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Uncomfortable questions with the founder of Coaches vs. Cancer, Norm Stewart

UnknownAs a distinguished undergraduate of the University of Kansas, class of very recently, it comes with great sports disgust to have to interview former University of Missouri Junior College basketball coach Norm Stewart.

Alas, this is a good man who has led a great cause for man years. Twenty years ago, Stewart started the Coaches vs. Cancer. He is 79, and current gave me some time during a vacation he had with his family in California.

How are you today: I'm good. I had (cancer) in 1989, and that's been 25 years. 

How did Coaches vs. Cancer start? A person had an idea. His name is Jerry Quick; he was with the American Cancer Society. He is a former basketball player and he came to me and said, 'I have an idea. I need somebody with visibility and start a 3-point program.' So we gave money for every 3-point shot the team makes.
My mother had died of cancer. I was coming off having it. So we did that and in a couple of months we raised about $300,000. And the amazing part is no one gets paid. All the coaches who serve do in their own time and in their own way.

Is this your legacy or coaching players? They are different. I hope this has a better legacy because I do want to find a cure. They are getting better; the death rates are going down. This is the way people should see a coach - not as someone who is out on the floor and yelling at players, but for doing something who cares about humanity.

ImagesWhat do you remember about your own cancer diagnosis? They told me it was malignant. I go on percentages, so I asked my doctor, 'What do I need to do to get into the right (percentage)?' I had to see psychiatrist and he asked me if I was thinking about dying. I said, 'No. I'm thinking about living.' It does bring your mortality into effect and you do examine everything.

Did it change your behavior? It did for a while. Eventually, I did continue my same patterns.

Miss coaching at all? I think everybody has to choose a time and that’s what I did. Since I made that decision I didn’t look back and I haven’t. I could have coached longer but I didn’t see a necessity. Maybe I would leave a different way. 
One thing that happened is that a person lost an opportunity who deserved (the Missouri job). I could have created it for that individual. The thing I did miss was practies. That was the classroom. I liked practice.

Norm_stewartThe way the sport is today, would you want to coach it? I never did coach high school basketball. I had a wonderful high school coach. He had more influence on me than my parents. I admired the high school coach and still do but I think they are the craziest group of all – they have no support. None. And a teacher today has no support.

Do you follow the tournament today? Where is my (bracket?) My family and the grandkids are with me, and I have a grandson who always wins. He pays attention. I'm third or fourth.

Was it true that you never spent a dime in the state of Kansas? Oh, no. My wife's address is in Kansas. Two or three years ago, we went to Kansas City to watch our grandsons play football. Our daughter flew in and she lost her wallet and cell phone. It wound up in Lawrence. I had to call a good friend in Lawrence, and the police chief, and they eventualy got it.
I eventually called (Kansas head coach) Bill Self, and he picked it up. He said, 'Norm, for somebody who wouldn't spend a dime in Kansas  you have a lot of people who work for you.'"


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Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were the same way about spending money in their rival's state. Legend has it that Woody preferred to run out of gas rather than fill the tank in Michigan on road trips. Rah-rah sis boom bah.

Troy claycamp

Nice interview, one thing all Jayhawks can agree on is supporting Coach Stewart's efforts.


Please join Coach Norm Stewart, Fran Fraschilla of ESPN and many NCAA coaches at Coaches' Huddle, benefiting the American Cancer Society, on Friday, April 4 at The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas during Final Four weekend. For more information and to purchase tickets please visit

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