Mears from the 1967 Volunteer
November 8, 1926|
|Died||June 11, 2007
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
Ray Mears (November 8, 1926 - June 11, 2007) was an American collegiate basketball coach at Wittenberg University (1957-1962) and the University of Tennessee (1963-1977). His career record of 399-135 (.747) still ranks among the top 15 all-time NCAA coaching records for those with a minimum of 10 seasons. Mears is largely regarded as the father of Tennessee Volunteers basketball, and was known for his trademark orange blazer, which he wore during games. Mears is also credited with coining the phrase "Big Orange Country."  Mears was born in Dover, Ohio and was married to the former Dana Davis. They had three sons: Steve, Mike, and Matt. Ray Mears Boulevard in Knoxville, Tennessee, the city where he died, is named for him.
Mears played college basketball at Miami University as a walk-on, graduating from there in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in education. He was also a member of the Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity. He earned his master's degree at Kent State University while coaching at West Tech High School in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of the Miami University Athletics Hall of Fame and contributed to Miami University's national reputation as the "Cradle of Coaches."
Mears first coached at Cadiz High School in Harrison County, Ohio in 1949, where he doubled as head basketball coach and assistant football coach. In 1950, he left Cadiz for a two-year stint in the Army, returning to the head basketball coaching position at West Tech in 1952. That team won the district championship and finished second in the city of Cleveland. Mears spent four successful years at West Tech.
Mears next moved to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio as head basketball coach, assistant football, and head tennis coach. In six seasons at Wittenberg, he led the Tigers to four Ohio Conference titles and a 121-23 record. It was at Wittenberg where Mears developed his reputation as a great teacher of team defense. For three seasons, Wittenberg was ranked No. 1 in defense in the country and produced two first-team All-Americans. In 1960-1961, the Tigers won the small college basketball title. Mears was named the Ohio Coach of the Year in 1960.
From Wittenberg, the 35-year-old Mears traveled to the University of Tennessee, becoming one of the NCAA's most successful coaches during his 15-year stint there. He compiled three Southeastern Conference championships between 1962 and 1977  and an overall winning percentage of .713. Mears was twice named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1967 and 1977. He coached 12 All-Americans at UT, including NBA stars Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld.
After King and Grunfeld left in 1977, Mears, who had battled depression for several years, sat out the 1977-78 season. Under the watch of interim coach Cliff Wettig, the Volunteers struggled to an 11-16 record, and Mears officially retired due to health reasons after the season.
He retired in 1977 after 21 years of college coaching and a 399-135 record with no losing seasons and a .747 winning percentage. After leaving coaching, he served for 10 years as athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT-Martin).
One of the prime achievements of Mears' tenure at Tennessee was the introduction of the phrase "Big Orange Country" to the Volunteer fans. Before his arrival, Tennessee fans almost never wore orange away from the field or court. As an Ohio native, Mears recalled the Steubenville "Big Red" and liked the name and all it implied. The Volunteers, Knoxville, and the rest of East Tennessee took the concept to heart.
Indeed, years later, longtime Vols radio voice John Ward said that many of Tennessee's athletic traditions originated with Mears. For instance, the longstanding tradition of the football team running through a "Power T" formed by the Pride of the Southland Band originated with Mears having the basketball team run through a giant "T" as they took the court. He was also responsible for "Rocky Top" becoming Tennessee's de facto secondary fight song.
Mears was also remembered for his innovative pregame shows. Mears would often, particularly for big away games, walk the entire perimeter of the floor in his Big Orange sportcoat, both engaging and enraging opposing teams' fans. He also had to have green jello for the pre-game meal. Once at an away game the team was eating at a restaurant and the restaurant thought it would be funny to make orange jello. Mears got very mad and the man had to go to the store, buy green jello, prepare it, and serve it. It turns out UT won the game by a couple of points. Coach said it was the green jello. Ray Mears was a coach to numerous legendary Vols players. He was one of the SEC coaches (Adolph Rupp- UK, Dale Brown- LSU, C. M. Newton-Alabama and Vandy, Rick Pitino- UK, Wimp Sanderson- Alabama, and Nolan Richardson- Arkansas) that raised the league to one of the U.S.' best basketball conferences.
|Wittenberg Tigers (OAC) (1956-1962)|
|1958-59||Wittenberg||19-3||13-1||1st||NCAA Division II Sweet 16|
|1960-61||Wittenberg||25-4||10-0||1st||NCAA Division II Champions|
|1961-62||Wittenberg||21-5||10-2||NCAA Division II Great 8|
|Tennessee Volunteers (SEC) (1962-1977)|
|1966-67||Tennessee||21-7||15-3||1st||NCAA Midwest Regional 4th Place|
|1968-69||Tennessee||21-7||13-5||2nd||NIT Consolation Final|
|1973-74||Tennessee||17-9||12-6||2nd||CCA 1st Round|
|1974-75||Tennessee||18-8||12-6||T-3rd||NCI 1st Round|
|1975-76||Tennessee||21-6||14-4||2nd||NCAA 1st Round|
|1976-77||Tennessee||22-6||16-2||T-1st||NCAA 1st Round|
National champion Postseason invitational champion