BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado football coach Gary Barnett called him “a great Buff.”
Former basketball player Dave Logan said he was “an excellent coach and an even better guy.”
Clearly, this one was for Sox.
Former Colorado coach Russell “Sox” Walseth died after a two-year battle with cancer Wednesday morning at his Boulder home. He was 77.
Colorado’s 83-70 win against Missouri on Wednesday was vital to the Buffaloes’ season. A loss would have dropped them to 2-4 in Big 12 Conference play, and it would have been Colorado’s second home loss to a North Division rival after losing to Kansas on Jan. 5.
Instead, the win brought them back to the .500 mark in conference play and raised them to 11-6. The win, though, had much greater significance for Colorado basketball.
Walseth is Colorado’s all-time wins leader, posting a 261-245 record in 20 seasons. He was the first coach in NCAA history to coach the men’s and women’s basketball team at the same school. He guided the Buffaloes to three Big 8 championships, and the floor at Coors Events Center is named after him.
Many consider Walseth the most important figure in the history of Colorado basketball and he was treated accordingly, with a moment of silence held in his memory before the game. After the win, Buffaloes’ coach Ricardo Patton took the opportunity to praise the former coach.
As the players shook hands and the fans began to file out, Patton grabbed a microphone at courtside and implored the crowd to stay a few minutes more.
Patton dedicated the game to Walseth, holding the ceremonial game ball above his head to award it to Walseth. He praised him as an inspirational figure and a mentor and said he hoped to be reunited with him again.
“I hope to meet Sox in heaven one day, because I know that’s where he’ll be,” Patton said to the crowd.
As Patton addressed the media later, he found it difficult to describe how important Walseth was to him.
“It puts (coaching) in perspective for me,” he said. “You worry so much about winning basketball games, so I told the players people are losing their lives and their souls and whatever else.”
Patton said Walseth’s death allowed him to realize how grateful he is to be coaching the game that is so important to him.
“Today was just one of these days to give thanks to God for what he has done for me, my family and this program,” Patton said. “Sometimes you forget how much you have to be thankful for.”
Patton said he and Walseth routinely met for breakfast at a local coffee shop on the days of Colorado’s home matchups with Missouri and Kansas State. That Walseth’s death came hours before a Missouri game was both appropriate and ironic for Patton.
Before becoming too emotional and cutting the press conference short, Patton had one final remark:
“I’ve spent a lot of time today thinking about him and I do miss him.”