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RAY MEARS MEMORIAL SERVICE HELD
Former head coach Ray Mears with wife Dana and son Steve.

Former head coach Ray Mears with wife Dana and son Steve.

June 14, 2007

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A memorial service for former Tennessee basketball coach Ray Mears, who passed away on Monday, was held Thursday evening at West Hills Baptist Church. The services were attended by approximately 400 family, friends and University officials.

Most notable of the attendees included over 20 former Volunteer players who played under Mears and served as honorary pallbearers. Also included with that group was former Voice of the Vols, John Ward, and Mears' friend and first assistant coach Tommy Bartlett.

The services were conducted by Pastor Marvin Cameron of Kingsport, Tenn., and featured eulogies by three former players of Coach Mears, Bobby Hamilton, who was on his Wittenberg (Ohio) teams and former Tennessee greats Bill Justus (1966-69) and Bill Hann (1966-69). In addition, comments were made by Coach Mears three sons, Mike, Matt and Steve.

The list of players was a Who's Who of the Mears era beginning with his first Tennessee team in 1962-63 though his final squad in 1977. The group included A.W. Davis, Sid Elliott, Pat Robinette, and Jerry Parker from his inital sqaud. Continuning with Bill Hann, Bill Justus, Don Campbell, Don Johnson, Jim Woodall, Lloyd Richardson, Mike Edwards, Larry Robinson, John Snow, Wilbert Cherry, Rodney Woods, Doug Ashworth, Mike Smithson, and concluded with his last squad in 1977 that consisted of Steve Gill, Reggie Johnson, Mike Jackson, Johnny Darden, and David Cockrill.

Current Vol Coach Bruce Pearl attended along with the current squad members and coaching staff of the Volunteer basketball team. Head football Coach Phillip Fulmer headed a strong support group of current and past Athletic Department staff members. Other former basketball coaches and staff included Don DeVoe, Gerald Oliver and Billy Henry along with coaching era staffers Bill Wright (baseball) and Ray Bussard (swimming).

The family received friends immediately following the service.

A native of Dover, Ohio, Mears (80) led the Vols for 15 years from 1963-77. During his term, Mears tallied a remarkable record of 278-112 for an astounding .713 winning percentage. Mears averaged nearly 18.5 wins per season at Tennessee.

The final interment will be at 11 a.m. Friday, June 15, at Highland Memorial Cemetery on Sutherland Ave. Those wishing to attend the interment should meet at the cemetery at 10:45 a.m.

The family is requesting that memorials be made to the Ray and Dana Mears Athletic Scholarship Endowment, Volunteer Athletic Scholarship Fund, PO Box 15016, Knoxville, TN 37901.


Coach Ray Mears Funeral Arrangements

The funeral service for former Tennessee basketball coach Ray Mears will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at West Hills Baptist Church (409 North Winston Road). The family will receive friends immediately following the service.

The interment will be at 11 a.m. Friday, June 15, at Highland Memorial Cemetery on Sutherland Ave. Those wishing to attend the interment should meet at the cemetery at 10:45 a.m.

The family is requesting that memorials be made to the Ray and Dana Mears Athletic Scholarship Endowment, Volunteer Athletic Scholarship Fund, PO Box 15016, Knoxville, TN 37901.


Ray Mears, the winningest coach in University of Tennessee basketball history, passed away at 1:15 p.m. today at NHC Health Care Center in Knoxville. He (born Nov. 8, 1926) was 80 years old.

A native of Dover, Ohio, Mears led the Vols for 15 years from 1963-77. During his term, Mears tallied a remarkable record of 278-112 equaling an astounding .713 winning percentage. Mears averaged approximately 18.5 wins per season while at Tennessee.

The accomplishments by Mears over his 15 years have placed him in the top 20 of the Tennessee, SEC and NCAA coaching record books. Mears and his 278 wins currently places him No. 1 all time at Tennessee, and tied for eighth all time for the conference. In addition, his .713 winning percentage puts him seventh in the SEC.

In 21 seasons as a head coach Mears compiled a 399-135 record and a 74.7 winning percentage that currently ranks 17th among the winningest coaches in NCAA history.

Tennessee won three SEC championships with Mears as the head coach. Mears' teams won their first championship in 1967, then shared it in 1972, and again won it in his final season of 1977. The Vols also appeared in the postseason seven times under Mears. They made the NCAA tournament three times, the NIT tournament twice and once went to the discontinued Collegiate Commissioners Association meet. Mears also provided Tennessee with seven 20-win seasons during his time. Just as importantly, he created a rivalry with national power Kentucky and his fifteen wins over Adolph Rupp throughout his career at Wittenberg and Tennessee are the most by any Vol head coach.

