As a child I saw a lot of Badger basketball at the old Field House. On winter Saturday afternoons I saw future UW Hall of Famers Wes Matthews and Claude Gregory, plaid-jacketed coaches like Bobby Knight and Jud Heathcote, ate a lot of popcorn, collected a lot of plastic cups. In the 70s and 80s the notion of the Badgers playing for the national championship would have been laughable– they went over two decades without a winning season in the Big 10. (Equally unimaginable would have been the idea of the UW hockey team winning just 4 games in a season.)
So in anticipation of Monday’s championship final, I found myself thinking of those earlier teams and their coach, Bill Cofield. En route to school one day I spotted Cofield driving his orange VW bug and thereafter made a point of wishing him luck before each game.
Cofield was the first African-American coach of any major sport in the Big Ten and the first Black athletic director at a predominantly white college, at the College of Racine in 1973. Current Badger coach Bo Ryan was an assistant to Cofield and one of his responsibilities was to remove the “cruel” letters sent to Cofield. “There were some people who weren’t ready for that breakthrough.”
Here’s a clip of Wes Matthews (Sr.) from that era.
Go Big Red.