J. Brian McCall, who in 1958 became the University of Maine’s first full-time basketball coach, died recently at his home in Delphi, Md. He was 75.
McCall coached the 1959-60 squad to a 19-4 record and the No. 6 spot in the national small-college poll. It remains the winningest team in UMaine men’s history.
That club was led by Skip Chappelle, Wayne Champeon and Don Sturgeon. Remarkably, 11 of the 14 players on the roster that season went on to become coaches, including seven at the college level.
Chappelle went on to coach at UMaine for 17 seasons, while Leroy Chipman wound up at Pittsburgh. Don Harnum coached at Delaware, Bill Livsey at Brown and Larry Schiner at Jersey City State.
“I always thought that was a very remarkable occurrence that so many off the same team would become college coaches,” said former UMaine sports information director and athletic director Stu Haskell, a longtime friend of McCall. “They were all pretty successful at one time or another.”
McCall coached UMaine for 10 seasons from 1958-68. His teams compiled a 120-108 overall record and his .526 career winning percentage remains the highest of any Black Bear men’s coach.
McCall had winning teams in his first four seasons, ending a drought of eight straight sub-.500 campaigns prior to his arrival.
Chappelle credits McCall with getting the most out of his players with an almost militaristic coaching style.
“He was very demanding. We did our share of running, I’ll tell you,” Chappelle said.
“It was the General Patton idea,” he added. “You’d charge up the hill any day of the week, take what would come, and love it. I think I was kind of looking for that.”
In addition to his strict coaching style, McCall demanded much else of his players off the court.
McCall, a devout catholic, required his players to attend church services on road trips. Haskell said the coach planned Sunday stops in towns where the catholic and Protestant churches were in close proximity, ensuring everyone could worship.
“He was one of the finest people I’ve ever known,” Haskell said. “He was very ethical, very highly principled. He was the type of person you used to see in intercollegiate athletics.”
McCall had little or no tolerance for his players committing fouls. As a result, the Bears were twice among the nation’s leaders in fewest personal fouls.
“I think probably anyone who saw him coach or played for him would say that he was an extremely proficient coach and a real master at his craft,” Sturgeon said. “He set high standards, but was very fair in the way he dealt with people.”
After stepping down as the coach in 1968, McCall remained at UMaine for one year as an assistant to AD Harold Westerman before taking a job as the athletic director at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Haskell said McCall retired about 10 years ago.
McCall was inducted into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, then presented the same award to former players Sturgeon and Schiner in recent years.
McCall was a native of Ohio and attended the University of Dayton, where he was an All-American basketball player and also competed on the football team. He coached high school basketball, winning large-school titles before being hired to coach UMaine.