NOTABLE QUOTES

UT Director of Athletics Mike Hamilton

"Coach Mears was a true Tennessee legend. He created a tradition of basketball success, pageantry, and fan support by which all future basketball teams and coaches will be measured. When speaking with fans of Coach Mears or one of his former players, everyone has a Stokely story or a memory of his great showmanship. He made a difference, he made an impression and he had great vision. He will be missed."

Head Coach Bruce Pearl

"Coach Mears was one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history. He brought a style of play and atmosphere to Tennessee basketball that will always be treasured. I feel very fortunate to have met him and to have spent time with him over the past few years. I know how truly excited he was about the resurgence of Tennessee basketball. I am glad that we were able to honor Coach Mears and John Ward last season and retire Bernard King's jersey this season because their names will hang in the rafters forever."

Former Voice Of The Vols John Ward

"Perhaps more than any other person, Ray Mears made it comfortable for everyone to be a Tennessee fan by his marketing ideas. That made UT athletics inclusive rather than exclusive. Anyone could be a citizen of Big Orange Country. Ray Mears' ideas made sidewalk alumni feel at home just as a much as a graduate with four degrees. That was his strength."

Former Tennessee Basketball Coach Don DeVoe

"Ray Mears was a giant in the basketball coaching profession. He took Tennessee to heights that they had never experienced before. More importantly he was a giant of a man and he will be missed by the basketball profession. I was the coached who replaced him but the support he showed me during that time of transition meant a great del to me. He was always looking for the positive things for Tennessee basketball and how we could improve."

Ernie Grunfeld - Former Tennessee Forward (1973-77)

"I had the privilege to play for Coach Mears at the University of Tennessee. He was a very important part of my life and he will be greatly missed. I learned some great lessons from Coach. He was a great leader, innovator and an extremely competitive person. He taught me about hard work, dedication and loyalty -- lessons that have stayed with me my whole life. His attention to detail was unmatched. He encouraged us to not only be good basketball players but also to be good human beings. I will never forget the four great years I had playing for Coach Mears in Knoxville. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Coach Mears's family as well as all Big Orange supporters."


Former Tennessee coach Ray Mears dead at 80

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Ray Mears, the Tennessee basketball coach who presided over the "Ernie and Bernie show" during his 15 seasons guiding the Volunteers, died Monday. He was 80.

Mears, the winningest men's coach in school history, had been in declining health for some time, university spokesman John Painter said.

In the mid-1970s, Mears coached future NBA players Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. Mears' teams went 278-112 at Tennessee between 1962 and 1978.

"He was a great leader, innovator and an extremely competitive person," Grunfeld, president of basketball operations for the NBA's Washington Wizards, said Monday. "He taught me about hard work, dedication and loyalty - lessons that have stayed with me my whole life. He encouraged us to not only be good basketball players but also to be good human beings."

Under Mears, the Vols won or shared Southeastern Conference titles in 1967, 1972 and 1977. The 1967 championship was the school's first in 24 years.

"Coach Mears was a true Tennessee legend," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. "He created a tradition of basketball success, pageantry and fan support by which all future basketball teams and coaches will be measured."

Current Vols coach Bruce Pearl, who has adopted the bright orange blazer favored by Mears - the man credited with coining the term "Big Orange Country" - said he "brought a style of play and atmosphere to Tennessee basketball that will always be treasured."

Three of his teams made the NCAA tournament before it expanded. Only the SEC champion made the tourney when he coached.

In 2003, Mears had a series of health problems, including a stroke. While coaching, he suffered from clinical depression for years.

"If there had been a 64-team, seeded field back then, we would have made it a lot of those years," Mears recalled in a 2003 interview with The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

He coached at Wittenberg, Ohio, prior to Tennessee and compiled a record of 121-23, including the Division II national title in 1961.

In the days before the shot clock, his teams at Tennessee were known for their slowdown, deliberate offense - a style of play that infuriated Kentucky's Hall of Fame coach, Adolph Rupp, Mears' main rival.

To prove his point, Rupp once had someone count the number of times Tennessee players dribbled before shooting.

Mears was known for his promotional flair. He spearheaded the idea of "Big Orange Country" as the designated region for school support. He reveled in wearing bright orange blazers and enjoyed parading along the sideline to agitate opponents.

He even allowed one of his players in the 1960s to ride a unicycle on court to entertain the crowd during pregame warmups.

"The (Tennessee) program looks like it's headed in the right direction," he said in the 2003 interview. "But I don't know if they're ever going to get things back to where Tennessee once was."

After leaving coaching, Mears was athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Martin from 1980-89.

Mears played college basketball at Miami, Ohio. He was born in Dover, Ohio.

Mears is survived by his wife, Dana; and three sons, Steve, Mike and Matt.

 

 

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