Joe B. Hall, who succeeded legendary coach Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and led the Wildcats to a NCAA men’s basketball championship, has died at the age of 93.
Hall is one of only three men to both play on and coach an NCAA championship team (1949, ’78) and the only one to do so for the same school.
“It is with great sadness we share the passing of the great Joe B. Hall,” the Kentucky men’s basketball team tweeted. “Our hearts are with the Hall family. We love you, Joe B.”
Current Wildcats coach John Calipari tweeted that Hall was “my friend, my mentor, and an icon in our state and in our profession.”
During his 13 years as Kentucky coach, from 1972 to 1985, Hall led the team to 297 victories. The most memorable was the 1978 NCAA title in which Hall led the Wildcats to their fifth championship. Hall followed in the colossal footsteps of Rupp, who won 876 games over 41 seasons at Kentucky.
Hall had coached at Central Missouri State and Regis before Rupp offered Hall a chance to come to Kentucky. Rupp first offered Hall a job as his recruiter, but Hall turned it down, instead wanting to be a floor coach.
Later, when they were at the same clinic. Rupp invited Hall to his room and offered him an on-the-floor assistant coaching job. This time, Hall accepted.
“To be back here as an assistant was a dream,” Hall had said.
Only one more time did Hall almost leave Kentucky. Rupp’s retirement was approaching, and Hall wasn’t getting the support he wanted to be the next head coach. He took a head-coaching job at Saint Louis, but Rupp begged him to stay, Hall once told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Hall had played under Rupp and served as his assistant for seven years before being elevated to the top role — though Rupp continued to loom large by maintaining an office in the building and his own TV show in the state.
Near misses in the years following the 1978 title bothered the fan base — blowing a sizable lead to Georgetown in a 1984 national semifinal was a big one — as did the growing share of the regional and national spotlight achieved by Denny Crum at Louisville and Bob Knight at Indiana.
The then-56-year-old Hall resigned as Kentucky coach in March 1985, saying, “I didn’t want to be an old coach.”
Hall was named National Coach of the Year in 1978 and SEC Coach of the Year four times. Hall’s record at Kentucky was 297-100, and he was 373-156 over his career.
After retiring from coaching, Hall remained a beloved figure in the state. As recently as 2018, he attended about three Kentucky practices per week and was a courtside fixture during home games at Rupp Arena. A statue of Hall sits in front of Wildcat Lodge, where the men’s basketball players live.