Walt McPherson, an immensely talented multi-sport athlete, the winningest coach in San Jose State basketball history, a Legend in the University's Sports Hall of Fame and former commissioner of the West Coast Athletic Conference died on January 12 at age 96 in Santa Rosa.
Mr. McPherson was a 1939 San Jose State graduate that enrolled at the College in 1934. He earned eight varsity letters - three each in baseball and football and two in basketball. He was a fullback for the 1936 through 1938 Spartan teams that compiled a 27-7-1 under Coach Dudley DeGroot. Mr. McPherson was captain of the 1938 team that finished with an 11-1 win-loss record.
"He's a legend - a real legend. He did everything at San Jose State," said former San Jose State basketball head coach Dan Glines, the Spartans head coach during the 1967 though 1971 seasons. "There are unbelievable stories on how he influenced people."
McPHERSON TALKS ABOUT COACHING & HIS PLAYING DAYS
"The most important thing was the opportunity to work with so many people, and the friends we made," Mr. McPherson said in a 2001 interview. "The wins and losses are important, but not as important as the friends.
"When I played basketball, after every basket, we had a center jump," he said about his college playing days. "In football, we played offense and defense."
THE SAN JOSE STATE COACH
Upon graduation, he was named to the San Jose State coaching staff. In a 20-year coaching career, Mr. McPherson was regarded as a sound tactician, a builder of character with high moral and ethical standards, and, above all, one of college sports great gentlemen.
Mr. McPherson was the head coach of the men's basketball, baseball and men's golf teams and an assistant football coach. He was an assistant football coach for the 1941 Spartans, but was not with the team in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7.
In his 17 seasons as the men's basketball coach, the Spartans had a win-loss record of 264-208. San Jose State advanced to the third round of the 1948 NAIA national championship, the second of 1949 NAIA national championship and the 1951 NCAA Western Regionals. The Spartans were the first West Coast member at-large to participate in an NCAA Tournament.
Mr. McPherson is the only San Jose State men's basketball coach to direct three Spartan teams to 20-win seasons (1948, 1949, 1950). His players included All-Americans Stu Inman and Carroll Williams, who would go on to coaching careers at San Jose State and Santa Clara, respectively; Bobby Crowe, who went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters; Jack Avina, who would be named head coach at the University of Portland; and San Francisco 49ers great Billy Wilson.
“He cared a great deal for his players,” said center George Clark, team captain of the 1952 basketball team, in a 2006 interview. “He had a wonderful memory and remembered the names of his players long after they graduated. He followed their careers and knew the names of their wives. He was like a life-long counselor.”
SERVING AS COMMISSIONER & A NAVAL COMMISSION
After retiring from coaching, Mr. McPherson served as the San Jose State athletics director in 1960 and the director of physical education from 1960 through 1968. While the San Jose State director of physical education, he also was the commissioner of the West Coast Athletic Conference (now known as the West Coast Conference).
Mr. McPherson dedication and service to San Jose State was interrupted by three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II in which he achieved the rank of lieutenant.
A SHORT LIST OF HONORS
A member of the San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame, he was accorded Legend status in 2002. In December 2003, The Event Center basketball floor, home for the San Jose State men's and women's basketball teams, was renamed Walt McPherson Court. Mr. McPherson was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, January 19, at the Oak Hill Funeral Home & Memorial Park, 300 Curtner Ave., San Jose, CA 95125.