Colgate Coach Jack Bruen Dies
Dec. 19, 1997
HAMILTON, N.Y. (AP) _ Jack Bruen stalked the Colgate sidelines bearlike for nine seasons, his feisty and animated style endearing him as one of the school's most admired and successful coaches.
Not even his life-and-death battle with pancreatic cancer could sideline him from doing what he loved to do: coach.
On Friday, six days after coaching his Red Raiders to a final victory, Bruen died at home, surrounded by his wife and children. He was 48.
``Knowing Jack, his idea of a happy death would be a solid lead in basketball game,'' said Morgan Wootten, the eminent high school coach who first hired Bruen as an assistant in 1972 and opened the door to his professional career.
``That was the love and his life. There was none better than Jack Bruen,'' said Wootten. ``Just a magnificent human being. A giant of a man.''
Before Bruen's arrival, Colgate had endured 14 straight losing seasons. Bruen led the Red Raiders to a share of three Patriot League championships and their first NCAA tournaments in 1995 and 1996 while compiling a 109-124 record.
His 1992-93 squad won a school record 18 games and he was twice named the league's coach of the year. His biggest star, Adonal Foyle, was the No. 8 pick in last year's NBA draft, the school's first first-round player.
While Bruen had a brash and sometimes funny coaching style, he converted the Red Raiders from a laughingstock into a solid program.
``Rarely has a coach transformed a program the way Jack Bruen transformed Colgate basketball,'' said university president Neil R. Grabois.
``Whether he had his jacket on or had taken it off to emphasize a point, Jack was a recognizable figure _ and tough _ but his players appreciated that his style was always meant to get the best out of each of them.''
To mark Bruen's passing, the school canceled its women's basketball game at home Friday night against Cornell and the men's game Saturday at Harvard, said Bob Cornell, the school's sports information director.
The team, now being run by assistant Paul Aiello, will attend Bruen's funeral, tentatively planned for Monday, then play Seton Hall in a tournament in the Meadowlands that night.
Bruen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late October but decided to continue coaching. Half of pancreatic cancer patients die within six weeks of diagnosis, and few make it more than six months to a year. Bruen's father died of colon cancer in 1990.
He attended his last practice Tuesday, his once-hulking frame diminished by chemotherapy. He coached his final game Saturday at home _ a win against Marist.
``He went out a winner in more ways than one,'' said Cornell. ``It was an intimate game. A lot of his former players came back. A lot of his friends from all over the country were there. I think everybody pretty much realized the chances were that it was probably going to be his last game.
``He showed tremendous courage right to the very, very end,'' he said.
A Manhattan native, Bruen played point guard at Power Memorial High School alongside Lew Alcindor, who later became known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Before arriving at Colgate in 1989, Bruen coached seven seasons at Catholic University, where he played as a three-year starting guard from 1969-72, and three years at Archbishop Carroll High School. At Catholic, he was 110-72, led it to its winningest season in school history, and was named conference coach of the year once.
Bruen's first coaching job came under Wootten at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. Wootten has sent nearly a dozen assistants on to jobs at Division I schools and coached a number of NBA players, including Adrian Dantley.
``The first day I meet him, I met him in the DeMatha gym. We shook hands, and then we just stood there and talked for about 30 minutes. I've never done this before. After 30 minutes I said `Jack, I'd love to have you join our coaching staff,''' said Wootten, who has coached a summer basketball camp with Bruen for the past 25 years.
``He just came across ... his sincerity, his enthusiasm, his wholesomeness _ all the good things you look for in a human being,'' Wooten said.
Bruen is survived by his wife, Joan; an 8-year old son, Danny; and a daughter, Kristen, who is a senior at Virginia Tech.