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The Best Big Ten Basketball Coaches of the 1910s Decade

A golden age of Big Ten basketball

John Doyle Of The University Of Wisconsin
One of the stars of Doc Meanwell’s Wisconsin teams - John Doyle
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Continuing the series introduced last week, we move into the 1910s decade today. And following the complaints of one of our Sparty writers, I’ve decided to start “including” the coaches from MSU/other newcomers to the conference from the eras that predate their participation in the B1G. I’m fairly certain none of their coaches pre-B1G were any good, so I don’t think it really matters but I guess I’ll have to do my research and you will just have to read on to find out.

During the 1910-1919 era, basketball was still primarily a college activity used to keep football/baseball athletes in shape during the cold winter months in the northern US. The involvement of the US in WWI would contribute greatly to the spread of basketball not only within the US (as soldiers from different parts of the country mingled while also spreading the Spanish Flu) but also to Europe as it would be introduced to France during this time. In the Big Ten*, Ohio State would unfortunately join the conference for the 1913 season and Michigan would rejoin the conference for the 1918 season. The decade would also see 5 national championships** for the conference and one additional undefeated season that didn’t result in a national championship (naturally, Purdue was the team that was robbed).

*Technically the Big Nine for much of this era
**Championships were awarded retroactively by a committee

Outside of the Big Ten, Maryland played only sporadically during this decade. Penn State would field a team each year of the decade, but have no coach for 4 seasons. Rutgers would see the beginning of long time coach Frank Hill’s tenure but otherwise did nothing worth mentioning this decade. Michigan State’s two coaches during this decade were both over .500, but neither accomplished enough to make the rankings.

The decade would also see Joseph Raycroft’s final season at Chicago when his 10-3 record (9-3 in B1G play) would win him a 4th straight Big Ten conference championship in 1910. The 1910s were the beginning of legendary Purdue coach Piggy Lambert’s long tenure, but his successes wouldn’t really get going until the 1920s and 30s.

Embarrassment(s) of the decade:

Louis Gillesby (Northwestern Wildcats)

1906-1910 seasons. Record during decade 0-9 (all conference games)

Chicago Cubs 1932 Pennant Parade
Northwestern completed an imperfect season
Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Gillesby coached Northwestern for 4 seasons and went just 4-28 during his tenure. He is the only Big Ten coach of the 1910s decade to never win a game during the decade as all of his 4 wins came in the 3 seasons he coached in the nineteen aughts.

Stuart Templeton (Northwestern Wildcats)

1910-11 season. 4-15 record (1-12 in conference play).

Northwestern University, Artist Richard Rummel, Photogravure Print by A.W. Elston & Co., Boston, Published by W.T. Littig & Co., 1908
MNWildcat said we needed more Northwestern content on OTE
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Templeton only coached one season for the Wildcats and went a disappointing 1-12 in conference play. This was still an improvement over his predecessor.

Arthur Berndt (Indiana Hoosiers)

1913-15 seasons. 6-21 record (2-20 in conference play)

Daily Life In San Francisco Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images

Arthur Berndt had been a multi-sport start at Indiana while a student in the late 1900s, serving as the captain of the football, basketball, and baseball teams. Unfortunately for Berndt, his basketball coaching days would not go as smoothly as his playing days and the Hoosiers struggled under his wing. The baseball team went 19-17 during the same two years in which Berndt was also coaching them so maybe he wasn’t a terrible coach, just not a good basketball coach. The good news for Berndt is that he would remain employed by Indiana University until at least 1942 at which point the Internet stops keeping track of him.

Honorable mention(s):

Ewald O. Stiehm (Nebraska Cornhuskers)

1911-1915 seasons. 56-14 record (33-5 record in Missouri Valley), 3 Missouri Valley Conference North division championships (1912, 1913, 1914)

Oklahoma and Nebraska Football Game in Progress

Stiehm was the first full time basketball coach of the Cornhuskers and in his first season went 14-1, falling only to the Gophers of Minnesota. Stiehm went undefeated 3 straight years in Missouri Valley play before falling to 2nd place in his 4th season at Nebraska. He is probably better known for his football coaching days at Nebraska where he went 35-2-3 winning the Missouri Valley 5 straight years from 1911-1915. Following the 1914-15 school year, Stiehm would take his talents to Bloomington to be the athletic director and coach football for the Hoosiers. Of course, as all Nebraska football fans now know, he realized that coaching in the Big Ten was harder than coaching elsewhere and he only managed a 20-18-1 record at Indiana (5-10-1 in conference play). Stiehm also coached the Hoosiers basketball team for the 1919-20 season going 13-8 (6-4) to finish in 4th place.

