It would be hard to think of an individual who interacted more with University of Tennessee sports without actually being a Vol than C.M. Newton. Newton spoke to the Big Orange Tipoff Club on Wednesday. His topic was his memories of his brushes with UT sports, particularly basketball. There were plenty. Retired from a long career as a coach and administrator, Newton noted that he spent the bulk of his career at Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt, all of whom considered Tennessee a prime rival.
Newton was born in Rockwood, Tenn., the son of a huge UT football fan who owned a hardware store in Harriman. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but Newton said his dad never strayed from his devotion to Big Orange football. His sister once dated Bowden Wyatt. His cousin married News Sentinel sports editor Tom Siler. As a high school hoops star in Fort Lauderdale, he once played against against a pretty good athlete from St. Petersburg named Jim Haslam.
Newton played basketball for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, helping the Wildcats win an NCAA title in 1951. He later coached at Transylvania University in Lexington, then at Alabama and Vanderbilt. He finished his career as athletic director at Kentucky and has, in retirement, served the SEC as a basketball consultant.
Newton recounted how Rupp dreaded coming to Knoxville, especially in the old days of Alumni Gynasium. At Transylvania, Newton encountered another hot small-college coach — Ray Mears. Newton recalled Transy beating Mears’ Wittenberg University team 38-36 before an audience that included Rupp. Expecting to be congratlated by Rupp, Newton was surprised. “He said we set the game of basketball back a hundred years.” Newton holds a distinction of significance in Kentucky: “I’m the only guy who ever played for (Rupp) that beat him.”
That would have been at Alabama, where Bear Bryant hired Newton to coach in 1968. His teams won three consecutive SEC titles from 1974-76. That includes two years of the Ernie & Bernie Show at Tennessee. One of his benchwarmers at Alabama was Dave Hart. The two sat together Tuesday night at the Vols’ win over Georgia.
At Vanderbilt, Newton’s battles were with Don DeVoe from 1981-89. As AD at Kentucky, Newton hired both Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, both of whom won NCAA titles.
He also served on the basketball rules committee and helped bring in the shot clock and the 3-point shot. Newton still has some opinions about the game.
The season, he said, shouldn’t start until the winter semester: “It makes no sense to have your two profit-makers (football and basketball) going head to head for the entertainment dollar.”
He would also whittle the NCAA tourney field to a more managable size, honoring only confernce champions and runners-up: “You’ve got to be a bad team not to get in the postseason. I don’t think we have a true national championhsip. Sixty-eight teams is too many.”
He doesn’t like the one-and-done rule, which Kentucky’s John Calipari has elevated to an art form: “You’ve got great athletes who don’t know how to play basketball. It’s weakened the NBA and it’s weakened college basketball.”
He thinks college sports are headed to super-conferences in which the big leagues — the haves — separate from the have-nots. “The NCAA has outlived its usefulness, in my opinion. It can re-invent itself. I think it could do that with the have-nots.”