College Sports

Statham's 52-year run at McKendree comes to close

McKendree University men’s basketball coach Harry Statham
McKendree University men’s basketball coach Harry Statham Provided

Harry Statham, who won 1,122 games in 52 seasons as the McKendree University men's basketball coach, will not return to the bench next season.

McKendree Athletics Director Chuck Brueggemann announced Tuesday that Statham, 80, will conclude his current appointment, which expires May 31. A national search for a new coach will begin immediately.

"For more than half a century, Harry has represented himself, his student-athletes and McKendree University with the utmost professionalism and class," Brueggemann said in a statement released by the university. "Harry built a winning culture by attracting talented student-athletes who excelled on the basketball court and in the classroom. He also prepared them for life after basketball, as scores of his players have gone on to give back and teach the game and life lessons that Harry bestowed upon them.

"We will long celebrate the body of work that Harry Statham has assembled over his career at McKendree University."

McKendree has extended Statham the opportunity to continue his current faculty appointment as assistant professor of physical education for the 2018-19 academic year.

When reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon, Statham made clear the point that he did not resign as the Bearcats' coach after leading the program for more than five decades.

"I did not resign as the head coach at McKendree University. I was told that they were going to go in a different direction with the men's basketball program," Statham said. "Of course, I'm disappointed.

"It's been 52 wonderful years here. The fans, the kids and the players, I've loved it. That part of it has been great. I'm going to miss all of that."

Statham said he has no immediate plans.

Statham, a 1960 graduate of McKendree, is the all-time wins leader in college basketball history at the four-year level. He surpassed the late Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt — who held the all-division record for wins by a college basketball coach, men’s or women’s — with victory No. 1,099 in a 92-84 triumph at Maryville University on Feb. 6, 2016.

In addition to being the all-time leader in coaching victories, Statham coached in a record 1,635 collegiate games, all of them at McKendree. He finished 1,122-513 (.696). This season, the Bearcats were 12-16 overall and 3-15 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

From his first game at McKendree, a 90-78 win over Westminster College back in November 1966, Statham helped lead the Bearcats’ program into conference, regional and national spotlights.

Statham guided the Bearcats to the postseason 41 times, including 15 appearances in the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship.

The Bearcats reached the national quarterfinals three times under Statham, including a Final Four berth in 2003 when they had the NAIA Division I Player of the Year in 6-foot-11 center Matt Laur. McKendree lost in the semifinals to Concordia, Calif., at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

"I couldn't have been more fortunate than to play for a legend like that," said Laur, the Freeburg High coach who remains McKendree's all-time leading scorer with 2,874 points and shot-blocker with 560. "He's a guy that did things by the book and did things his way. I certainly learned a lot from him, not only about the game of basketball, but the game of life, spending those years with him.

"It's certainly sad to see (Statham leave). To think about that program without him sitting on the bench or working the sidelines is certainly a tough thought."

Laur said the Final Four season "was such a fun year."

"The team we had certainly wasn't the most talented team or one of the foremost talented teams in the NAIA, but we played so well as a unit," Laur said. "That's one of the things Coach did so well. He recruited players that fit together and could play together as a team. Cohesive units. That's exactly what we were. Several of us on that team got accolades, but none of us cared. It was a situation where at the end of the night, we wanted that 'W.'

"We didn't care who had how many points, who had how many rebounds. It was about getting that win and then go hang out together."

Six times in his career, Statham led McKendree to at least 30 victories in a season, including a school-record 35 wins in the 1987-88 campaign. The Bearcats won 20 games or more 35 times.

"Harry Statham’s contributions to McKendree University both on and off the court are extraordinary," McKendree President James M. Dennis said. "He is a prominent figure in the history of McKendree University athletics."

Statham began his coaching career as an undergraduate at McKendree. He guided the boys basketball team at O’Fallon Junior High School while taking college courses at night.

After graduating from McKendree in 1960, Statham moved on to the University of Illinois, where he was a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball and track teams. He completed requirements for a master's degree in physical education before embarking on a high school coaching career.

Statham coached at Manito Foreman High School from 1961-63 before moving to Dwight High School. He stayed at Dwight three years before returning to McKendree.

Statham earned Coach of the Year honors in the American Midwest Conference eight times. McKendree left the NAIA ranks after the 2010-11 season and began competing in Division II as a member of the GLVC.