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  • A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story
  • Murry Nelson
Jenkins, Bruce . A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. Pp. xv+334. Photographs, appendices, and index. $19.95 pb.

This book was originally published in 1999 and has been reprinted in a new edition by Nebraska Press. It is insightful, historical in scope, includes interviews with dozens of sports figures and others who knew Pete Newell well and is very, very funny. Jenkins is a fabulous storyteller, and Newell's life is a fabulous story. There are few books that made me laugh out loud. This was one of them.

Newell was born in Vancouver in 1915, but his family moved to Los Angeles a year later. His mom wanted him to be in movies, and he was a child actor starting at age three [End Page 468] and continuing through seven or eight, when he managed to quit, something he had wanted to do from the start. He did feel some responsibility for providing financial assistance to the family of eight children, he being the youngest, but he simply hated the child actor's life.

Newell was a good athlete at St. Agnes High, where he played baseball, basketball, and football. He had a brief minor league career in baseball and was a merchant seaman for two years before returning to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at Loyola of Los Angeles (now Loyola Marymount). He played basketball under Jimmy Needles, the first U.S. Olympic coach in 1936, the same year that Newell entered Loyola. Newell took to Needles' analysis of the game and spent hours discussing it with him. Newell saw this as the greatest influence on his basketball-coaching career.

After graduating in 1940, Newell began his teaching and coaching career at St. Johns Military Academy in Los Angeles, where, in two years of coaching football, basketball, softball, and track, all of his teams went undefeated. Then he enlisted in the Navy and served in the Pacific until 1946, after eighteen months at Great Lakes Naval Station..

Newell's first job after the war (at the University of San Francisco) came about through the assistance of Jimmy Needles. Newell coached baseball and basketball, as well as golf and tennis some years. In 1949 his tennis team won the national championship. Newell saw himself as a teacher and professed to do little coaching. In fact, the rules at the time prohibited teams from consulting with coaches during times out. Newell's teams were taught to think for themselves and were worked into tremendous condition through his drills. The result was that his teams were always greater than the sum of their parts.

In his first two years the USF records were 13-14 and 13-11, but in 1948-1949 they went 25-5, which included a victory in the NIT Finals at Madison Square Garden. Winning three and then winning thirteen of their last sixteen games solidified their invitation to the 1949 NIT, a more prestigious tournament at that time that the NCAA, which had eight teams and was a year younger than the NIT and its sixteen teams. USF defeated Loyola of Chicago to claim the title.

The next year the team went 19-7 and lost in the opening round of the NIT to the eventual champion City College of New York, which also won the NCAA title, both of which were vacated in the famous point shaving scandals of the early 1950s. Newell's success and great reputation as a coach and person were instrumental in his being recruited to coach Michigan State, in its first year in the Big Ten. With no recruits and few initial resources, Newell managed to finish seventh, fifth, and then tied for third in the league.

In 1954 he was again sought after to return to California to coach at the University of California in Berkeley. Though he hardly recruited players, Newell continued to shape teams based on reverse motion offense, stifling defense, and overall team play. From 1-11 in the league his first year, they improved to first in the league within two years and won the NCAA championship...


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