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Marv Harshman's Husky Legacy

A look back at the Husky coaching career of Marv Harshman and his impact on the program.

Marv Harshman with his former player Lorenzo Romar
Marv Harshman with his former player Lorenzo Romar

With the passing yesterday of Husky Legend Marv Harshman, it's a good time to take a look back at his career at the UW and the impact he had on the program.

For many Husky basketball fans, their knowledge of the program begins and ends with the Lorenzo Romar era. That's understandable given that Romar took over a program that had struggled for nearly 2 decades, with only sporadic moments of success sprinkled in, and then proceeded to lift the program to the greatest period of success since the 1940's (and arguably the greatest era period, but that's a debate for another time).

But for those of us that have been around longer, Marv Harshman was the benchmark to measure future Husky coaches by, and until Romar arrived, they all failed to meet that mark.

Harshman was already a local legend by the time he arrived in Montlake. Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Harshman grew up in the PNW, graduating as a multi-sport star at Lake Stevens High School. He went on to be a multi-sport star at Pacific Lutheran University, garnering All-America recognition in basketball and being drafted by the NFL; in all, he earned 13 letters in 4 sports. After a 3-year stint in the Navy, he returned to his alma mater in 1945 to coach basketball (he was also tapped to coach their football team starting in 1951). Within 3 years he had the Lutes rolling with 11 straight winning seasons with 5 seasons of 20+ wins (including a 28-1 season), and ended his career there with 4 straight conference titles. He compiled a 235-136 record at PLU before being lured away to Washington State College to replace Cougar legend Jack Friel.

Harshman's time in Pullman was more difficult, but by his 9th season there he had them placing 2nd in the conference to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, and followed that with 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd place finishes before slipping to the bottom of the conference during the 1970-71 season. At that point, with his Athletic Director leaving and coming off a tough season, he was ripe for the plucking, and that's just what Washington Athletic Director Joe Kearney did, to the lasting anger of Cougar fans.

Harshman was hired to replace Tex Winter who had been hired away to coach the Houston Rockets of the NBA. While Winter had been only modestly successful in his 3-year stint with the Huskies (going 45-35), he left behind a talented roster that included three future NBA players in guards Charles Dudley, Louie Nelson and center Steve Hawes. Those three helped lead Harshman's first Husky squad to a 2nd place finish (again to John Wooden's Bruins) and a 20-6 record. Unfortunately in those days the Pac-8 only sent the conference champ to the NCAA Tournament, so the Huskies were denied the opportunity to continue their season.

Hawes was the first of what would be a string of many successful pivots for Harshman at the UW. A senior, he averaged 21.0 points and 14.0 rebounds per game before being drafted in the 2nd round (and 24th overall) by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dudley was drafted as well, leaving Sr. Nelson as the start of Harshman's 2nd Husky squad. While he averaged 23.0 points and was supported by F Ray Price with 15.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, the Huskies struggled in-conference going 6-8, bringing their overall record down to 18-11. Nelson was drafted in the 2nd round, 19th overall by the Capital Bullets.

His 3rd squad (1973-74) featured the debut of C James Edwards. Edwards, a local product from Roosevelt H.S. in Seattle, took over starting duties as a freshman, though the team was led by Sr. Price at F (14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), F Larry Pounds (16.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and G Clarence Ramsey (16.1 ppg). That team picked up in game in the Pac-8, finishing 7-7 and 16-10 overall. Price went in the 4th round, 64th overall to New Orleans.

The 1974-75 team was a balanced group that featured five players averaging double-figures in scoring. Edwards progressed from 6.8 ppg/4.6 rpg as a freshman to 12.3 ppg/7.5 rpg as a sophomore. Ramsey led the team in scoring at 17.8 ppg, and the primary 6th man was Jr. C Lars Hansen (who had started the year before Edwards arrived). The team though didn't make any gains, finishing 6-8 in conference and 16-10 overall. F Larry Pounds was selected in the 5th round, 87th overall by Golden State.

Things finally came together for the 1975-76 team. Led by Sr. G Ramsey, Sr. F Hansen, Jr. C Edwards and So. PG Chester Dorsey, they finished 2nd in the Pac-8 (to - wait for it - John Wooden's UCLA Bruins) at 10-4 and were 23-5 overall. Edwards had become the star of the team, leading them in scoring at 17.6, followed by Ramsey at 15.8. This squad was notable nationally in that they were the last team to defeat a John Wooden coached team (Wooden would retire after the season, having collected his 10th National Championship) as the Huskies whipped the Bruins 103-81 in Hec Ed. By this point the conference had relaxed their rules regarding the NCAA Tournament, and the Huskies made their first appearance since the 1952-53 Final Four squad led by Bob Houbregs and coached by Tippy Dye. They lost by 2 to Missouri and failed to advance. Hansen was drafted in the 3rd round (37th overall) by Chicago, while Ramsey went in the 4th round (54th overall) to Kansas City.

Edwards was the focal point of the 1976-77 team as the Sr. C averaged 20.9 ppg and 10.4 rpg. But that wasn't enough to get the Huskies back in the Tournament as they fell back to 8-6 in the conference and 17-10 overall. Edwards was drafted in the 3rd round, 46th overall by Los Angeles, and of course went on to have a very long NBA career playing 19 years and appearing in 1,168 games (38th all-time).

