LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The University of Kentucky athletics department lost an icon Monday night when former Athletics Director C.M. Newton died at age 88 following a long illness.
Newton coached at Transylvania, then went to Alabama and closed out his collegiate coaching career at Vanderbilt. Following his stint with the Commodores, took over the helm of the athletics department at Kentucky, where he helped restore the basketball program after it had fallen on hard times following a recruiting scandal. He served as athletics director at Kentucky from 1989-2000. Under his watch, the school added men’s and women’s soccer and softball. Revenue grew from $11.6 million in his first year to $36 million in his 11-year tenure in Lexington.
“Please keep him and his family in your prayers,” Kentucky coach John Calipari tweeted. “During one of the most trying times of our athletic department, he came to the rescue and put us on the path we are today. May you rest in peace, my friend.”
Just last week, Calipari urged prayers for Newton.
“I got to know C.M. more when he was the athletic director at Kentucky,” Calipari wrote. “We can talk all day about all that he did here and he had to do to get the program back on point, but I always come back to how he treated people. He was supportive of coaches and committed to the student-athletes. He put together a program that allowed student-athletes to get in front of business people when they graduated, so they could network and find jobs. It was his mission to succeed at a high level in basketball, but he helped all of the sports on our campus.”
Current Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart called Newton a tall figure who will be missed not only at Kentucky but in the Southeastern Conference.
“C.M. Newton is a giant in the history of the University of Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference and in the sport of basketball,” Barnhart said. “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.”
Barnhart added Newton’s love for basketball and “his contributions to the sport of basketball continue to this day.”
“As chairman of the NCAA rules committee, he introduced the shot clock and the 3-point shot,” Barnhart said. “For decades, he worked tirelessly to promote international basketball and was well-rewarded by his election to the Naismith Hall of Fame. Most of all is the impact he had on thousands of people as a coach, mentor, and friend. He understood what it meant to be a servant-leader and will be dearly missed. Our condolences and best wishes go out to his wife, Nancy, his children Deborah, Tracy and Martin, and the family and friends.”
Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) offered his condolences.
“Today, the Commonwealth of Kentucky lost C.M. Newton, a Hall of Fame legend in college sports. As a player, coach, and administrator, C.M. was a trailblazer who helped integrate teams and develop the game of basketball we know today. His leadership at the University of Kentucky inspired a renewed sense of excitement that fans continue to enjoy throughout the Bluegrass State.
“With respect and dignity, my friend C.M. created a legacy of excellence that will carry on for years to come. Elaine and I join countless players, fans, and loved ones to remember C.M’s remarkable life and to send our deepest condolences to his family.”
Calipari said he always felt welcomed around Newton and “treated me as a part of his family.”
“After I became the coach at Kentucky, he always made a point to call me or spend time with me when we were in Alabama,” Calipari said. “He has always been willing to share advice and give me good counsel. His son, Martin, who I consider a dear friend was at the center of me being hired at Kentucky. I would imagine C.M. was in the background somewhere. He is one of the people I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to for helping me prepare for and achieve my dream job here at Kentucky.”
Newton hired Rick Pitino to Kentucky in 1989 and later brought Tubby Smith to Lexington as the first African-American men’s basketball coach at the school when Pitino left for the Boston Celtics in 1997. Newton also hired Hal Mumme to revive the school’s struggling football program. Newton signed the first black athlete at Alabama and installed a first all-black starting five in the Southeastern Conference five years later. He also hired the first black women’s basketball coach — Bernadette Locke Mattox — during his tenure at Kentucky.
Prior to his coaching career, Newton played at Kentucky under the late Adolph Rupp, where he was a member of the school’s national championship team in 1951 and was a member of the Kentucky baseball team.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.