Denny Crum, Who Made Louisville a Basketball Power, Dies at 86

Denny Crum, who won two N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships and built the University of Louisville into one of the dominant programs of the 1980s during a long Hall of Fame coaching career, died on Tuesday at his home in Louisville, Ky. He was 86.

The university announced his death after being informed by his wife, Susan. No cause was given. Crum had a mild stroke in August 2017 while fishing in Alaska and another two years two ago.

Nicknamed Cool Hand Luke because of his unflinching sideline demeanor, Crum retired in March 2001 after 30 seasons at Louisville with a record of 675-295 and championships in 1980 and 1986.

A former assistant under the renowned U.C.L.A. coach John Wooden, Crum often wore a red blazer and waved a rolled-up stat sheet like a bandleader’s baton as he directed Louisville to 23 N.C.A.A. tournaments and six Final Fours. He was voted college coach of the year three times.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in May 1994, with Wooden, his college coach at U.C.L.A. and longtime mentor, at his side. Crum finished with 11 more wins than Wooden had amassed at U.C.L.A. and was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Denzel Edwin Crum was born on March 2, 1937, in San Fernando, Calif. He played guard for two seasons at Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles before transferring to U.C.L.A. in 1956.

The Bruins went 38-14 in Crum’s two seasons as a player. He briefly served as a graduate assistant to Wooden before coaching Pierce in the mid-1960s.

Wooden hired Crum as his assistant and chief recruiter in 1968, when the Bruins were in the midst of their dynastic run to 10 N.C.A.A. championships. Crum is credited with luring the future Hall of Famer Bill Walton to U.C.L.A., and the Bruins went 86-4 and won three N.C.A.A. titles during Crum’s three seasons there.

He succeeded John Dromo as Louisville’s coach in April 1971.

Until then, Louisville had enjoyed little postseason success, reaching only the 1956 N.I.T. championship and the 1959 N.C.A.A. Final Four. The Cardinals lost Crum’s first game, 70-69, to Florida but then reeled off 15 consecutive victories.

“Denny was so good that I knew I wasn’t going to keep him very long,” Wooden once told The Courier Journal of Louisville. “I was pleased when he got the job at Louisville. I had always hoped when I retired that he’d be the one to succeed me, but he left and proved to be just what I thought he was.”

Crum’s Cardinals won the Missouri Valley Conference — the first of his 15 regular-season league titles — and then reached the Final Four, where they met Wooden’s Bruins. At the time, Crum was the third coach to lead his team to the Final Four in his first season. But the Bruins won, 96-77, on their way to a sixth straight championship.

The schools met again in the semifinals three seasons later with a similar result: U.C.L.A. won, 75-74, in overtime. By then Crum had employed much of Wooden’s fundamentally focused style, but with pressure defense and a fast-breaking flair. Instead of an offense built around a dominant center, Crum used athletic guards and forwards who could finish plays with the high-flying dunks Wooden eschewed.

Crum’s philosophy helped make the Cardinals perennial N.C.A.A. tournament participants, with 20 or more wins each season from 1975 through 1979. Louisville’s breakthrough came in the 1979-80 season, when the homegrown star guard Darrell Griffith and the so-called Doctors of Dunk marched through the regular season, 26-3, and won their second Metro Conference championship in three years.

Crum’s second-seeded Cardinals reached their third Final Four in nine seasons, only to run up against U.C.L.A. again, this time coached by Larry Brown. Louisville finally prevailed, with a 59-54 championship-game win in Indianapolis led by the high-flying all-American Griffith.

Crum’s second title followed in 1986, when Louisville beat Duke, 72-69.

The second half of his tenure was not nearly as successful as the first. Louisville endured two separate N.C.A.A. investigations and never again returned to the Final Four under his watch.

After his retirement, Crum was a co-host with Joe B. Hall, the longtime Kentucky men’s basketball coach, of a sports radio program heard in Kentucky. Hall died last year at 93.

Crum remained a respected presence around Louisville. He frequently attended Cardinals games on the KFC Yum! Center home court bearing his name. He was present for the September 2022 dedication of Denny Crum Hall, a new campus dormitory for athletes and students. And he had a front-row seat in March 2022 for the introduction of one of his former players, Kenny Payne, as the Cardinals’ coach.

Complete information on Crum’s survivors was not immediately available.

The New York Times contributed reporting.

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