Billy Tubbs UNT

Billy Tubbs, a former North Texas assistant coach who went on to become one of the top coaches in the game at Oklahoma, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

Ken Williams could sense North Texas was on the verge of turning a corner at the start of the 1975-76 season.

Bill Blakeley had just taken over as the Mean Green’s head coach and retained Billy Tubbs from Gene Robbins’ staff.

UNT immediately transitioned from playing at a snail’s pace to pushing the ball up and down the floor. A jump from a 6-20 finish in 1974-75 to a 22-4 season followed with Williams patrolling the paint.

“Coach Tubbs was a big part of our success,” Williams said Sunday. “The chemistry between the players and coaches helped. He communicated with us when we were on the floor, which made it good for us as players. We could speak freely and were listened to by the staff.”

A host of players and school officials recalled the contributions Tubbs made to UNT’s program on Sunday after he died at the age of 85 in Norman, Oklahoma, after a long bout with leukemia.

Tubbs is best known for his success at Oklahoma, where he posted a 333-132 record in 14 seasons. He took the Sooners to the national title game at the end of the 1987-88 campaign.

Tubbs spent three seasons as an assistant coach at UNT beginning in 1973.

Williams and fellow former UNT player Carl Jones called Tubbs a fun-loving coach.

“We had a lot of respect for him,” Jones said. “He would play pranks and tell jokes.”

Williams and Jones appreciated Tubbs’ attention to detail as much as his personality.

“He planned his defensive strategy way before the game started and had us in proper position,” Jones said. “That made the game easy. We were well coached. Coach Tubbs was good about preparing us.”

That preparation paid off in Tubbs’ final season at UNT. The Mean Green cracked the 100-point mark in nine games and were ranked No. 20 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll late in the year.

Williams knew Tubbs wouldn’t be at UNT long as an assistant coach.

“Coach Tubbs needed to be a head coach,” Williams said. “I really enjoyed playing for him, especially my sophomore year. We were on the same page.”

Tubbs took over as the head coach at Lamar in 1976 before making the jump to Oklahoma in 1980. He later coached at TCU and returned to Lamar, where he also served as an administrator.

What he contributed during his time at UNT has not been forgotten.

“Sending our deepest sympathies to the Billy Tubbs family,” UNT officials posted on the Twitter account for its men’s basketball program. “The legendary coach was a great college basketball ambassador and touched many lives especially here at North Texas.”

UNT athletic director Wren Baker spent part of his career working as a college basketball coach and also weighed in on Tubbs’ death.

“One of the great coaches and even greater characters in the game,” Baker wrote on his Twitter account. “Thoughts and prayers with Coach’s family.”

Tubbs finished with a 609-317 record as a head coach.

Lamar named the basketball floor at the Montagne Event Center as “Billy & Pat Tubbs Court,” in honor of the coach and his wife in 2011. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

The Tubbs family issued a statement through Oklahoma acknowledging his death.

“Wherever Billy Tubbs was, he made it the best he possibly could,” the statement read in part.

Those who played under Tubbs during his time at UNT left little doubt he made their time with the program a whole lot more enjoyable, not to mention successful.

“We were compatible, had similar talents and played well off each other,” Jones said. “When you start winning everything goes well.

“He made practice enjoyable and the game fun.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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