With the college basketball regular season less than a week old, we figured it was the perfect time to reflect on an era of Pitt men’s basketball: The Ron Chipman Years.
Wait … Roy. Roy Chipman.
Just a slip of the tongue — or fingers — but it’s pretty similar to the verbal missteps of Pitt Athletic Director Cas Myslinski, who, Post-Gazette sports editor Phil Musick wrote in April 1980, referred to the Panthers’ new head coach as “Ron” during Chipman’s initial introduction with the Panthers.
Myslinski name-dropped “Ron” on three more occasions, and several in the room snickered at the repeated mistake. But Roy didn’t waver. He was the man of the hour, regardless of his name, and it was time to start talking Pitt.
“I hope that we’re able to be highly competitive in our league, and in four or five years, close to parity with the football program,” Chipman, who previously was head coach at Hartwick and Lafayette colleges, said during his first media luncheon.
The Panthers were certainly that. Pitt captured Eastern 8 Tournament championships in 1981 and 1982.
But perhaps Chipman’s biggest task was leading the basketball program into the much tougher Big East Conference, which had formed a few years earlier as a league for so-called “basketball” schools in the northeast. The conference thrived over the next three decades, even sending three teams to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Final Four in 1985 (Pitt made the tourney that year, but lost in the first round.)
Thanks to the money football generates and numerous conference realignments, the Big East that college basketball fans came to love (or loathe) eventually disintegrated, existing now without mainstays such as Pitt, Syracuse and Connecticut and with programs as far west as Nebraska.
Looking back, Chipman may not have been able to deal with the constant change and financial considerations that come with college athletics these days.
During his sixth season at Pitt, after recruiting Panthers legends such as future Big East Player of the Year Charles Smith and Jerome Lane (send it in, Jerome!), Chipman announced he would step down at season’s end — at 47 years old.
There were a few murmurs about how Pitt landed such big-name recruits. But mostly, Chipman was “tired” and said he wanted to “do something different.”
“It has nothing to do with Pitt,” Chipman was quoted saying in a Dec. 18, 1985, Pittsburgh Press story. “It has something to do with the state of the art. And the state of the art stinks.
“The damn game has become too important.”
Chipman went 102-76 in his six Panther seasons. His successor, Paul Evans, led the team to Big East championships in 1987 and 1988, building on the foundation laid by Chipman.
The former coach later succeeded in the business world and founded his own packaging company, Chipman Group L.P.
He died in 1997 at his Allison Park home, but not before making a name for himself and the Panthers.
Oh, and Ron, too.