By Blair Kerkhoff
Next to Norm Stewart, no major college basketball coach had a greater influence in Missouri than Charlie Spoonhour, who died on Wednesday.
At Southwest Missouri State, now Missouri State, and Saint Louis University, Spoonhour created winners with a defensive brand called “Spoonball.”
Spoonhour nurtured the Bears through the early years of its Division I membership and never had a losing record in nine seasons (1983-1992). There were five NCAA Tournament teams and players such as Winston Garland and Kelby Stuckey helped the program win four league championships.
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The highlight came in 1987, when Southwest rolled to a 28-6 record and upset Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Only Danny Manning's 42 points prevented Kansas from becoming the Bears' second upset victim.
Spoonhour's jump to Saint Louis stunned Springfield in 1992. As Bears' fan put it at the time, "He's an Ozarker coaching in the Ozarks." Indeed, Spoonhour, a native of Mulberry, Kan., attended the University of the Ozarks.
But Spoonhour also loved challenges — it's why he interviewed for the Kansas job that went to Roy Williams in 1988 — and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Billikens games became a happening, and after a losing record in his first season, Spoonhour had Saint Louis in the NCAA Tournament three of the next five years.
Spoonhour retired after the 1999 season, but returned to the game in 2001, taking over UNLV. It was an odd marriage, the old country coach at glitzy Vegas. Spoonhour guided the Rebels to NIT seasons and resigned before the end of his third season, turning over the team to his son Jay.
Spoonhour finished with a 373-202 career record. Missouri State and Saint Louis have had one NCAA Tournament season each after Spoonhour left.