Public Reaction To The Tragic Passing Of Legendary WSSU Coach

April 20, 2005

Dr. Chico Caldwell
WSSU Director of Athletics

"I was shocked to hear of `Big House's' passing on Monday evening. He will be sorely missed, not only here at Winston-Salem State University, but also in the Winston-Salem community, and the world. This is a man that will be remembered for not only his greatness on the basketball court, but for his greatness in life, as a person. His name, Clarence `Big House' Gaines is synonymous with Winston-Salem State University. He was a part of WSSU as a coach and administrator for 47 years, and will always be a part of Winston-Salem State University. The NCAA's fifth winningest coach all-time with 828 wins, he led the Rams to the 1967 NCAA national championship, helping to push WSSU to the forefront nationally. He was a true pioneer in that he helped scores of young African-American men excel and succeed in a time of intolerance as he helped to pave the way and lay the foundations that afford our current generations of young people the opportunity to succeed. `Big House' will be remembered more for his relationships with people than he will be for his basketball greatness as he touched the lives of countless young people. It would be a grave injustice to Coach Gaines to merely focus on his coaching accomplishments. Clarence "Big House" Gaines was more than a coach. He was a community leader, an educator, a mentor and a father figure. He graduated nearly 80 percent of his student athletes and remained a part of their lives long past their time at Winston-Salem State University. Winston-Salem State University was truly fortunate to have a man as great as Coach Gaines, and he will be missed. However, his legacy will live on forever."

Harold L. Martin, Sr.
Winston-Salem State University Chancellor

"Coach Gaines was an outstanding American and a true icon. Winston-Salem State University, the Winston-Salem community and the state of North Carolina owe a great debt of gratitude to Coach Gaines. He raised the profile of the university and the community not only because of what he accomplished in sport, but also because of the man he was. His was a spirit that was larger than life, but he always maintained a demeanor of humility and compassion with all who met him. He was a man who would always tell you what was on his mind. That honesty and clarity of thought served me well, as it did those who received his special brand of wisdom. His was a life well lived. Those of us who had the good fortune to have met him and gotten to know him are all the richer for the experience."

Lee Weaver Richardson
Winston-Salem State University Vice-Chancellor for University Advancement

"The name of coach Clarence `Big House' Gaines is synonymous with Winston-Salem State University to thousands of people across the country. He truly was and remains an inspiration to thousands of young people he took an interest in and tried to help through sport and others through myriad community organizations designed to uplift the human condition. He loved Winston-Salem State and the university family loved him for the man he was. His passing strikes us deeply, but we will persevere as I am sure he would have wanted."

Gregory Hairston
Winston-Salem State University director of Alumni Relations Gregory

"Our alumni across the country have been drawn closer together through our collective sorrow over the passing of Coach Gaines. He was a mighty man who commanded your respect. Many of us who attended Winston-Salem State might never have heard of the university were it not for him. He will always hold a special place in the heart of all Rams and Ram supporters. His presence will surely be missed."

Cleo Hill
Former WSSU and NBA Basketball Star

"He was a like a father to so many, and if you had a problem you could go to him, and he helped you out," Hill said. "And he even helped you out after you were done playing there. He helped all of us as student athletes - athletically, academically and socially."

Earl "The Pearl" Monroe
Former WSSU and NBA Star

He was Winston-Salem as far as all of us are concerned," Monroe said from New York, where he starred for the Knicks in the 1970s. "He was somebody who never left Winston, and his heart was in Winston and with that university. Coach's legacy will be more about how he helped create men and women while they were at Winston-Salem State. Coach knew that we all needed to get our diplomas so we could have careers outside of basketball. What I will remember most is that we were so close and played so well together - it's something that I've never had on a team before or since,"

Mary Garber
Legendary Winston-Salem, NC Sports Writer

Big House was like my brother we worked together for 50 years. Our families were part of each other. The many championships he won seem unimportant compared to the influence he had on the lives of young men and women. He was respected by people of all races and creeds. We'll never see someone like him again."

Arthur G. Affleck

"Coach was a giant among men in many ways. Upon my arrival at Winston-Salem State University in 2000, Coach Gaines was one of the people I most wanted to meet. By that time he was a gentle giant, willingly dispensing advice and offering words of wisdom and wonderful stories of former times. I did not know the man as a coach, but as a man he was decent, giving and very approachable. He often visited my office to bring checks that he had solicited on the university's behalf and to talk about ways to secure greater support for WSSU. He was talented, wise and he left an indelible mark on all those he touched. I am better for having "rubbed shoulders" with the man they call "Big House." He will be missed."

"He was a true pioneer in that he helped scores of young African-American men excel and succeed in a time of intolerance as he helped to pave the way and lay the foundations that afford our current generations of young people the opportunity to succeed. `Big House' will be remembered more for his relationships with people than he will be for his basketball greatness as he touched the lives of countless young people."
Dr. Chico Caldwell, WSSU Director of Athletics

Joli D. Robinson
Head Coach Women's Basketball N. Carolina Central University and WSSU Graduate

"I remember my first year at Winston-Salem State University as a freshman. I had him for class and I was afraid to say anything to him or even answer a question in class. He would always have a remark to anyone who answered or asked a question and I did not want him to say anything to me. I was also surprised that womens basketball was not going on and was disturbed about it. So I talk with some friends of mine to see if anyone else had the same interest as I did. They did but know wanted to ask "Big House" about it. Somewhere I got the courage to speak to him and expressed my concerns about starting a lady's team again. Of course his response at that time was "girls don't know anything about basketball and can't play. We talked for a while and as usual you always listened to what he had to say. When he finished I responded can we get a team started. He said okay, but I would have to find someone to coach us. He really did not think I would be able to do that but I surprised him. I found a student athlete by the name of Eddie Gregg who had enough courage to take on this task and from the day on we played basketball. It was exciting for us even though we are not recognized because there were not a lot of records from that time. To have had an opportunity to be surround by this great legend is something that I will always have in heart. I have always been amazed about him because he always remembered names and my name and look forward to talking to him. He would always tell me that he never thought I had in me to be a coach because of my quietness but I really fooled him. He was always great to talk with him about basketball and about the future. I really will truly miss 'Big House" just as others will but I always say this is why God allows certain individuals to cross your path in life and I am truly blessed to have him cross through my path life. My prayers to the Gaines family and the WSSU family we will miss him."

Billy Packer
CBS Basketball Analyst, and Wake Forest graduate

"Big House was an all-timer," Packer, CBS' college basketball analyst, said yesterday. "He was just a great friend, and a guy I learned a lot from. Probably when you think of Winston-Salem, nobody ever did more in that community than he did. His basketball record is probably just a paragraph compared to all the other things he accomplished as a Boy Scout leader, and as the guy who was such a pillar of strength in the early days of race relations in Winston-Salem. "He was a great teacher, a great family man, and just a wonderful person. He was just a great inspiration. He was a great coach, believe me, his coaching record speaks for itself. He took a back seat to no one in terms of understanding the game, dealing with players. Some people say, 'If he was so good, why didn't he coach in the ACC?' Well, people don't have any understanding that he was never given the opportunity. I always remember something John Thompson said when he won the national championship (at Georgetown in 1984). People asked what does it feel like to be the first black person to coach a team to a national championship? And his comment was, 'It's only because those that were far better than I were never given the opportunity.' And obviously the people he was talking about were Big House and John McLendon and many others like him."