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Published: Friday, 5/11/2012

COMMENTARY

UT's Nichols entering MAC hall of fame

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

The Mid-American Conference's Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1988 and 52 athletes, coaches, and administrators were honored over the next seven years.

And then, well, nothing. The MAC's hall has been the sound of silence since the most recent induction ceremony in 1994.

It wasn't like it ran out of worthy honorees. That was proved Thursday when the conference announced it was blowing the dust off the busts and adding some fame to the hall.

Worthy honorees? How about Ohio's Mike Schmidt, the greatest baseball player to ever be spawned by the MAC? How about Wayne Embry, a basketball star at Miami and in the NBA, where he became its first African-American executive? How about Ben Curtis, a Kent golfer who won the British Open?

How about Bob Nichols? The only thing more surprising to me than the MAC suddenly remembering it has a hall of fame was the realization that Nick isn't already in it.

"When they called me, I was told they hadn't had an induction since '94," Nichols said Thursday. "I said, 'Wow, really?' But I'm honored. They are inducting a wonderful group of people, and I feel fortunate to be there."

The feeling should be mutual. Nichols lettered in basketball for three years at the University of Toledo, was there for the Rockets' first-ever season as a MAC member (1951-52), and was co-captain a year later. The three years he lettered the team went 58-25. Nichols returned as UT's head coach in '65, and he stuck around for 22 years, winning more games than any coach in MAC history, before or since, with an overall record of 376-212.

"I feel so fortunate to have been able to be a student and then a coach at such a fine school," Nichols, 81, said. "If you're a college basketball coach and have the good fortune to have the kind of players we had, well, you end up in a hall of fame.

"It was a matter of great players and good assistant coaches, in particular Bob Conroy and Jim McDonald. Bob was a very good recruiter who brought us players with character and discipline. Jim had a great knowledge of the game and was a fine teacher."

Nichols posted 20 winning seasons at UT, won five MAC titles, stunned Iowa in the 1979 NCAA Tournament, and beat defending national champion Indiana in Centennial Hall's 1976 debut.

Ask him his greatest memory or accomplishment, though, and this is what you get:

"I've always been most proud that a large percentage of our players graduated and went on to be great citizens," Nichols said. "We have five medical doctors, several engineers, educators, even a university president. Our players became tremendous people who do good things in their communities."

A few of them followed in Nick's footsteps and became coaches. Tim Reiser spent 25 seasons with boys' basketball at Springfield High School.

"I used a lot of his philosophies coaching at the high school level," Reiser said. "He instilled intensity, playing hard, execution, showing respect, and being a class act in how you represent your school. Coach Nichols didn't get in your face a lot, but you knew you needed to do things the right way. And we did those things for him, if for no other reason.

"I'm happy he's going into the MAC hall. I'm sort of surprised he isn't already there."

Exactly.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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