Sam Waugh (Nebraska Cornhuskers)

1915-16 season. 13-1 record (12-0 record in Missouri Valley), 1 Missouri Valley Conference championship (1916)

Western Ways
Okay, so it wasn’t that long ago
Photo by MPI/Getty Images

It’s difficult to provide much information on Waugh since the Huskers dot com website says only the following about him: “Head Coach”. Still, the man did go 13-1 and undefeated in conference play in his one season of coaching basketball and that deserves mentioning.

The Top Whatever of the Decade - this decade it is 3:

No. 3: Louis Cooke (Minnesota Golden Gophers)

Coached from 1898-1924. Record during the decade: 99-49 (66-46 in conference play), 3 conference titles (1911 shared, 1917 shared, 1919 outright), 1919 Helms National Champion

Basketball Game
No idea what this picture is from, but it’s an old black and white photo of Minnesota basketball so I’m using it.

As detailed last week, Cooke had early success during the first years of Big Ten basketball. While he would follow that up with a shared conference title in 1911, the next 5 seasons were somewhat of a downturn during Cooke’s coaching tenure as they never saw less than 6 losses in a season and included 2 losing records. Cooke and the Gophers would recover in the final three years of the decade with two more conference titles and their second Helms Foundation Championship under Cooke. His overall career is arguably better than #2 on this decade’s list, but Cooke falls in the number 3 slot for the decade due to having less conference championships and a mini downturn during the middle of the decade.

If you are wondering why the Gophers were such a dominating force in early college basketball, note that Cooke came to Minneapolis in the 1890s to be the director of the Minneapolis YMCA. You may recall from last week that YMCA played a major role in the early spread of basketball. Furthermore, Minnesota played in the first college basketball game between two universities in 1895 when they played Hamline University out of St. Paul. At the time Minnesota was Minnesota A&M and the game still involved 9 players from each side on the court at the same time. But Minnesota’s early involvement in the college game and Cooke’s history with the YMCA positioned him well for a great coaching career.

Although Cooke would continue coaching into the early part of the 1920s, now is a good time to sum up his accomplishments at Minnesota since the 1919 season was the last major success of his career. Louis Cooke coached Minnesota basketball for 26 seasons from 1898 through 1924. Per Sports Reference, in 380 games his record was 248-131. Due to the lack of accurate records from the time period that is disputed. The Gophers media guide puts his all time record at 250-135-2. Others have put his record at 254-142-3 or 245-137-2. Under his guidance the Gophers won 5 conference championships and 2 national titles retroactively awarded by the Helms Foundation. His teams went undefeated 3 times. Cooke is by far the winningest coach in Gophers basketball history and has more conference titles than the rest of the Gophers men’s basketball coaches combined.

He ranks 22nd all-time in games coached by Big Ten coaches and tied for 17th in all-time wins for the conference (T17th according to Sports Reference - using the alternative records in the preceding paragraph he is either 17th or 18th). Cooke’s 26 seasons is tied for 4th most in conference history and his winning percentage of .660 is currently 11th among Big Ten coaches that coached 10+ years (with a minor losing streak by Purdue, Cooke would climb to 10th as he trails Matt Painter by only a few percentage points). Only 6 Big Ten coaches have won more conference titles than Cooke. Bonus points to the readers that can name them in the comments.

No. 2: Ralph Jones (Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini)

Coached at Purdue 3 seasons from 1909-1912. Record: 32-9 (23-9 in conference play). 2 conference titles (1911 shared, 1912 shared). Robbed of the 1912 Helms National Championship by wisconsin.

Coached at Illinois 8 seasons from 1912-1920. Record during decade: 76-30 (56-28 in conference play). 2 conference titles (1915 outright, 1917 shared). 1915 Helms National Champion

Overall B1G record during decade: 10 seasons, 108-39 (79-37 in conference play), 4 conference titles (3 shared), 1 Helms Foundation National Title.

Old Wabash Photo by Sheridan Libraries/Levy/Gado/Getty Images

Before his Big Ten coaching days, Jones was instrumental in the development of Indiana high school basketball. While still a high school student, young Ralph organized the first Indiana high school basketball team in 1899 at Indianapolis Shortridge High School. Jones would also lead both the Indianapolis and Crawfordsville YMCAs to statewide YMCA titles. From 1904-1909, Jones would pull double coaching duties as he led both the Crawfordsville HS team and the Wabash College team. His 1907-08 Wabash team went 24-0 and his high school teams would lose 1 game during his 5 year stretch coaching them. Overall at Wabash, Jones went an incredible 75-6 leading the small Wabash College over many much larger institutions such as Illinois, Notre Dame, Indiana, and Purdue.

