At the 1977 Final Four, St. Bonaventure coach Jim Satalin was riding high. His team had just defeated Houston to win the National InvitationTournament, and the congratulations were pouring in.
Satalin remembers one in particular. He and his wife were outside their hotel waiting for a taxi when Missouri coach Norm Stewart stopped and told Satalin how impressed he was with his team.
“I knew him, but he didn’t know me,” Satalin said. “He came up, introduced himself, and said he really liked how we played. It made me feel like a million dollars. I’ll never forget it.”
Today, Stewart helps Satalin feel like $85-90 million, and it has nothing to do with inflation.
That’s how much money has been raised for the American Cancer Society through Coaches vs. Cancer, a fund-raising enterprise that Stewart helped inspire and Satalin runs as national director.
Coaches vs. Cancer turned 20 this year, and as the NCAA Tournament celebrates its 75th birthday, Coaches vs. Cancer has ramped up its presence in Atlanta, which happens to be the home of the American Cancer Society.
Friday evening, the anniversaries and a tribute to Stewart were part of a celebration gala. In 1999, Stewart stepped down after 38 years as a head coach, the final 32 at Missouri, where he amassed 634 of his 731 career victories and won a total of 14 regular-season and conference tournament championships.
He’s been on the coaching inactive list for 14 years, but the game may not have a more active former coach.
“You know, he’s not a spring chicken,” Satalin said of the 78-year-old Stewart. “And this sucker still does more for us than 90 percent of the coaches. He’s got a guy who can do this for us, another guy who can do that for us. What can you say? He’s been amazing.”
The cause is dear to Stewart, who on a 1989 flight to Oklahoma to face the Sooners collapsed and was diagnosed with colon cancer. Stewart missed the final 14 games that season.
“Cancer,” Stewart said, “was my first look at mortality.”
He was back for the next season, though, and in 1991 Stewart was approached by Jerry Quick, who headed the American Cancer Society in Columbia. They talked about fund-raising ideas and came up with the “Three-Point Attack.” Money for cancer research would be pledged for every three-pointer the Tigers made that season.
“Jerry had come to me and said he needed somebody who is visible, and he was the one with the idea,” Stewart said. “I thought it was a no-brainer. It wasn’t a golf tournament or a banquet. It was something we could do now.”
Stewart got other schools in Missouri involved, and soon several Division I and II programs were dialing long-distance for cancer.
“A couple of months into it, we had raised more than $100,000,” Stewart said. “We knew then it was a pretty good idea.”
The final donation tally for the season exceeded $300,000.
The fund-raising efforts reached a new level in 1993, which became the official launch year for Coaches vs. Cancer — for two reasons.
In April, former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, diagnosed with cancer less than a year earlier, died, and the V Foundation was soon launched.
That helped inspire the National Association of Basketball Coaches, then based in Overland Park, to ramp up find-raising efforts. That fall, Stewart and Quick worked with the NABC to take the “Three-Point Attack” national.
In two years, more than 100 schools were shooting threes and raising millions. Nearly every high-profile coach was on board. Louisville’s Denny Crum, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Maryland’s Gary Williams were there from the outset. So was Kansas’ Roy Williams, who had lost his mother to cancer. The Kansas-Missouri Border War rivalry remained intense, but away from the floor, Stewart and Williams worked together on fund-raising events. Later, Kansas’ Bill Self and Kansas State’s Frank Martin and Bruce Weber donated to the cause.
Next month, Self will be honored at a Florida function organized by Dick Vitale for his efforts with the V Foundation.
Stewart continues to fight the battle with his wife, Virginia. In February, construction of the Virginia and Norman Stewart Center at Boone Hospital Center in Columbia was announced.
“A tremendous honor,” said Stewart, who believes it’s important to acknowledge another side to the college basketball coaching profession. This week, college basketball didn’t exactly cover itself in glory with the practice video of a maniacal Rutgers coach Mike Rice, who was fired on Wednesday.
But Friday at the gala, the best of the profession was on display.
“You watch a game on television and see guys running down the sidelines yelling at kids, and then you read the paper about the sizeable amount of money these guys are making,” Stewart said. “But that’s not the image I have of my fellow coaches. They do more and care more than people know.”
Nobody more than Stewart.