Thankfully, Jason Staudt at the Milwaukee Bucks forwarded me this terrific article that ran in the El Paso paper by Jason Rabedeaux, who succeeded Coach Haskins at UTEP and today coaches in China.
Here's Coach Rabedeaux's article in its entirety:
"Ever wonder what it's like to be the answer to a trivia question?
After 39 years, a national championship and a Hall of Fame career, who replaced Don Haskins as the head basketball coach at the University of Texas-El Paso?
What does it say when the excitement and enthusiasm of stepping into your first head coaching position is outweighed by the anxiety and uneasiness of having to meet, for the very first time, the man you are replacing?
It says you're in the shadow of a legend, but not just any legend -- a legend that had coached at the same school for 39 years, a man who was known by two words, "The Bear," a Hall of Famer, a pioneer who forever changed the face of college basketball and a man who was absolutely worshipped and adored by the community in which he chose to call home.
Oh yeah, I thought to myself, the guy who chose to follow this guy must be nuts. Unfortunately, that guy was me.
Those thoughts and many others raced through my mind in mid-September of 1999 as I stood in the tunnel of the Don Haskins Center awaiting my first introduction and first truck ride with the man known throughout El Paso as "Coach."
As I patiently waited and baked under the El Paso sun, all I could think about was the (butt) chewing this guy is going to give me for just having the audacity to try and follow in his footsteps.
At first glance I wasn't sure if it was Coach Haskins who had pulled into the tunnel or the editor of Field and Stream magazine. Sunglasses covered half his face and a larger-than-life cowboy hat adorned his head. This couldn't be one of college basketball's all-time winningest coaches. This guy had to be lost and looking for directions to Canutillo.
But once I settled into the passenger seat of Coach Haskins' truck, which was no easy chore considering the amount of hats, blankets, golf balls and sun glasses he had to toss in the back just to make room for me to sit, Coach instantly made me feel at ease.
Having arrived from the University of Oklahoma, Coach spoke of his days in Enid and playing for Coach Iba at Oklahoma State. He commented that he had seen our teams at Oklahoma play and offered only two pieces of advice "do what that guy at Oklahoma taught you, 'cuz it works, and be yourself."
I quickly realized The Bear's growl was bigger than his bite.
From that day forward, Don Haskins became my biggest fan (and I his) -- at least he made me feel that way. He'd call after every game, call out of the blue to see how practice was going.
Or my favorite: when he would call the office and summon me to the Ramada Inn for coffee and a clinic on defensive transition. Who needs fancy diagram pads, DVDs and video tape when you have Ramada Inn napkins.
And always, like clockwork, the waitress would arrive and ask Coach if he wanted anything else with his coffee ... "No," he'd reply, "I just ate." And as the waitress turned to go, Coach would grunt and say, "Aw hell, bring us a menu."
The most wonderful thing about Coach was that he was about the only person in El Paso who didn't feel obligated to remind me that I was replacing a legend, tell me how best to do it, ask how it felt to follow in the footsteps of an icon or compare my first year to his and so on and so forth.
He knew it was a burden, but an incredible opportunity as well. And at the end of the day, all he ever wanted was to see his Miners succeed.
Coach Haskins was smart...I'm talking a PhD in street smarts and common sense. It was that type of simplicity that made him such a remarkable basketball coach:
"Toughest teams always win ... Stay between your man and the basket ... Don't give up layups ... Defend and rebound, and you can beat anybody ... My teams were always a little flat after that damn trip to the islands, don't feel bad."
It was the type of advice where you would just shake your head and say to yourself "That is so true. Why am I trying to make this thing so complicated?"
Coach would always tell me, "Jason, basketball is NOT a complex game. It is a simple game played by complex people." Truer words have never been spoken.
Coach fast became my mentor, his truck the site of some incredible clinics, and on game night I always knew the minute he would walk down that tunnel and take his seat in the house that HE built.
I was in China when I turned on my laptop and learned of Coach's passing. My good friend, Jeff Limberg, had warned me of Coach's poor health, and I feared the worse was near.
China, of all places I thought to myself, now there's a road trip Coach would be proud of. I can't tell you the emotions and memories that raced through my head as I read all of the wonderful stories detailing the incredible impact Coach Haskins had on college basketball, UTEP, El Paso and, most importantly, every person who ever had the fortune to cross his path.
We all stopped counting at a million.
Ironic, this life. My first head coaching job -- replacing a living legend who had the magnificent gift of being able to simplify the game of basketball and explain it to us as though we were Kindergartners.
And my second head coaching job? In a country thousands of miles away from the corner of Mesa and Baltimore, coaching a group of young men who speak no English and whose names I barely know.
As I said a prayer for Coach Haskins that night, his words echoed through my head.
"Jason, basketball is NOT a complex game. It is a simple game played by complex people."
Deep in the heart of China, The Bear had given me one last piece of advice.
Adios, Coach. I'll miss ya."