An imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds when he was just 18 years old, it’s not hard to figure out where Clarence “Big House” Gaines got his nickname.
He excelled in football at Morgan State, earning All-American honors twice and All-CIAA distinction four times. But it was in basketball – which Gaines once famously said he played at Morgan State just to have something to do – where the Kentucky native found his lifelong niche.
Interestingly, Gaines, who was the salutatorian of his high school class and graduated from Morgan State in 1945 with a degree in chemistry, actually planned to go to dental school. But his college football coach suggested Gaines go to what is now known as Winston-Salem State and work as an assistant to Brutus Wilson, who at the time was the Rams’ lone coach for all sports.
When Wilson left a year later, Gaines found himself coaching football and basketball while also serving as the athletic director, trainer, a teacher and the ticket manager. Although he was named the CIAA coach of the year in football in 1948, Gaines opted to concentrate on basketball the following year.
And the dynasty began.
In 47 years at the helm, Gaines compiled an 828-447 record. His teams won 20 or more games in 18 seasons and captured the 1967 Division II NCAA title, the first historically black college or university to do so, which led to Gaines’ selection as national coach of the year. His 828 wins still ranks him 17th among coaches all-time.
Among Gaines’ top players was Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who averaged 41 points his senior year and was named the NCAA College Division Player of the Year. He also coached Cleo Hill, who was the first player from a HBCU to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft when the St. Louis Hawks picked him in 1961.
Gaines’ honors are numerous and varied, including his 2005 selection as a “Kentucky Colonel,” the highest honor for a native of that state. He was selected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and served as a member of its board of trustees. He also was elected president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1989.
Gaines, who also received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America, was elected to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1978. He was born on May 21, 1923 and died in 2005 at the age of 81.
For his many accomplishments, Gaines is May’s NCSHOF Member of the Month. For more information on Big House, click here. https://www.ncshof.org/clarencegaines