Legendary basketball coach Billy Tubbs dies at 85

Former University of Oklahoma basketball coach and Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame member Billy Tubbs, left, along with his wife, Pat are shown in this Aug. 5, 2013, file photo. Tubbs, whose high-octane system known as Billy Ball brought the Sooners back to prominence in the 1980s, has died at age 85. 

Oklahoma’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, Billy Tubbs, who skippered the Sooners from the 1980-81 season to the 1993-94 season, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

Only Friday, it was reported Tubbs had entered hospice care. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he was receiving care at a facility near Lake Texoma.

According to the announcement of Tubbs’ death on OU’s athletics website, Tubbs had been suffering “from a form of leukemia” that, said Tubbs’ family, he had been battling since a 2015 diagnosis.

A statement from Tubbs’ extended family explained that he was surrounded by family members at the moment of his passing Sunday morning.

“Our family is comforted by the knowledge he lived an extremely spirited life full of outstanding accomplishment in and out of sports,” the Tubbs’ family statement said. “Many are aware of his remarkable achievements as a basketball coach, but we will remember him for way more than all of his wins, conference titles and NCAA Tournament success.

“He was a fierce competitor in everything he faced, and that was never more evident than in his final days.”

Tubbs arrived in Norman from Lamar University, in Beaumont, Texas, where he’d built the Cardinal program into a two-time conference champion and NCAA Tournament entrant, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1979.

His first Sooner team finished a paltry 9-18, yet his second reached the final four of the National Invitation Tournament, finishing the 1981-82 season with a loss to Bradley inside Madison Square Garden.

His third season became the first of eight straight in which OU reached the NCAA Tournament.

Three of those eight teams won 30 games, four of them reached the Sweet 16, two of them reached the Elite Eight and one of them played for a national championship, falling to Kansas in the title game, a team it had already beaten twice in the regular season.

Tubbs’ last four seasons at OU included three trips to the NIT and one to the NCAA Tournament, after which he began an eight-season run at TCU, a stretch that included four 20-win seasons.

After one year out of coaching, he returned to Lamar, winning 11 games in 2003-04, but 18 and 17 the following two seasons, both of which included 9-7 marks in the Southland Conference.

He continued to serve as Lamar’s athletics director until 2010.

In 29 seasons as a Division I coach, Tubbs amassed a 641-340 record that included 18 trips to postseason tournaments, 12 of those to the NCAA Tournament.

At OU, he went 333-132, notching 54 more victories than Kelvin Sampson would coach the Sooners to over 12 seasons (1994-95 to 2005-06), 133 more than Bruce Drake coached the Sooners to over 17 seasons (1938-39 to 1954-55) and 167 more than the Sooners current head coach, Lon Kruger, has coached OU to over the past nine seasons.

Every bit as much as the success his teams enjoyed, Tubbs’ squads made a habit of filling Lloyd Noble Center as a result of their style of play and their coach’s larger-than-life personality.

The 11 highest scoring teams in Sooner basketball history were all coached by Tubbs, three of them averaging more than 100 points per game and two more averaging more than 90.

On Nov. 29, 1989, Tubbs’ Sooners defeated U.S. International 173-101. The Sooners’ first half total was 97. Terrence Mullins, Skeeter Henry and Smokey McCovery each missed a 3-point attempt trying to hit the century mark before intermission.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Billy Tubbs,” Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “Billy is one of the most successful, popular and colorful figures in the history of OU Athletics. His passion and vision of the game defined an era of Sooner basketball and forever changed the the trajectory of our hoops program.

“His teams also helped usher in a fan-friendly style of basketball during a time when college basketball was really growing and evolving. His teams would go anywhere at any time, to play anyone if it helped the program in the long run.”

Tubbs was a four-time Big Eight coach of the year, leading the Sooners to eight regular-season conference championships and two postseason conference tournament championships.

Twice he won national coach of the year honors, seven All-Americans came through his Sooner program, most memorably Wayman Tisdale, who earned the status three times. Seventeen of his players at OU became NBA draft picks.

“The history and tradition of the Oklahoma basketball program is rooted in Billy Tubbs and his legendary teams,” Kruger said.

“I never had an interaction with Coach Tubbs that didn’t leave me better than I was before I saw him,” Sooner women’s coach Sherri Coale said. “He was a coaching icon — a legend who teams played as uniquely and euphorically as their head coach coached.”

Originally from Tulsa after being born in St. Louis, Tubbs played college basketball at Lon Morris College, a private junior college in Jacksonville, Texas, before finishing at Lamar Tech, which later dropped the “Tech” from its name.

Before becoming head coach at Lamar in 1976, he served as an assistant at Lamar Tech, head coach at Southwestern (in Georgetown, Texas), and as an assistant at North Texas State.

Over the last 10 years of his life, Tubbs was a regular at Lloyd Noble Center, taking in men’s and women’s games, frequently with his wife Pat.

He is survived by his wife, son Tommy, daughter Taylor and eight grandchildren.

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