Without Edwards in the middle, Harshman's next two squads struggled, finishing 6-8 (14-13 overall) in the last year of the Pac-8 and then 6-12 (11-16 overall) in the first year of the Pac-10. F Kim Stewart was drafted off the 1977-78 team, going in the 6th round (128th overall) to Los Angeles. The 1978-79 squad was notable for the debut of one Lorenzo Romar at G. Romar, a JC transfer G from L.A. wasn't sure where to go and had sought the advice of retired legend Wooden; the Wizard of Westwood steered Romar to his good friend Harshman.

Things paid off the following season as Romar's play at PG helped the Huskies rebound to a 9-9 Pac-10 record (18-10 overall) and their first NIT invite (they lost badly to UNLV). Romar was then drafted in the 7th round (141st overall), and despite the low draft spot, he carved out a 5 year career in the NBA. That squad also featured gentle giant Petur Gudmundsson, a 7'2" C from Iceland. Gudmundsson was a foreign exchange student that played at Mercer Island H.S., and while Harshman had difficulty getting the big guy to play with the aggressive style favored in America, he would mine the foreign exchange student route in future years to much greater success.

The 1980-81 squad suffered a number of close losses and slipped to 8-10 in the Pac-10 (14-13 overall) despite strong seasons from F Andra Griffin (19.4 ppg) and G Bob Fronk (16.7 ppg). Gudmundsson, Griffin & Fronk were all drafted, going 3rd round (61st overall), 5th round (99th overall) and 6th round (129th overall) respectively.

In 1981-82, the Huskies bounced back. A scrappy and balanced squad with 4 guys averaging double-figures, they finished 11-7 in the Pac-10 (19-10 overall) and returned to the NIT. This time they won their opener (over BYU) before dropping their 2nd round game vs. Texas A&M, losing by just 4 points. And making his debut that year was a skinny kid from Leverkusen, Germany (by way of Centralia H.S.) by the name of Detlef Schrempf. Drafted from that team were F Dan Caldwell (3rd round), G Steve Burks (8th round) and C Kenny Lyles (9th round).

Schrempf ascended to the starting lineup as a So., joined in the frontcourt by Fr. F Reggie Rogers and F Paul Fortier. But despite the presence of Jr. PG Alvin Vaughn, the 1982-83 team fell back to 7-11 in the Pac-10 and 16-15 overall. G Brad Watson was drafted in the 5th round. But the bigger news was the signing of another import - C Christian Welp from Delmenhorst, Germany (by way of Olympic H.S. in Silverdale).

With Schrempf, Vaughn, Rogers & Fortier now joined by Welp in the middle, Harshman had what was probably his most talented squad as a Husky coach, and they did not disappoint, finishing in a tie for 1st place in the conference at 15-3 with Ralph Miller's Oregon State Beavers. That marked the first time the Huskies had finished at the top of their conference since the 1952-53 Final Four team. It also earned them their 2nd NCAA Tournament appearance under Harshman, and they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 6 seed by defeating Nevada and Duke before being upset by Dayton. That left the 1983-84 team with a 24-7 overall record.

With Schrempf, Fortier & Welp all returning, the 1984-85 squad had an imposing front line. But bruising F Reggie Rogers took his talents full-time to Don James and the football team, and Harshman didn't have a natural PG to replace Vaughn. Still, the talents of Schrempf, Fortier & Welp were enough to again lead the Huskies to a 1st place tie in the Pac-10, finishing at 13-5 and earning their 2nd straight NCAA Tournament berth (a first for the program). However the 5 seed Huskies were defeated by Kentucky as they failed to advance, and they finished the season 22-10. Schrempf was then drafted in the 1st round, 8th overall to Dallas.

It was also a bittersweet season for the 67-year old Harshman. Despite the recent run of success for the program, University President William Gerberding had decided that the program needed a younger, fresher face to lead them and forced Harshman into retirement - a decision that was highly questionable at the time, and it only looks worse in hindsight.

Harshman had taken over a program that had only been modestly successful prior to his arrival. While Washington had a great run in the first half of the century under Husky Legend Clarence "Hec" Edmundson, momentum had tailed off greatly after the Final Four squad and Bob Houbregs gone; coach Tippy Dye struggled to replicate that success and gave way to John Grayson, Mac Duckworth and Tex Winter; combined, they had gone 62-98 in conference and 155-154 overall, finishing no higher than 3rd place in the conference during that stretch.

By comparison, Harshman compiled a 122-102 mark in conference and 246-146 mark overall, with 2 conference titles, 3 NCAA Tournaments and 2 NIT Tournaments under his watch. But rather than let Harshman make the call to decide when it was time to hand up his coaching duties, they made the call for him, and the program sunk to even lower depths than it had been prior to Harshman's arrival.

Harshman still ranks 2nd all-time in wins among Husky coaches behind Hec Edmondson and just ahead of Romar, and is clearly one of the top-3 coaches in Husky history.