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Former UAB coach Bartow dies at 81

Gene Bartow, who founded the UAB athletics program and led two different teams to the Final Four, has died after a battle with cancer.

Bartow died Tuesday night at his home in Birmingham, UAB said. He was 81.

UAB hired Bartow as men's basketball coach and athletic director in 1977 and he helped grow the university's athletics program over the next 22 years.

He coached the Blazers until 1996, leading them to 10 NCAA Tournament berths and 14 postseason appearances overall.

"To begin an athletic program from the ground up, UAB had to find a motivating force without parallel. Gene Bartow certainly was that person," said UAB President Carol Garrison.

"He was a pioneer and a passionate believer and leader in UAB athletics. Anyone who was fortunate enough to know coach Bartow was enriched."

Bartow was president of the company that owns and operates the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

Prior to being hired at UAB, Bartow took Memphis State and UCLA to the Final Four in 1973 and '76. Bartow, after filling the tough task of replacing John Wooden at UCLA in 1975, left for UAB following the 1976-77 season.

He had 647 coaching wins at wins at Central Missouri State, Valparaiso, Memphis, Illinois, UCLA and UAB.

A year after Bartow's retirement from coaching, UAB renamed its basketball venue in his honor.

He is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Huffine; and their three children, Mark, Beth and Murry, who is the head men's basketball coach at East Tennessee State.