Clarence Gaines
Clarence Gaines
  • Title:
    Basketball Head Coach/Athletic Director
  • Alma Mater:
    Morgan State, 1945
  • Experience:
    47 Years


Clarence E. "Big House" Gaines, Sr. was born in Paducah, Kentucky, May 21, 1923, to Lester and Olivia Bolen Gaines. He attended the public schools of Paducah and graduated in 1941, as class salutatorian, from Paducah's Lincoln High School. He excelled academically, played basketball, was an All State football player, and played trumpet in the school band.

Although he qualified academically to attend numerous colleges and universities "Jim Crow" segregation and a suggestion by the family physician (a schoolmate of legendary Morgan State University football coach, Eddie Hurt) caused young Gaines to enroll at Morgan State University in 1941.

It was upon his arrival at the Baltimore, Maryland campus that Gaines received the nickname he is widely known by -- "Big House." According to oral accounts the school's business manager took one look at the 6 ft. 3in., 265lb Gaines and declared: "Boy, I never seen anything bigger than you but a house."

While at Morgan State Gaines received recognition as an All-American football player and participated on the basketball and track teams. Gaines graduated from Morgan State in 1945 with a B.S. degree in Chemistry intent on furthering his education and attending dental school. His college coach, Eddie Hurt, recommended he temporarily go to Winston-Salem Teachers College in Winston-Salem, NC, to become the assistant coach to Brutus Wilson (a Morgan State graduate) who coached all sports at the small southern college.

Upon Wilson's departure to Shaw University in 1946, Gaines became the head football and basketball coach, athletic director, trainer, and ticket manager. Gaines coached football from 1946-1949. In 1948 Gaines was named CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) "Football Coach of the Year" after leading the RAMS to an 8-1 season. Beginning in 1949 Gaines only coached basketball, and served as athletic director. In 1950 Gaines received his master's degree in education from Columbia University.

In 1950 Gaines married the former Clara Berry, a Latin language teacher in the (Winston-Salem) Forsyth county public school system. They are the parents of two children, Lisa Gaines McDonald, a private business consultant, and Clarence Edward Gaines, Jr., a scout for the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls.

Due to his proficiency as an athletic coach, teacher and humanitarian, Gaines has received numerous awards: CIAA Basketball Tournament Outstanding Coach Award; 1953, 57, 60, 61, 63, 66, 70, 77; CIAA Hall of Fame Inductee, 1975; NAIA Helms Hall of Fame Inductee, 1968; N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1978; CIAA Basketball Coach of the Year, 1957, 61, 63, 70, 75, 80; NAIA District 26 Outstanding Coach Award, 1975-78; Paul Robeson Award, 1980; Winston-Salem Urban League Family of the Year Award, 1973; Order of the Long Leaf Pine (N.C.); and the Silver Buffalo Award (Boy Scouts of America), etc.

During Coach Gaines' 47-year tenure as coach and athletic director at Winston-Salem State University he coached former WSSU and professional basketball greats Cleo Hill (first African-American from a historically Black college and university to be drafted #1 by the National Basketball Association -- St. Louis Hawks, 1961) and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and all-star performer) of the National Basketball Association's New York Knicks.

In 1967, as a result of his guidance and the all-around play of future National Basketball Association All-Star Vernon Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, the Winston-Salem State College, men's basketball team won the 1967 National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Division II Basketball Championship -- the first historically Black college to win a national championship. Subsequently, Gaines was named the NCAA Division II (1967) College Coach of the Year. In 1982 Gaines was recognized for his contribution to basketball by being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (named in honor of the inventor of basketball James Naismith) as a coach.

Involved in numerous professional and civic activities, in addition to his duties as athletic director, coach, and instructor, Gaines was President of CIAA Basketball Coaches Association, 1972-76; NAIA District Chairman, 1966-72; President of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, 1989; Co-founder of the Winston-Salem Youth Baseball League, Inc.,1960; Patterson Avenue YMCA Board of Management, 1969-1971; Experiment in Self Reliance Board of Directors, 1987; Winston-Salem Automobile Club (AAA) Board of Directors, 1986; founder and former administrator of the Winston-Salem State University National Youth Sports Program and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Trustees and President of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, 1989. Other activities include membership in Sigma Pi Phi Boule and Omega Psi Phi fraternities, Boy Scouts of America, Forsyth County Heart Association, United States Olympic Committee, Model Cities Recreation Committee, Rotary Club of Winston-Salem, and basketball consultant for the United States Air Force (Germany, England, Mexico).