Jones would be hired by Purdue for the 1909-10 season and win the first two of Purdue’s conference championships. His 1912 team went 12-0 (10-0 in conference), but because the Helms Foundation was drunk when determining the 1912 champion in the 1940s, they awarded that title to wisconsin instead. Purdue’s first basketball All-American, Dave Charters, was awarded consensus All-American honors under Jones’s coaching in 1910 and 1911.

Following his success at Purdue, Jones made the decision to take his talents to Champaign, Illinois instead. The 1914-15 Illini team went 16-0 and were later awarded the Helms Foundation National Championship. While at Illinois, Jones would also serve as athletic director for 2 years and as an assistant on the football staff.

Jones would leave Illinois for the opportunity to return to the high school ranks at Lake Forest Academy where he would coach football and basketball for a decade before being named the head coach of the Chicago Bears. With the Bears, Jones would 24-10-7 in 3 seasons and win the NFL championship in 1932. Unfortunately for Jones, something called the Great Depression was going on and the Bears were losing a tremendous amount of money and had to sell the team to former player/coach George Halas. To save money on a head coach, new owner Halas took up coaching duties the following year. Following his NFL days, Jones returned to college basketball at Lake Forest College (the same Lake Forest College that attended the original Big Ten Conference meeting in 1895). He would serve as the athletic director at Lake Forest and continue coaching college basketball and college football until 1946 and 1948 respectively with some breaks in his basketball coaching duties in the latter half of that time period.

During the 1910s decade, Ralph Jones won 4 conference championships and 1 national championship. Since he only coached 11 seasons during the early history of the Big Ten, his 117-43 record doesn’t get him near the top of the most games or most wins in conference history. But his .731 winning percent is 4th among coaches with 5+ seasons in the Big Ten. Including his season at Butler and his seasons at Wabash and Lake Forest College, Jones overall college basketball record was 232–106. He mentored nine All-Americans and his coaching tree includes Piggy Lambert. Jones is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.

No. 1: Walter “Doc” Meanwell (Wisconsin Badgers)

Coached the Badgers for the 1911-1917 seasons, returned to Wisconsin for the 1920-34 seasons. Record at Wisconsin during the decade: 92-8 (63-9 in conference play), 4 conference titles (1912 shared, 1913, 1914, 1916), 1912, 1914, and 1916 Helms National Champions

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Second Round
Brad Davison flopping during Doc’s first season at Wisconsin probably.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

If you were wondering why two coaches that won national titles during this decade aren’t #1 in the decade, look no further than Doc Meanwell. During his 6 seasons at Wisconsin this decade, Doc won 3 national championships and 4 conference championships. He had arrived at Wisconsin in 1911 to be the Director of the Gymnasium but took over as the basketball coach when the former coach resigned. Under Meanwell, Wisconsin went undefeated twice and had an additional 20 win season during the 1910s.

Due to his doctorate degree from John Hopkins and his 5’6” height, Walter was nicknamed “Doc”, “Little Doctor”, “Napoleon of Basketball”, “The Little Giant”, and “The Wizard”. While I think that’s far too many nicknames, his impact on college basketball during this decade can not be denied.

Doc would leave Wisconsin in 1917 to serve with the US Army in WW1. He would return to college basketball coaching at Missouri in 1918 and 1920 (did not coach in 1919) during which he won the MVC title both seasons. Following the 1920 season, he returned to the Badgers for an additional 14 seasons. But a description of those seasons and his overall career will have to wait until next week when we cover the 1920s decade.

Disagree with my order? Are you an upset Iowa fan that can’t understand why I haven’t mentioned a single Iowa coach yet in two editions of this series? Want to tell us your fond memories of these coaches - if so, I have many questions like what life was like before color was invented? Let us know in the comments.

I also want to take the time to provide a warning for Damon Evans, AD of Maryland. Please don’t use this list for your coaching search to replace Mark Turgeon. Sure these guys are highly accomplished, but they are way past their prime.



Best coaching name of the decade?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Wilbur St. John (Ohio State)
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    Guy Lowman (Indiana and Wisconsin)
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    Thomas Thompson (Illinois)
    (3 votes)
  • 29%
    "Doc" Meanwell (Wisconsin)
    (24 votes)
  • 48%
    "Piggy" Lambert (Purdue)
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    OTHER - Tell us in the comments
    (0 votes)
82 votes total Vote Now


Best coach of the nineteen tens decade?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Doc Meanwell
    (35 votes)
  • 10%
    Ralph Jones
    (6 votes)
  • 21%
    Louis Cooke
    (13 votes)
  • 10%
    A WRONG ANSWER - Tell us in the comments
    (6 votes)
60 votes total Vote Now