CHICAGO – Ray Meyer, who led DePaul to 724 basketball victories in 42 years and became known simply as "Coach," has died, according to the school's athletic director. He was 92.
Meyer died Friday afternoon, said Jean Lenti Ponsetto.
Meyer twice took the Blue Demons to the NCAA Final Four, helped develop a young George Mikan — who would eventually become basketball's first dominating big man — and coached DePaul to the 1945 NIT title.
Both gruff and grandfatherly, Meyer had an eye for talent with players like Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, Dallas Comegys and Dave Corzine, who parlayed their college experience into pro careers.
But no player he coached had as much of an impact on the game as Mikan, who died in June 2005.
Meyer had just been hired at DePaul in 1942 when he was introduced to a 6-foot-10 student with thick glasses.
"I saw George Mikan," Meyer recalled, "and I saw my future."
Under Meyer's tutelage, Mikan became a two-time college player of the year. A half-century ago, no one had seen someone that tall with such agility, tenacity and skill.
From the days of two-handed set shots to the slam dunk era, Meyer either coached or broadcast 1,467 consecutive Blue Demons games, a 55-year streak. He retired in 1984 with a 724-354 record and then became a special assistant to the president while also doing commentary on radio.
His 1978-79 team reached the Final Four by beating Southern California, Marquette and UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Demons lost 76-74 to Larry Bird's Indiana State team in the semifinals, then defeated Penn 96-93 to finish third.
Meyer's 1943 team also made it to the NCAA Final Four. Two years later, the Blue Demons, behind Mikan, won the NIT championship.
Meyer said coaching had become mainly a job of preparation.
"A coach does less coaching than ever once the game begins. The shot clock has taken away decisions. It's all preparation now. Players are on their own when they hit the floor," he said in a Chicago Tribune interview just before his 80th birthday.
His team was ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll at the end of the regular season in both 1980 and 1981, and his 1982 squad ended up second. Those three teams had a combined record of 59-3 in the regular season but lost the first round of the NCAA Tournament each year.
Meyer's Demons made 13 trips to the NCAAs and seven to the NIT. His 1945 team won the NIT when it was the more prestigious of the two postseason competitions.
Meyer's teams posted 37 winning seasons and had 20-win campaigns 12 times. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.
He retired in 1984 and his son, Joey, took over, lasting 13 years until he was forced to resign in 1997 after a 3-23 season. Joey Meyer had played and been an assistant under his father.
"I wanted to be able to make it to the Final Four and then say to the elderly gentleman, `We did it again.' But that's not in the cards now," he told reporters after he was fired on April 28, 1997.
Ray Meyer was unhappy that his son was sent packing, but he also was angry about the timing because by late April, most coaching vacancies had been filled. So, on Sept. 10, 1997, an aging Meyer quit his fundraising and ambassadorial job for the university.
"I live with my family, and my family is kind of bitter about this whole thing," Meyer said at the time, referring to the loss of his son's job. "They would be quite disturbed if I stayed on."
In January 1999, DePaul honored the 1978-79 Blue Demons, holding a halftime ceremony and inducting the entire squad into the school's Hall of Fame. Meyer declined to attend, still unhappy over DePaul's treatment of his son.
There were shouts of "We want Ray! We want Ray!" as the Final Four team was introduced at halftime of a game against Marquette at the United Center.
The school and its most visible athletic figure later patched up their relationship. DePaul dedicated the Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center on its Lincoln Park campus, a facility that opened on Sept. 30, 1999.
On Dec. 14, 2003, the game floor at the All-Star Arena in suburban Rosemont, where the Blue Demons play their home games, was dedicated as the Ray and Marge Meyer court. Meyer became a fixture at Blue Demons home games again.
Meyer, who at one time suffered from a heart valve problem that left him short of breath, closed his Ray Meyer Basketball Camp for boys in Three Lakes, Wis., in the summer of 2001. It opened in 1947. Bob Petitt, Eddie Johnson and Dan Issel were campers.
Meyer was a standout player at Notre Dame before beginning his coaching career. His wife passed away in 1988.
In addition to Joey Meyer, survivors include two other sons and two daughters.