WSSU Loses A Legend As Clarence "Big House" Gaines Passes Away At The Age Of 81

April 19, 2005

Winston-Salem, NC - Legendary Winston-Salem State University basketball coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines passed away on Monday evening, April 18th, 2005 at the age of 81 following complications from a stroke that he suffered over the weekend.

Coach Gaines was admitted to the Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC on Friday of last week suffering from heart problems, according to WSSU Athletic Department officials. He was released on Saturday afternoon but was re-admitted later that evening.

Lisa Gaines McDonald, the daughter of the legendary coach, told the Associated Press last evening that her father passed away at 9:10 PM on Monday, possibly from the complications of a stroke.

"Big House" Gaines was a national coaching legend at Winston-Salem State University where he led the Rams to 18 20-win seasons and guided WSSU to eight Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) titles. In 1967 he led WSSU to a 31-1 record and coached the Rams, and future NBA star, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, to an NCAA Championship, making the Rams the first basketball program from a historically black college or university to capture an NCAA national championship.

Gaines was named the CIAA's coach of the year a record five times during his 47-year coaching career at WSSU. Over the span of those 47 seasons, Gaines compiled an overall record of 828-447, good enough to place fifth in wins in NCAA history behind Dean Smith (North Carolina), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky), Bob Knight (Texas Tech and Indiana) and Jim Phelan (Mt. St. Mary's). He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

A native of Paducah, KY, Gaines was born on May 21st, 1923. He graduated from Lincoln High School and would then attend Morgan State University on a football scholarship. Though he was a standout football player who garnered All-America honors twice, Gaines was, by his own accounts, "a very average basketball player." Despite his self-proclaimed mediocrity on the court as a player, Gaines would go on to become one of the greatest collegiate basketball coaches in history, as he is still, to this day, the winningest African-American coach in NCAA history.

Clarence "Big House" Gaines Of WSSU Passed Away At Age 81 On Monday, April 18th, 2005

Following his graduation from Morgan State University, Gaines would take a job as the head football coach at WSSU (then Winston-Salem State College), a position he would hold for three years (1946-49). Gaines would then become the Rams' head basketball coach in 1949. He would complete his MA in Education from Columbia University in 1950 and would, that same year, marry the former Clara Barry to whom he would be married up until his death on Monday evening. Gaines would serve as the Rams' head coach for 47 seasons until his eventual retirement following the 1993 season.

Gaines would graduate nearly 80 percent of his players over that 47-year span while winning nearly 65% of his games, sending several to the NBA, most notably, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. Gaines was named to several basketball halls of fame including the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and his namesake adorns not only WSSU's C.E. Gaines Center where the Rams play their home basketball contests, but adorns WSSU's C.E. "Big House" Gaines Athletic Hall of Fame.

"Nothing anyone can say about Coach Gaines can really sum up the impact he had on Winston-Salem State University or the collegiate basketball world. Since I came to WSSU as an assistant coach in 1998, Coach Gaines has always been a huge supporter of everything that we have done, and he has been an invaluable resource in terms of his basketball knowledge and his spirit", current WSSU Head Men's Basketball Coach Philip Stitt said late Monday evening.

"He was a legend. He knew more about basketball than anyone I have ever met, and I, and my coaching staff, tried to get our young men around him as much as possible. His passing is a huge loss for the University, the Winston-Salem community, and anyone who is a fan of college basketball. Nothing that we do to honor him could possibly be equal to what he was meant to this community." Stitt said.

Visitation for Coach Gaines will be held at the KR Williams Auditorium on the campus of Winston-Salem State University from 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM on Friday, April 22nd, 2005 with the memorial service being held at 2:00 PM.

Russell Funeral Home is handling all the arrangements for the visitation and memorial service and can be reached via telephone at (336) 722-3459. The Gaines family has requested that no floral arrangements be sent to their residence or the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that those who wish to do so, donate to the C.E Gaines Endowed Scholarship Fund at Winston-Salem State University by sending contributions to:

Donor Records Office
311 Blair Hall
Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem, NC 27110

For additional information as it becomes available, contact the WSSU Office of Sports Information at (336) 750-2143 or log on to the Official Website of WSSU Athletics at