VandyMania Interview: C. M. Newton

Former Vanderbilt men's basketball coach C. M. Newton recently came out of retirement to accept a position as special consultant to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for men's basketball. The well-traveled Newton talked with VandyMania's Brent Wiseman recently about his new position, his personal life, his views on the current state of Commodore athletics, and more.

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Ed. Note: C. M. Newton served as Vanderbilt's head basketball coach from 1981-89, and compiled a record of 129-115. Before that, he was head coach at Transylvania and Alabama; after leaving Vandy, he served 12 years as Athletics Director at the University of Kentucky. He recently came out of retirement to accept a position as special advisor to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for men's basketball. Newton spoke recently with VandyMania's Brent Wiseman about his new position.

VandyMania: Could you explain what your new position as Special Advisor to the SEC Commissioner is all about, and how the job came to be?

C. M. Newton: Well, we're still kind of feeling it all out. I've known Commissioner [Mike] Slive for a long time. We've talked at different times, served on committees together and so forth. He called and indicated he wanted to talk about an idea he had for me to become a consultant for men's basketball. I told him I didn't want to work full-time any more... if I wanted to work, I'd have kept the job I had! But as we worked the calendar out, it worked out fine. He needed somebody in the fall, and he needed somebody in the spring... the two times of the year that I'm going to be in Tuscaloosa, which is a short distance away. The rest of the time I'm planning to be in the Bahamas! But the idea excited me. It pains me to see some of the issues and problems that we've got in college basketball, because if basketball people don't take it seriously and try to make the proper changes, people that don't understand basketball will. And if that happens, I think we've got some really serious problems.

VandyMania: What are some of the things that you perceive that the coaches are concerned about today?

C. M. Newton: Lots of things. There's still the perception that our league is a football league. You hear that all the time, because we are so good in football, and it is so well-liked in the South. But there is also the perception that there have been too many violations. There have been some strong feelings about the SEC Tournament... schedule-making, television, all the issues that come up within a league. They've got a Commissioner now who is going to hear them... maybe not always agree with them, but he's going to hear them.

VandyMania: What are some of the changes that you think will come out of your being in this position?

C. M. Newton: I really don't know... it's still too early to say. I think one thing you might see is coaches meeting more... maybe at the Final Four. Traditionally in this league we've had one meeting, and that was in the spring in Destin. I think there's an interest on the coaches' part to get together and get a consensus on what they think is important.

VandyMania: You are living today in Tuscaloosa, correct? But working for the conference office, which is in Birmingham.

C. M. Newton: Correct. I remarried a little over a year ago, and moved back to Tuscaloosa last April. We had planned to stay in Lexington but...

VandyMania: Aren't you originally from Kentucky?

C. M. Newton: No, I'm originally from South Florida. I went to Kentucky, but I coached at Alabama for 12 years, and had worked on a doctorate there. So I had a history. And then the gal I married is from there. My first wife Evelyn died about four years ago. When I decided to remarry, we were looking for a place to live, and it was hard to stay in Lexington... for a lot of reasons. We just decided that we had more mutual friends in Tuscaloosa than any other place.

VandyMania: You were quite a public figure in Lexington, weren't you?

C. M. Newton: [Laughing] Yeah, I'll tell you this... I got tired of having to answer the questions of, why are they doing this? Why are they doing that? I don't know... I'm not over there any more! In Alabama I'm far enough removed that it doesn't matter. But I loved Lexington, and I loved that university. I check in on the Internet on Kentucky.com all the time, and keep up with what Jerry Tipton is saying.

VandyMania: What are some of the biggest changes you've noticed at Vanderbilt since you coached in Nashville?

C. M. Newton: Oh golly, the facilities! It's unbelievable what Vandy has done, on the whole campus. But the men's basketball facility... Kevin is delighted with it, and should be... the practice gym, the offices, and all of that. The renovation of Memorial Gym is rather dramatic. The baseball stadium, gosh, what they've done there! I didn't get inside McGugin Center, but I've been through some of that before. But that's one big change. Also, I made my visit a few weeks after they had made their philosophical changes in the athletic department... I guess I'm one of those guys who thought Todd Turner was the perfect fit for Vanderbilt, so I've never really understood that part of it. But I did get a chance to talk with the Chancellor and others. The model they've created is not a new model. It's one that can very definitely work at Vanderbilt, with one caveat, that being, in my mind, they're ultimately going to have to hire someone to administer the athletics program. Whether you call them an athletics director, or an assistant to the Chancellor, doesn't make any difference... you've got to get someone that knows Vanderbilt, and understands athletics. The AD's job is to coach the coaches, and they may be missing that in this model. But it will work. It's a great place.

VandyMania: As you think back to your eight years in Nashville, what are some of the best memories that come back to you?

C. M. Newton: The best thing was the fan base, and the support that we had. It was really a wonderful time at Vanderbilt. The arena was always sold out. I had not really experienced that... we had really good teams at Alabama, but had never been able to get the hard-core sellouts on a regular basis that we were able to achieve at Vanderbilt. Of course it's a larger city, and it had tradition and so on. People got excited! There was nothing like coaching in Memorial Gym. I liked everything about it... sitting on the end of the court... I really enjoyed the kind of kids we dealt with... it was an expectation that they would graduate, and they all did. We were able to have some success, which made it fun. Working for Roy Kramer was a delight. The people... when I think of my really good friends, they're John Rich, Lew Conner, just on and on. Some of my very best friends are from Vanderbilt days. My wife Evelyn loved it there too. I loved the country music part of it, and I miss that. I became an Oak Ridge Boys groupie, for crying out loud!


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