For the second straight year, the Memphis Tiger family has lost one of its legends. Almost exactly nine months after the passing of Larry Finch, Hall of Fame coach Gene Bartow died late Tuesday at his home in Birmingham. The 81-year-old Bartow had been battling stomach cancer.
Bartow coached what was then called Memphis State to the 1973 NCAA championship game where the Tigers fell to UCLA in what remains the most significant game in the program's history. Bartow was the bespectacled commander of a team that rose with the development of Finch and fellow Memphian Ronnie Robinson. Today, banners for all three hang from the rafters at FedExForum. Bartow was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, the same year he was diagnosed with cancer.
After coaching four seasons in Memphis and one at Illinois (1974-75), Bartow was chosen to succeed the legendary John Wooden at UCLA. He led the Bruins to the 1976 Final Four, but then departed to start the basketball program at UAB, where he coached from 1978 to 1996. The basketball arena where the Blazers play was renamed in Bartow's honor in 1997. (UAB hosts Memphis this Saturday at the annual Bartow Classic, an event that raises money for the Coach Gene Bartow Fund for Cancer Research.)
In 34 seasons as a college coach, Bartow won 647 games. He later joined the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies and FedExForum.