Written by Jimmy Wilder for The Banner Years 2013...
Cal Luther’s hiring in 1958 as Murray State head coach led to a renaissance in Racer basketball that produced more than wins, Ohio Valley Conference championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances. His fiery demeanor and up-tempo, ball pressure style of play were fan friendly, making tickets to games in 5,500-seat Racer Arena a coveted possession.
And at Luther’s behest, president Dr. Ralph Woods and the Murray State Board of Regents gave their approval in 1961 for him to recruit African American players. It was a decision that forever changed the landscape of the OVC and positioned Murray State to become a presence on the national stage.
“When I came to Murray I was too young to know how hard it would be to get the program going again,” said Luther, who replaced Rex Alexander at the age of 29. “But I wanted to be a Division 1 head coach and Murray had a lot of appeal to me.
“I worked my butt off to build a championship program,” he said. “I had some good times and some tough times, particularly in my early years. The fans were great, and I was blessed to be able to coach some really good players. I have wonderful memories and friendships from my days at Murray State.”
What follows is a capsule look at Luther’s 16 years as Murray’s head coach.
His 241-154 record represents the second most wins in school history, surpassed only by the 267-100 mark compiled by Carlisle Cutchin, the school's first coach.
His teams were 173-38 in Racer Arena, where they had a 27-game winning streak, beginning Nov. 30, 1968 against Texas-Arlington (91-83) and ending Feb. 28, 1970 against Western Kentucky (75-77). Western’s victory completed a perfect 14-0 OVC title run for the Hilltoppers, while Murray State finished 9-5 in the league and in second place.
Luther had fourteen consecutive winning seasons and his teams won four OVC championships.
In 1964 and 1969, Luther's Racers earned automatic invites to what was then a 25-team NCAA Tournament.
He was selected OVC Coach of the Year in ‘64 and ‘69, making him the league’s first two-time recipient.
Luther’s 13-10 squad of ‘60-61 was 2-0 against OVC champion Morehead State, which beat Xavier 71-66 in the NCAA Tournament and lost to Kentucky, 71-64.
His 1961-62 team defeated Eastern Kentucky, 82-80 in Richmond on forward Jim Jennings’ jumper just ahead of the buzzer, ending the Colonels’ 38-game home court win streak.
His 16-9 Racers of ’63-64 claimed the Ohio Valley Conference title and earned Murray’s first ever appearance in the NCAA tourney. But he was hung in effigy on campus in January of ’64 after the Racers lost at home to East Tennessee State, 62-61 in two overtimes, dropping their league mark to 2-3 and their overall record to 7-7. Luther's team then won its last nine OVC games to finish two games ahead of league runner-up Eastern Kentucky in the standings (one of Murray’s wins was against East Tennessee State, 96-76, on Feb. 24).