C.M. Newton, the former Kentucky athletic director who led the program through its darkest hour, turned the Wildcats into a national powerhouse and influenced selection of the original U.S. Olympic Dream Team in 1992, died Monday.
He was 88 years old.
"An hour or so ago, C.M. Newton passed away," John Calipari tweeted Monday night about Newton, also a former head coach at Vanderbilt, Alabama and Transylvania. "Please keep him and his family in your prayers. During one of the most trying times of our athletic department, he came to the rescue and put us on the path we are [on] today. May you rest in peace, my friend."
In 1989, his first year as Kentucky's athletic director, Newton hired Rick Pitino to replace Eddie Sutton, whose tenure ended with NCAA violations and probation for the program.
Within four years, Pitino had taken the program back to the Final Four. In 1996, just seven years after Newton returned to lead his alma mater, the Wildcats won the national title.
When Pitino left for the Boston Celtics the following year, Newton made Tubby Smith the first African-American head coach in school history, 31 years after Adolph Rupp's all-white Wildcats lost to Texas Western, which started five black players, in the 1966 national title game. Throughout his career, Smith has praised Newton for giving him the opportunity to lead one of America's top programs and make history.
Also under Newton, Bernadette Mattox became the first female assistant for a major Division I men's program and the first African-American coach to lead Kentucky's women's program.
"C.M. Newton is a giant in the history of the University of Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference and in the sport of basketball," Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. "As a student-athlete, he was a national champion basketball player and star baseball pitcher. He returned to his alma mater when he was needed most and provided stability, leadership and growth for UK Athletics for more than a decade. His coaching accomplishments and honors at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt speak for themselves."
Newton, who won a national title as a player for Rupp in 1951 and played for the Yankees in the minors after his collegiate baseball career ended, earned a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 following a standout career as a coach, athletic director and influencer. The former lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force also helped form the original Dream Team as the president of USA Basketball in 1992. As a rules committee member, Newton played a key role in the introduction of the shot clock and 3-point line.
"We lost a wonderful person today in C.M. Newton," Smith, now head coach at High Point, said in a statement. "I want to first send out our dearest condolences to his wife, Nancy, his three children and all of their relatives. Coach Newton has been a mentor for me for a number of years and has guided my career from the first time I met him. He has always encouraged me and other coaches to be involved with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and help influence the game of basketball. He was a pioneer in a lot of areas, including having the courage to hire an African-American as coach at Kentucky and to recruit African-American players at Alabama. He was a man that didn't see color and was a genuine, caring man that we'll miss dearly and that we loved dearly."
The Crimson Tide won three consecutive SEC titles from 1974 to '76 under Newton and reached the postseason six times. He also was named The Associated Press' SEC Coach of the Year in 1972 and 1976 while at Alabama and again in 1988 and 1989 while coaching Vanderbilt.
"Coach Newton was a true leader in intercollegiate athletics,'' Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said. "He took risks and was willing to do the right thing, even when it was not the most popular thing. Thousands of student-athletes have been positively impacted because of his approach as an athletics director, a coach and an exemplary human being.''
Newton had three daughters with his first wife, Evelyn, who died in 1999. He is survived by wife Nancy, whom he married in 2002.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.