the "B." stands for "Beasman," supposedly a family name.


My choice is "Backer." No, not the Kentuckyspeak name for the burley that Joe used to help harvest as a kid back in Harrison County. Backer as in a perennial supporter of certain Democratic candidates for statewide office.

Sure, Hall will go to his grave hounded by his critics, who call him "Bonehead." Tubby Smith gets his share of hisses and hoots but in contrast to the hatred by some UK fans for Hall, he's been on extended honeymoon with the fans. He's never been booed as often and as loudly as Hall used to be at Rupp Arena. Nonetheless, Hall apparently has left a positive enough impression on at least a few politicians that he is often sought for endorsements and, word has it, seeks out candidates to endorse.

I don't recall a gubernatorial race over the last 20-plus years in which Hall hasn't been involved with a candidate. He loves Dems as well as Cats. Or, to put it another way, Hall might well say, while chest-bumping fellow UK fans after a win, "How 'bout Dem Cats!"

I had become acquainted with the Dem-loving and Cat-loving Hall in the late 1970's when I was editor of his hometown paper. It's appropriately named The Cynthiana Democrat. When I was there, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 15-to-1, and Hall was definitely a proud member of the majority.

It was Hall's heyday on the court and in the court of public opinion. His Wildcats had been to the Final Four in 1975, won the NIT in 1976, reached a regional final in 1977 and won it all in 1978. The boo birds were quiet. The woo birds were loud. These woo birds would be the political types wanting to be seen with Hall and hoping that his luster and good fortune would rub off on them.

I took several grip-and-grin shots of Hall and Democratic candidates and party leaders, as well as Cat fans loving the hometown boy during my five years in Cynthiana. I also got to observe the birth of an important friendship - between Hall and a Cynthiana banker named Tracy Farmer. Farmer had just gotten involved in banking and in Democratic politics. Over the years since, he has grown bigger and bigger in Kentucky's financial and political circles. Hall has been at least on the perimeter of those same circles because of his friendship with Farmer.

A few years later, I got to witness, as an Advocate reporter, Hall's involvement with a campaign first-hand and for almost an entire day back during the 1991 Democratic primary campaign. Hall was throwing his name recognition behind Scotty Baesler, who just happened to be a former UK basketball player. And it was a treat for me as a political reporter and UK basketball fan. After all, a campaign often is written in sports terminology, as in, "Baesler is putting a full-court press on the Jones campaign."

Hall met up with Baesler while the candidate was stumping in Eastern Kentucky. They stopped by the Mountain News Network in Hazard, an affiliate of WKYT in Lexington, to tape some campaign commercials. From conversations between the two men that I overheard but didn't quote at the time, it seemed to me that Hall enjoyed the strategy of politics as much as the X's and O's of basketball and liked playing in the political arena as much as in Rupp Arena. And I enjoyed Hall's comments in response to loaded questions from me about archrival Denny Crum. I couldn't hide my grin at Hall's less-than-hopeful predictions for the future success, or lack thereof, of the University of Louisville basketball coach. As it turned out, Hall's prognostication of no more Final Fours for Denny came true. I gave the outcome of that forecast a fist-pumping yes!

Fast-forward to gubernatorial election 2003 and, guess what, Hall again is involved in a campaign. He's backing Democrat Ben Chandler. And to prove Hall will go anywhere to show his support for Chandler, Hall joined Chandler as the candidate shook hands with a long line of men inside and outside a men's restroom at Commonwealth Stadium during the UK-U of L football game on Aug. 31.

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