I met Coach Billy Tubbs in 1984. I was 13 and he had just hired my dad to become an assistant coach for the University of Oklahoma men’s basketball team. At that time I was happy for my dad, but selfishly I was also a little bit upset. The reason? Because I had spent the first 13 years of my life an Oklahoma State Cowboy fan. I hated the Sooners!
I spent five very formative years in Stillwater from 1973-1978 (home of the OSU Cowboys) bleeding orange and black, and cheering on Cowboy greats like football players Terry Miller and Ernest Anderson, and basketball players Leroy Combs and Matt Clark. Now, like a gang member taking up a new residence, I was being forced to trade in the orange and black for crimson and cream. I was becoming a Sooner.
When we arrived in Norman, OU basketball was on the verge of greatness. The 1983-84 team led by sophomore All-American Wayman Tisdale had just given Coach Tubbs his first regular season Big Eight Championship finishing 13-1 in conference (at Iowa State being the lone conference loss). The Sooners lost in the Big Eight Conference Tournament finals that season to Kansas and then were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Dayton 89-85 to finish a promising season at 29-5.
My parents bought a house on Riverside Drive. Coach Tubbs and his wife Pat lived just around the corner on Joe Taylor Circle. I’d occasionally spend a hot summer day over there enjoying their backyard pool. My parents would spend an occasional evening over there enjoying some beverages and discussing the latest in OU basketball. One thing we did after arriving at OU was win, win, win, and with his Jack Nicholson southern twang, and fantastic story-telling Coach Tubbs became a fixture in our lives.
The Tubbs had two children – Tommy, a back up point guard on the OU team, and Taylor, their younger daughter who would also attend OU and become a member of the OU pom pon squad in the mid to late 80’s. Tommy was a senior when we moved there, and in his words “not good enough to play on that team.”
There were many summer days when my dad and I would play golf at the local Trails Country Club and Coach Tubbs and Tommy would make it a foursome. The funny thing about our foursomes is that I always recall Tommy playing with range balls that he would gather off the practice range before we teed off. Back in the 80’s, The Trails was narrow and on many holes if you weren’t in the fairway, you were not going to find your golf ball amongst the wild grass that they let grow in the rough areas. I’ve heard many times that Billy had boxes and boxes of new golf balls in his garage, but because of Tommy’s penchant for hitting them wayward he refused to give him any. “They’re still finding balls I hit into the south Canadian River to this day!” said Tommy Tubbs in a recent phone call.
Left picture: Tommy Tubbs bottom right. Right picture: Taylor Tubbs with my sister Kari on the left and her friend Mikel McCurdy on the right.
Those six years flew by, and just those six OU teams in particular won 31, 26, 24, 35, 30, and 27 (173 total) games respectively behind a man to man pressing team that ran up and down the floor and took the first open shot they had. Many throughout college basketball just called it “Billy-ball.” Those same six Sooners teams won four regular season Big Eight Conference championships, three conference tournament championships, and every one of those six teams advanced to at least the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with the 1987-88 team advancing all the way to the national championship game losing a flukey national championship game to a red-hot Kansas team (sorry Jayhawk fans, but that OU team wins at least 8 out of 10 times, maybe nine).
My dad has countless “Billy Tubbs stories” of which I’m sure are actually true. He loves to tell of the time they were at Kansas State and at halftime of their game my dad tells the story of Billy asking him to find a pay phone and to call his wife Pat back in Norman. Upon doing this Billy proceeds to ask her something to the effect of if we were getting screwed by the officials on tv as bad as we were in person. Of course, Billy’s conversations with officials are legendary with the most iconic coming from 1989 when the Sooners hosted Missouri before a raucous crowd in the Lloyd Noble Center.
There’s so many things to love about this video. Where do I even begin. You have the legendary college basketball announcer (and longtime family friend of ours) New Jersey’s Bill Raftery doing commentary for the game, and a classic “that’s unbelievable!” reaction. There’s one of the all-time officiating greats, Ed Hightower who retired in 2013. We see and hear from longtime OU radio announcer and Sports Information Director, Mike Treps (who passed away in 2014), on the public address system. And of course you have Billy’s awesome announcement to the crowd, the crowd’s reaction, and Billy’s even-better incredulous look after getting hit with a technical following the announcement. Just classic. Plus, another Sooner win followed this 112-105 that day.
Tommy told me that Billy was baptized in the Arkansas River during his stay as a youngster at Fort Chaffee near Ft. Smith, Arkansas, before he moved to Tulsa. His mom worked cleaning and replacing linens at the Fort and then was offered the same role at a new laundry facility in Tulsa. So that’s what brought them to Billy’s hometown of Tulsa. It wasn’t an easy road for Coach Tubbs as he had lost both his mother and his father by the time he was 14. He persevered to the tune of countless victories at Lamar and OU and TCU, and coach of the year honors four times in the Big 8. More importantly though, he had a successful marriage of 62 years, and raised two children and lived to see many grandchildren as well.
Looking back now, I am so happy that my dad became a member of the OU coaching staff. It enabled me to make lifelong friends from 8th grade through high school graduation in Norman. I was able to play high school basketball against and with some of the best players the state had to offer. It indirectly led me to meeting my future wife. And, oh yeah, I was able to watch some of the best basketball (and football too) that the University of Oklahoma has arguably ever had. I was afforded the opportunity to witness some great basketball from incredible seats. I was able to travel with the team to Kansas City, and Birmingham, and Tuscan, and to Hawaii.
And of course I was afforded the opportunity to spend a lot of time around one of the greatest characters and college basketball coaches of all-time. But he was more than just a character wearing a black hat in the world of college basketball (a role I think he relished). He was more than a one-liner or a funny quote. He was a survivor. He was an underdog. He was a competitor. He was a top dog. He was a husband, and a father, and a friend, and a winner. He and the Tubbs are family, and that will never change. The world of college basketball just became a little less interesting and a little less fun with the passing of Billy Tubbs.
“Down in Norman, Oklahoma, ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain.”
Well, there’s definitely some pain being felt today after the passing of Coach Tubbs at the age of 85. But let’s go back some 37 or 38 years when this song was released. I don’t know who wrote or sings this song, (which is a parody of Waylon Jennings’ “Waylon, Willie, and the Boys,”) but they did a mighty fine job.
When I spoke with Tommy Tubbs recently, he told me that he had visited with Regina Tisdale, wife of the late, great Wayman Tisdale, who passed away from bone cancer in 2009. Regina told him that when Billy transitions to that next life that Wayman will be there with that big smile on his face welcoming him.
That’s a wonderful thought and I’m sure a reunion of Heavenly sorts awaits Wayman, Billy, and the boys…
Thanks for reading, prayers to the Tubbs’ family, and RIP to one of the best to ever do it, Billy Tubbs.