August 2013

Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines

Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines believed in being prepared and being the best at whatever one did.

To his mother, being prepared for success meant becoming a dentist. So when Gaines left his hometown of Paducah, Ky., in 1941 to attend Morgan State University in Baltimore, that was his intention.

His 6-foot-4 inch height and body mass, which quickly earned him the nickname “Big House,” gave him an advantage over other players in football and basketball.

Following graduation, he went to Winston-Salem Teachers College as an assistant football coach for Howard “Brutus” Wilson.

Intended as a temporary stop on the way to graduate school, it began a 47 year career in coaching. A year later, at just 23, Gaines held the positions of athletic director and head coach in football, basketball, track, tennis and boxing.

Gaines was no ordinary coach, transforming the sports program at the small teachers college into one of the most well-known and respected athletic departments in the country. He would also help to blur the lines of segregation in college athletics.

While Gaines compiled countless honors and championships, including the record for most basketball wins of any African American coach in the nation, he was always more concerned with the education of his players.

He inspired his black players – many of them hand-picked – to see themselves as more than athletes and to prepare themselves to achieve high goals beyond the athletic arena. Gaines continually urged his players, and his children, to prepare themselves academically, intellectually, socially and physically so that they could take advantage of opportunities, handle adversity and challenges, and deal with the vicissitudes of life. Following graduation, many of those players went on to successful careers as lawyers, doctors, teachers and coaches.

Gaines passed away in April 2005, leaving a legacy of personal success and achievement based upon diligent preparation, untiring effort and flawless execution ñ lessons which live on in the lives he touched and the University he represented.