50 years later, Dick Vitale still a Detroit legend

Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1973, the University of Detroit hired Rutgers assistant coach Dick Vitale to be its new head basketball coach. Yet to be known at the time, Vitale would become the voice of college basketball and help make the sport into what it is today, but his time in Detroit was nothing short of the standard. 

Hank Durkin, who was a student reporter for The Varsity News for Vitale’s introductory press conference, recalled his initial impressions.

“He had incredible enthusiasm,” Durkin said. “Mr. Enthusiasm, that’s him. That is what he is like all the time. There is no off switch.” 

“Dickie V,” as he later came to be known in homes across the country, led the Titans to a 79-30 record in four years at the helm, which saw the Titans win 21 games in a row during the 1977 season, including beating eventual champion Marquette, and culminated in a Sweet 16 birth. 

Following the season, Vitale had short stints as the University of Detroit’s athletic director and as head coach of the Detroit Pistons but found success in broadcasting. Initially against the idea, Vitale accepted a broadcasting position with the newly founded and relatively unknown ESPN in 1979. On Dec. 5 of that year, he would call ESPN’s first basketball game at the University of Wisconsin against DePaul. 

50 years later, Vitale’s legacy carries on with both those that were there when he stepped onto campus in spring of 1973 and those who run up and down the court with his name on it a half century later. 

Durkin, who graduated that same spring and had moved to Florida to take a journalism position there, spoke of the energy of the program when Vitale was around. 

“The level of excitement was there,” Durkin said. “I was 800 miles away and I could feel it.” 

That same energy that almost recruited the likes of Moses Malone and put Titans in the rafters was unfortunately not able to be sustained, as the university “didn’t have enough resources to utilize what we had back then,” according to Durkin. In the time since, the Titans have not advanced farther in the postseason since his departure. 

Current head coach Mike Davis could not speak higher of Vitale.

“Dickie V is not just a national name but a worldwide name,” Davis said. “What he has done is special and he is the voice of college basketball. You walk in every day and see his name on the floor and when you think of Detroit, you think of him.” 

Davis, who has accomplished a lot in the sport himself, had his praises of Vitale echoed by Athletic Director Robert Vowels.

“It speaks volumes having his name on the court here,” Vowels said.

Vitale’s legacy has spanned far beyond his time in Detroit, and he has gone on to do a variety of things both within his analysis and teaching of the game of basketball and his impact on the world form his gracious personality and kindness. Vitale has continued to support the university and had the court of Calihan Hall dedicated in his name in 2011, preserving his place as a Titan for life.