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December 2012: Passion marked Vitale's time at UD

By Joe MacLean
On December 31, 2012

 

 

Coach Jim Hardin's four-year contract was up in 1973 and the University of Detroit needed to look elsewhere for a new head men's basketball coach.

Hardin's four years at University of Detroit came after legendary coach Bob Calihan's long tenure. Hardin was a military man, and he brought a strict coaching style to Detroit. 

Hardin's teams rallied around defense. The style of play won some ball games, but the excitement was absent. The crowds that had gathered to watch Spencer Haywood and Dave DeBusschere and were missing. Attendance at Calihan was plummeting.

"The fans weren't into the games Hardin coached," said Ron Thayer, a 1962 UD alum and long-time Titan fan. "The athletic director didn't like the direction Hardin was

With the new job available, candidates poured in for interviews.

One man caught the attention of the athletic director before he even asked a question. That man was Dick Vitale.

Vitale was the assistant men's basketball coach at Rutgers at the time and wasn't going to be promoted.

As the interview started, Vitale interrupted and told the athletic director that first he wanted to say why he wanted the job.

"Vitale was dynamic," said Thayer. "He showed passion and enthusiasm and that's what got him the

After he was named head coach, Vitale wanted to create an atmosphere.

"Vitale brought excitement," said Thayer. "He asked alumni for money for a new floor, he turned off the lights at player introductions, gave passionate, motivating speeches and went on the radio to promote games. It was

Allen Einstein, a photographer for the Detroit Free Press who has covered the Titans since the 70s, calls Vitale Mr. Enthusiasm.

"The entire building just fueled off his passion and energy," said Einstein. "The fans responded and filled Calihan."

Vitale achieved 20-win seasons with a national schedule, and his success brought people from the city into the arena.

"People had to sit in the stairways because there was no more seats," said Thayer. "People gravitated towards his personality."

Harvey Theeck, the equipment manager for the Titans, has been a fan of the Titan basketball team since his dad first brought him to a game in 1964.

"The environment during Vitale's tenure were what a fan wants a sporting event to be," said Theeck. "A fun-filled environment where the team feeds off the atmosphere."

Some of the most memorable games for Thayer were the Marquette games. Four years in a row the Marquette game featured endings that were decided on the last basket.

"Vitale danced in the middle of the court after one of the Marquette games," said Thayer. "He brought the fun and was genuine in the process."

 

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