Upon his retirement as basketball coach at Winston-Salem State University in 1993, Gaines had amassed a win/loss record of 828-446, making him the winningest active basketball coach in NCAA history, and the second-winningest collegiate basketball coach behind the University of Kentucky's late Adolph Rupp. However, following University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith's 877th career win in March 1997, coach Gaines became the third-winningest basketball coach in NCAA history behind only Adolph Rupp (2nd), and Dean Smith (1st).  

Gaines was eventually surpassed by longtime friend Jim Phelan of Mt. St. Mary¹s University (formerly Mt. St. Mary¹s College the name change took place on June 8th, 2004), placing him fourth all-time in wins in NCAA Basketball history before Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski passed both Phelan and Gaines in 2005, moving "Big House" to sixth-place all-time.

Clarence Gaines passed away on April 18th, 2005 due to complications from a stroke. He is survived by his lovely wife Clara and two children, Lisa and Clarence, Jr. Gaines' legacy at Winston-Salem State University and in the college basketball world is sure to never be forgotten.


Remembering A Legend

Cleo Hill
Former WSSU and NBA Basketball Star

"He was like a father to so many, and if you had a problem you could go to him, and he helped you out," Hill said. "And he even helped you out after you were done playing there. He helped all of us as student-athletes - athletically, academically, and socially."

Earl "The Pearl" Monroe
Former WSSU and NBA Star

He was Winston-Salem as far as all of us are concerned," Monroe said from New York, where he starred for the Knicks in the 1970s. "He was somebody who never left Winston, and his heart was in Winston and with that university. Coach's legacy will be more about how he helped create men and women while they were at Winston-Salem State. Coach knew that we all needed to get our diplomas so we could have careers outside of basketball. What I will remember most is that we were so close and played so well together - it's something that I've never had on a team before or since,"

Mary Garber
Legendary Winston-Salem, NC Sports Writer

Big House was like my brother we worked together for 50 years. Our families were part of each other. The many championships he won seem unimportant compared to the influence he had on the lives of young men and women. He was respected by people of all races and creeds. We'll never see someone like him again."

Billy Packer
CBS Basketball Analyst, and Wake Forest graduate

"Big House was an all-timer," Packer, CBS' college basketball analyst, said.  "He was just a great friend, and a guy I learned a lot from. Probably when you think of Winston-Salem, nobody ever did more in that community than he did. His basketball record is probably just a paragraph compared to all the other things he accomplished as a Boy Scout leader, and as the guy who was such a pillar of strength in the early days of race relations in Winston-Salem. "He was a great teacher, a great family man, and just a wonderful person. He was just a great inspiration. He was a great coach, believe me, his coaching record speaks for itself. He took a back seat to no one in terms of understanding the game, dealing with players. Some people say, 'If he was so good, why didn't he coach in the ACC?' Well, people don't have any understanding that he was never given the opportunity. I always remember something John Thompson said when he won the national championship (at Georgetown in 1984). People asked what does it feel like to be the first black person to coach a team to a national championship? And his comment was, 'It's only because those that were far better than I was never given the opportunity.' And obviously, the people he was talking about were Big House and John McLendon and many others like him."


Coach Gaines Record

Year                 W         L          Pct.      Title

1947                15        7          .782

1948                17        20        .630

1949                10        7          .588

1950                11        10        .524

1951                15        10        .600

1952                12        11        .522

1953                23        5          .821     CIAA Title

1954                25        8          .758

1955                21        6          .778

1956                23        7          .767

1957                24        6          .800     CIAA Title

1958                13        12        .520    

1959                17        14        .548

1960                19        5          .792     CIAA Title

1961                26        5          .839     CIAA Title

1962                24        5          .828

1963                23        7          .767     CIAA Title

1964                22        4          .846    

1965                25        8          .758    

1966                21        5          .808

1967                31        1          .969     CIAA/NCAA Title

1968                10        14        .417

1969                14        14        .500     CIAA Title

1970                20        8          .714

1971                14        11        .560

1972                18        9          .667

1973                22        7          .759

1974                14        12        .538

1975                23        7          .767

1976                24        6          .800

1977                17        11        .607     CIAA Title

1978                28        4          .875

1979                19        9          .679

1980                19        7          .731    

1981                10        15        .400

1982                15        11        .577

1983                15        12        .556

1984                20        10        .667

1985                16        12        .571

1986                15        12        .556

1987                19        9          .679

1988                16        12        .571

1989                6          18        .250

1990                9          8          .529

1991                10        14        .417

1992                6          20        .231

1993                6          17        .286

Totals             828      447      .652