Published Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 | 10:20 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 | 11:52 a.m.
If the out-of-sorts UNLV Rebels needed a certain kind of basketball coach in 2001, they got him in Charlie Spoonhour.
The program was struggling to collect itself and regroup after several years of high drama and distractions triggered by recruiting violations under coach Bill Bayno and a resulting NCAA probation.
It was time for everyone to take a deep breath and focus on rebuilding.
So Spoonhour — unflappable, patient, consistent — was brought in to do the job, pulled out of what was supposed to have been his retirement.
“I won’t forget the night the athletic department administrators went to dinner with him and talked to him about the job,” said Jerry Koloskie, UNLV’s deputy director of athletics. “The whole evening was very comforting.”
During Spoonhour’s calming 2 1/2-year run as head coach, the Rebels amassed a 54-31 record and reached the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game each of the three years.
Spoonhour died peacefully Wednesday with his family at his bedside at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 72.
Spoonhour had been in and out of Duke Medical Center the past few years after receiving a lung transplant in 2010. He had been battling lung-scarring idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
His wife, Vicki, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he told her in his final hours, “Don’t spend the money on a funeral.”
“He didn’t want all of his friends flying in for a funeral and crying,” she said. “He said, ‘Have a party.’ He had a lot of friends. He had 348 contacts on his phone. I think everyone considered him a friend. That says a lot about him.”
Funeral services are pending.
Spoonhour, who was born June 23, 1939, in Mulberry, Kan., raised in Rogers, Ark., and graduated from the University of the Ozarks, was not the Rebels’ first choice. Dusting itself off after the Bayno years and a half-season under coach Max Good, who was not retained, UNLV pursued former University of Kentucky and Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino, who spurned the university before choosing to work at Louisville.
Just as well. Spoonhour turned out to be the right choice.
“Charlie was a super human being, very mild-mannered, very easygoing,” Koloskie said. “He was passionate about coaching, but he was unassuming and didn’t need all that media attention.
“What he did was build the foundation for success, and you can see he did by looking at the success that followed Charlie when Coach (Lon) Kruger came in. It was Charlie who built that foundation.”
During his run, Spoonhour coached Marcus Banks and Dalron Johnson, among others, and recruited Joel Anthony. Current coach Dave Rice was an assistant during Spoonhour’s tenure.
“Coach Spoon was an incredible person,” Rice said. “I learned so much from him about coaching, but more important, he taught us how to keep things in perspective and showed us how to be better people. He truly made a difference and had the unique ability to make everyone around him feel so special.”
After posting back-to-back 21-11 seasons that ended in the NIT, Spoonhour stepped down 21 games into his third season citing health reasons.
His son, Jay, took over for the remainder of the year.
Before UNLV, Spoonhour had accumulated a 197-81 record while coaching at what was then Southwest Missouri State from 1983-92. In nine seasons, Spoonhour led the Bears to five NCAA Tournaments, including four in a row.
He then was recruited to St. Louis, where he compiled a 122-90 record in seven seasons and reached three NCAA Tournaments.
He retired — but only briefly, answering the call at UNLV. All told, he built an impressive 361-193 (.652) career mark over 18 seasons as a coach.
Spoonhour, immensely popular, spent part of his post-coaching life calling basketball games for the Missouri Valley Conference.