Over the years, so much goes unreported, hidden behind closed doors and erased from history as though it never happened.
It is times like these in sports when the inescapable memory of those in powerful positions can recall the facts and set the record straight for all of history to enjoy and remember.
Over the past 4 decades you can include several such topics, some controversial, among UK basketball and football. You can talk about the individuals, like Lute Olson, Billy Gillispie, P.J. Carlesimo, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tubby Smith, Ralph Hacker, Ralph Gabbard, Cawood Ledford, Claude Sullivan, Adolph Rupp, Harry Lancaster, Dee Huddleston, Hal Rogers, and Wes Strader, among others.
Football has names like Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, Hal Mumme, Guy Morris, Rich Brooks and Mark Stoops. There are the big boys – C.M. Newton, Mitch Barnhart, SEC’s Roy Kramer, Texas’ DeLoss Dodds, A&M’s Bill Byrne, Duke’s Tom Butters and dozens more.
One man, Jim Host, has rubbed shoulders with powerful college sports leaders all across the country for four decades, including those mentioned above. After playing baseball under Harry Lancaster and graduating from University of Kentucky in 1950s, Jim turned a brief political career into one of the most successful college sports empires in the country.
In Episode 5 of “Conversation With Oscar Combs” Podcast series (to be uploaded Tuesday morning at 9am), Jim and I casually talk for about an hour about many of the most interesting stories/issues involving UK basketball and football over the past 40 years. It is enormously informative and equally entertaining, as only Jim Host can be.
To pique your interest:
* Host says that in 1990, then-Alabama athletics director Hootie Ingram suggested that his current coach at the time, Bill Curry, could be talked into leaving Tuscaloosa for Kentucky. A few days later, after losing to No. 2 Miami 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl, Curry resigned to accept the job at Kentucky after being recruited by C.M. Newton. Curry’s departure from Bama came after Curry’s finest year there, a No. 7 national ranking and a 10-2 record. Going into the Iron Bowl against Auburn, his club was a perfect 10-0. Bama fans had a giant “wart” on their brain when he came to a Bobby Dodd player coaching Bear Bryant’s old school. Jim explains it best in our conversation.
* Jim remembers when he talked with then-Arizona Coach Lute Olson during the 1985 Final Four about his interest in replacing Joe B. Hall as Kentucky’s head coach during weekend before Villanova shocked Georgetown in the title game. After Lute initially was introduced to UK players at Wildcat Lodge, Jim says Lute ultimately returned to Tucson when Arizona officials sweetened the salary. His wife, Bobbie, also was in ill health.
* How Rick Pitino’s money man ran the contract price for Pitino to leave the New York Knicks from a gentleman’s agreement of $450,000 to $650,000 in one phone conversation. Host came up with the money as part of Pitino’s media compensation. Later, after Pitino started missing call-in shows, Host pulled him back onto the scene by adding a 15% bonus to the deal. It worked, and both he and Host made more money.
* Then-Duke athletics director Tom Butters made a strong push to recruit UK to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Butters and C.M. Newton were members of the NCAA Basketball Committee at time. Butters won approval of all eight ACC schools. Host loved the idea, and says today that it would have been biggest move ever for UK. Hear him say why it didn’t happen.
* Jim says the worst/best thing to happen to UK athletics was when the scandal took UK down in the late 1980s, and the best thing was when UK hired Rick Pitino to bring it back. He contends no one else could have pulled off the miracle comeback in the fashion that Pitino did.
* Host says he believed Billy Donovan was all set to become head coach at Kentucky after a brief conversation with Billy during the 2007 Final Four, but that he believes Billy wanted the blessing of Rick Pitino, a blessing Host says probably never happened. Says Rick Barnes really wanted to be in play for the UK job, but never got interviewed.
* Host calls the hiring of John Calipari “the greatest hire” of all time. Says Calipari is the single best marketer in the history of college basketball.
Sit back, relax and enjoy my conversation with Jim Host, a man who has played a unique and powerful role with University of Kentucky athletics, as a player, booster and corporate entity over the past 6 decades.
You can listen to the Podcast here at www.oscarcombs.com, or by going to iTunes or SoundCloud.
Member of Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Former co-host of UK Radio Network's pregame football & basketball shows. Founder & former publisher of The Cats' Pause. Former publisher of East Kentucky Voice. Former editor of The Hazard Herald. Winner of 41 awards from Kentucky Press Association & Kentucky Weekly Press Association. Winner of 1977 U. S. Basketball Writers Association sports feature of year. Native of Hazard, Ky.