Legendary basketball coach Billy Tubbs, an icon of the sport who won four Big Eight Coach of the Year awards in the 1980s while at the University of Oklahoma, died after a years-long battle with leukemia on Sunday morning. He was 85 years old.
Tubbs’ family announced his passing Sunday afternoon in a statement on OU’s Twitter page, wherein they revealed he had been battling a form of leukemia since 2015.
“Though his passing represents a tremendous loss for everyone close to him, our family is comforted by the knowledge he lived an extremely spirited life full of outstanding accomplishment in and out of sports,” the family said in its statement. “Many are aware of his remarkable achievements as a basketball coach, but we will remember him for way more than all of his wins, conference titles and NCAA Tournament success. He was a fierce competitor in everything he faced, and that was never more evident than in his final days.”
Tubbs won 609 games as a college basketball coach during an illustrious career that spanned from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. His biggest success came at OU, where he went 333-132 as Sooners coach from 1980-1994. During his time in Norman, Oklahoma, he won two Big Eight Tournament titles, four Big Eight regular-season races and led OU to nine NCAA Tournament appearances. In that span, he led the program to two Elite Eights appearances and, in 1988, helped the Sooners break through to the national title game. They lost 83-79 in the final to Kansas, the team widely remembered as “Danny and the Miracles,” a reference to Danny Manning and his otherworldly performance throughout the tournament.
Tubbs began his career at Lamar — where he finished off his playing career in 1957 — as an assistant coach. He left the school in 1971 for Southwestern, but returned in 1976 to become the head coach. He then left Lamar in 1980 for Oklahoma, but as fate would have it, Lamar got his final coaching energies; he returned to coach there in 2003 and formally retired in 2011. The school dedicated the Montagne Center floor the “Billy and Pat Tubbs Court,” named in the honor of him and his wife.
At Lamar, he found success few others could have. He led the Cardinals to three regular-season championships in the late 1970s, and twice led them to NCAA Tournament appearances. Their only Sweet 16 appearance in the history of the program came under his watch, when in 1980 they took out Weber State and Oregon State before falling to Clemson. Per Lamar, Tubbs was scheduled to hold a Facebook Live event on Nov. 10 to “talk about LU basketball and their careers.”
Tubbs coached a total of 17 NBA Draft picks, seven All-Americans — including legendary in-state star Wayman Tisdale — and twice won National Coach of the Year honors. He coached a quick, efficient and electric brand of basketball that matched his personality. As the Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten wrote: “Tubbs was known for his colorful personality, quick wit and verbal battles with game officials. He was known also for great offensive basketball.”
“While Billy will always be known for having teams with legendary players who wreaked havoc on defense and scored a lot of points, he’ll also be remembered for his quick-witted humor and charm,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a statement. “His one-liners and joyful charisma helped define the persona of the coach we loved.”