Legendary UL coach Shipley dies
Legendary UL coach Shipley dies
Beryl Shipley and assistant coach Tom Cox, right, watch practice during their glory years at Blackham Coliseum where they Cajuns rose from the NAIA ranks to be ranked in the top 10 in America.
Beryl Shipley arrived in Lafayette to take over the basketball program at then-SLI in 1957.
In one year, he turned a program that hadn't enjoyed a winning season in eight years into a winner.
During the 15 winning seasons and seven conference championships the Bulldogs and Cajuns relished during his 16 seasons as head coach, college basketball in Lafayette went from an NAIA also-ran to the Top 10 of the NCAA ranks nationally.
Along the way, Shipley was a leader in breaking down racial barriers socially through the sport of basketball, while bringing the kind of athletic excitement from 1970 to 1973 that Lafayette hasn't experienced before or since.
Shipley's fight with lung cancer ended peacefully late Friday night in his home at the age of 84.
A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church at noon on Friday with visiting hours from 9 a.m. until the start of the service.
He leaves behind his wife of more than 60 years, Dolores, and three daughters — Marilyn, Amy and Patty.
To his closest friends, though, he left behind countless engaging relationships and lives that Shipley personally made better.
"I've said it many times," All-American Dean Church said. "I've had a wonderful life and none of it would have happened without him. He made it.
"He was just a great person who touched the lives of so many people. He genuinely cared for people. It didn't matter if you were a great basketball player or on the end of the bench."
Jimmy Dykes, a former player, assistant coach and longtime friend, said his family fully realized how many lives Shipley affected in his final days.
"His persona and image was always being a tough, hard-nosed coach," said Dykes, who will deliver the eulogy at Friday's service. "But those who knew him best knew he had a heart of gold. That was the biggest part of him. It was bigger than he was."
As a basketball coach, Dykes described Shipley as "larger than life" and ahead of his time from a strategic standpoint.
"Being a coach and being a player who played at McNeese as a freshman and then came in Lafayette, looking back, he was head and shoulders above all the coaches in that conference," said Dykes, who later was an assistant coach on an NAIA national champion and head coach at DeLaSalle in New Orleans. "He was so far ahead of the game at that time, especially on offense. He just loved the Xs and Os. He loved watching film, putting together gameplans and scouting reports."
Shipley's career record was 293-126 and headed for Hall of Fames everywhere when it all came to a crashing halt after the 1972-73 season when the USL basketball program was given a two-year death penalty by the NCAA.
Shipley never coached in college again.
"It's just such a shame that happened," longtime assistant coach Tom Cox said. "I've been around a lot of coaches and I'm telling you, he was on top of the list. His goal was to win the national championship. And I'm telling you, we were getting close.
"If that thing with the NCAA wouldn't have happened, he would have been right up there with the John Woodens in the world of college basketball. He was that great of a coach."
For decades after the NCAA sanctions, Shipley squared off with many at the university and around the community that he perceived didn't support the program through the trials.
Former player Jerry Flake, however, said his players never wavered.
"The people who played for him know what kind of man he was," Flake said. "He was a great man and a great coach. As a coach, he was as good as any in the country. I look at what some of these coaches are getting paid now and think about how little coach Shipley was getting paid back then, and it's incredible."
Jim Champagne, longtime friend and organizer of UL's 100 years of basketball celebration in January, contends that many still don't comprehend how much of an impact Shipley had on the university.
"Anyone who has any sense at all or isn't drunk would have to admit what were SLI and USL before Beryl Shipley," Champagne said. "Beryl Shipley was SLI. Beryl Shipley was USL."
Champagne said that Shipley's beef for most of the last four decades was that "he never got his day in court. He never got a chance to face the NCAA and tell his side of the story."
Before there were any NCAA sanctions, Shipley was raising eyebrows at the NCAA offices by being the first to play black players in the South.
"In retrospect, it look a lot of courage to do what coach Shipley did, but I guess somebody had to be the first," Flake said. "The funny thing is that you look at all the schools that were ridiculing us back then and they all have predominantly black players now at those schools. That's because of coach Shipley and he paid a big price for it."
Flake said the basketball team routinely required police escorts throughout their road trips.
"It was tough in those days, especially in places like Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State," Flake said. "I remember at Louisiana Tech, we ran out under a banner that read, 'Harlem Globetrotters go home.' At Northwestern State, they would throw those Coke cups with ice still in them at our coaches and the officials wouldn't do anything about it."
In fact, Champagne said there are plans for Sports Illustrated to include Shipley in a May article about courage, detailing his role in racial equality during his coaching days. There's also a documentary currently being produced locally to chronicle the social impact of Shipley's life.
Former Louisiana College basketball coach Billy Allgood played college basketball against Shipley in Mississippi and later coached against him here.
"I played against him and coached against him," Allgood said. "He was a fierce competitor. He played the same way that he coached. "Our schools played each other many times, and he was one of the finest coaches I've ever been associated with."
In many ways, Shipley and Allgood were similar in the way they handled themselves on the bench.
"We used to bet a meal on who would get the first technical foul," Allgood said. "Beryl had a phenomenal sense of humor. He was at the old Walden Gym (at LC) one night with his team preparing to play, and he came to me and said, 'Coach, how about turning on the lights so we can warm up?' I said, 'Coach, don't be a smart aleck, the lights are on.' As good friends we'd kid each other like that. In turn, I'd go to USL and say to him, 'Be sure the cows are out of the Cow Palace (Blackham Coliseum) before we play.
"I am very sorry to hear Ship passed away."
Despite the respect from coaches as a member of the LABC Hall of Fame, the state's sports writers have never elected Shipley into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
For Shipley's family and close friends, all the bitterness with that group and several former university officials left Shipley in the last year of his life.
A sermon on forgiveness months ago touched Shipley's heart and changed it forever.
"I really believe that coach Shipley's finest hour was this past week," longtime friend and UL professor Ed Dugas said. "If he was an athlete, we would have said he left it all on the field. He lived every day to the fullest with energy and passion.
"He lost all of that animosity and ill-feelings toward the people who had made him so miserable for so long."
Dykes said, "it was beautiful to see him at peace with himself and closer to the Lord than ever before" in his final days.
"Beryl Shipley's gifts to his community are unbelievable and impossible to number," Champagne said. "But the last gift he gave was the gift of forgiveness."