His animated sideline rants led opposing fans to implore former Missouri coach Norm Stewart to just “Sit down, Norm.” On Sunday, Norm could finally stand up and be recognized as one of college basketball’s winningest coaches.
Stewart, a two-time national coach of the year, joined such all-time greats as Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the newest members of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
For Stewart, the honor caps a career that included eight conference championships, 16 NCAA tournaments and 17 seasons with 20 or more wins. His 731 career victories ranks in the top 20 all-time among Division I coaches.
“I’m very humbled, pleased, proud and excited,” Stewart said before the induction ceremony in Kansas City. “I had a great time playing the game, and a great time coaching it.”
A native of Shelbyville, Stewart was a captain for the Tigers basketball team as well as a pitcher on the 1954 Missouri baseball squad, the school's only national champion.
He played one season of professional basketball for the St. Louis Hawks and spent a year in the Baltimore Orioles' minor league system after graduating in 1956 before returning to Missouri as an assistant basketball coach a year later.
Stewart moved on to become head basketball coach at what is now Northern Iowa. He spent six years in Iowa before Missouri athletic director Dan Devine lured him home to take over an anemic program that had gone 6-43 in the previous three years.
Stewart remained at Missouri for 32 years. His strong connections to the Show-Me State would come to define Stewart, who coached five All-Americans and collected 634 of his career wins at his alma mater.Friends, colleagues, former teammates, ex-players and university leaders turned out in force Sunday night. Stewart estimated the crowd of supporters at several hundred strong, including dozens of former players and 17 family members.
Whatever the numbers, Stewart drew some of the loudest applause of the night, starting from his introduction. Broadcaster Dick Vitale noted Stewart’s efforts to help launch the Coaches vs. Cancer charity. Stewart was diagnosed with colon cancer during the 1989 season, forcing him to miss 14 games. For many years, Stewart was the organization’s public face.
Stewart joked about how time has mellowed his once-famous temper. He even acknowledged spending money in the state of Kansas, dispelling a well-worn myth that supposedly showed the depth of his dislike for his rivals across the state line.
“There’s a lot of good people in Kansas,” he admitted.
For all his success, Stewart never reached the Final Four, the pinnacle of acclaim for a big-time college basketball coach.
His teams twice reached the round of eight in the NCAA tournament but fell short each time, losing the Midwest Regional final to Michigan in 1976 and the West Regional final in 1994 to Arizona.
So earning the accolades of his peers with a spot in the college hall's second class of honorees was especially important, Stewart acknowledged. The college hall, which was formed last year and officially opened several weeks ago in a high-tech spot next to the new Sprint Center, is designed to honor those who may not necessarily be members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
"I'm a great believer in making sure you understand our history," Stewart said. "This gives us a chance to recognize our own."