🎙 The Jayhawker Podcast | Ted Owens

Episode 27: Ted Owens | July 16, 2020

This week The Jayhawker Podcast spotlights the life and coaching career of Ted Owens, as KU’s 4th-winningest coach celebrates his 91st birthday.

Owens spent 19 seasons as the Jayhawks’ head man, and in that time recruited some of the greatest players to ever wear the Crimson & Blue. In all, he helped produce five All-Americans – all of which have their jerseys hanging in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.

With legendary names like Wesley, White, Robisch, Stallworth, and Valentine leading the way, Owens was able to win six Big Eight titles, five Big Eight Coach of the Year awards and make two trips to the Final Four.

It’s a resume more robust than perhaps Owens gets credit for. Afterall, when you’re one of just eight coaches all-time in a blue-blooded program’s illustrious history (and five of those eight are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame), it’s easy to get overshadowed a bit. But Owens is comfortable with his place in Kansas history and even with all he accomplished on the court, takes even greater pride in the influential role he got to play in the lives of all the young men he coached during his tenure.

“The older you get, the more you recognize that the most important judgement of you as a coach is, ‘Have you had the kind of influence on the young men you had the opportunity to coach?’ and ‘Have you helped them to live meaningful and productive lives,’” described Owens. “That’s the final judgement of us as coaches. Wins and losses are important and so forth, but what has happened in their lives? Have the lessons you taught helped them to be productive?”

Owens enriched the lives of countless Jayhawks during his more than two decades on Mount Oread (he also spent four seasons as an assistant to Dick Harp, prior to taking over the program in 1964). He did plenty to propel the great tradition of Kansas Basketball including assembling the 1966 team that famously lost to Texas Western in controversial fashion on a Jo Jo White game-winning shot that was wiped off the board by one official who thought White had stepped out of bounds.

“Whether Jo Jo was in bounds or out of bounds when he shot the ball (determined) who won the national championship that year,” recalled Owens. “I think those were the two best teams in the country. So, I was very fortunate early in my days to have a good team and then pick up a couple of players that helped us to have a great team and help us to kind of restore the greatness of Kansas Basketball.”

Owens is right. That team – led by two All-Americans (White and Walt Wesley) – put Kansas Basketball back on the map nationally after a brief swoon late in Harp’s tenure, and had the controversial call not been made, the legacies of both Owens and his 1966 Jayhawks would have been remembered much differently.

“It’s hard to claim you were one of the great teams when you didn’t win it all,” admitted Owens. “But this truly was one of the great teams in Kansas Basketball history.”

Owens would have many more great teams including the 1971 and 1974 squads – the ’71 bunch led by All-Americans, Dave Robisch and Bud Stallworth. Then there was the 1978 team – the year Owens won National Coach of the Year – led by a future All-American, freshman Darnell Valentine, that was upended by UCLA after a 24-4 regular season.

So how did Owens land so many legendary players? We go inside the recruitment of his five All-Americans in this episode. Some of the stories of their arrival at Kansas might just surprise you.

“Sometimes you are able to recruit someone as the result of great organization and persistence and all of that,” described Owens. “And sometimes, with the great ones – it’s really the great ones that are the easiest. They have confidence. They know they can play. They don’t worry about who you are recruiting. They just want to know that you’re going to have a great team, and a challenge and so forth.”

In this edition of The Jayhawker, KU fans will learn about a great Kansas leader whose thumbprints are all over the tremendous KU Basketball tradition and whose legacy extends far beyond what was accomplished on the court.