VandyMania Interview: Roy Skinner Part I

Roy Skinner, the winningest coach in Vanderbilt basketball history, talked with VandyMania about his players, his coaching style, and some of his favorite (and least favorite) memories.

VandyMania: You were an assistant for several years under Coach Bob Polk, and your first season, in 1958-59, you took over for Coach Bob Polk when he was recovering from heart problems. For those too young to remember Coach Polk, what do you remember about him? What kind of coach was he? 

Skinner: At the time I thought he was a super coach. I had been coaching in junior high, high school and junior college, and came to be his freshman coach, and I can't begin to say how much I learned from him. He knew what he was doing. He was an awfully good coach. I was acting coach for one year (1958-59) and then all of a sudden after working with him, I was all by myself again. I got initiated. 

VM: One thing that you were known for was recruiting guys that were good people in addition to being good players. What were you looking for when you were recruiting, in addition to, obviously, good students who could play ball? 

Skinner: Well, number one was good students who could get in Vanderbilt. It wasn't easy. At that time we didn't have the college board exam, but you still had to have 15 solid units. But what I looked for as much as basketball ability was a young man that I felt I'd like to work with. There were a few cases where, after visiting with a young man, an outstanding basketball prospect, that I decided I didn't want to coach this young man-- I felt like he wanted all the spotlight, or something else. I preferred a boy-- not country boy, but I don't know, maybe they were mostly country boys (laugh). 

VM: You had two teams that were SEC champions. The 1965 team with Clyde Lee-- was that perhaps your best team? 

Skinner: I don't know, it probably was. We got to the final eight in the nation, and should have been in the Final Four-- except we got screwed by the referees (laugh). Not the only time, but one of the times! It probably was the best team, but I had a lot of good ones. The year after Clyde graduated (1966-67) we were picked at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference and we finished second, and except for one two-point game, we would have won the conference. That probably was the most satisfying season I had. It was led by a young man named Jerry Southwood, who took over as quarterback, and he was smarter on the court than I was! 

VM: Does that Michigan game in the Final Four still haunt you today? 

Skinner: Yes, it does-- I run across something every now again that reminds me of it. I still see in the film that John Ed's [Miller's] left foot slid about six inches-- it did not come off the floor. He did not walk, but the referee said he did, and we got beat. Yes, I still remember that. I don't dream about it any more, though. 

VM: Several of your ex-players have gone on to become coaches-- one that comes to mind is Jan Van Breda Kolff. Then you had Wayne Dobbs and Ron Bargatze who coached under you. I know there are some others who've gone into coaching after having worked with you. 

Skinner: Well, there haven't been that many. And the reason is that most of them were too smart to be coaches. But I have had some really outstanding young men who have been successful, whatever their field. I am really proud of them. I feel like a big daddy, and they're my little boys. I can't believe they're grown and their children are in college. 

VM: Your style of ball-- your players all said that you were a low-key kind of coach, as opposed to what you often see today. They also said you played a style of ball that was fun to play, running and shooting. Would your style of ball still work today? 

Skinner: It sure would. I see it every season. I've watched a lot of games these days. We called it run-and-gun. That is the fun game, and to me, basketball is played for the fans. That's what the fans prefer. It used to make me sick when we would play someone that would put four players in the four corners and see how long they could hold the ball. To me that wasn't basketball. I preferred the run-and-gun and the players did too, because they got to score points. The ones on the bench, they got to get in the game because the others got tired. 

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