A sad day for the Vanderbilt basketball family. BamaOnline reports that former Vanderbilt basketball coach C.M. Newton passed away on Monday at the age of 88.
Newton played basketball under Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, graduating in 1952, and became the head coach at Transylvania University in Lexington in 1956, posting a 169-137 record. When Alabama athletic director Bear Bryant was looking for a new basketball coach in 1968, he called Rupp (who had been Kentucky’s basketball coach while Bryant was the football coach there) and Rupp recommended Newton. Newton went 211-123 as Alabama’s basketball coach, winning three SEC titles and guiding the Tide to their first two NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 1980, Newton resigned from Alabama to become an assistant commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, but after just a year away from coaching, he was hired by Vanderbilt to replace Richard Schmidt. Vanderbilt struggled in Newton’s first six years — he posted a 90-90 record and a 42-66 SEC record — but made a run to the Sweet 16 in 1988 and then made it back to the tournament again in 1989.
After leaving Vanderbilt at the end of the 1989 season, Newton spent 11 years as the athletic director at his alma mater, which was facing major NCAA sanctions at the time. One of his first moves as athletic director was hiring Rick Pitino away from the New York Knicks to be Kentucky’s head basketball coach; later, he hired Tubby Smith, who also won a national title at Kentucky.
Newton was well-known for helping to break down racial barriers in college basketball. At both Transylvania and Alabama, Newton recruited and signed the first black basketball player ever to play at the school; at Kentucky, he hired the first black head basketball coach in the school’s history.
Rest in peace, Coach Newton. You will be dearly missed.