C.M. Newton, a former head men’s basketball coach at Vanderbilt and two-time SEC Coach of the Year with the Commodores, passed away on June 4 in Tuscaloosa. He was 88.
Newton, who also served as head coach at Alabama during his career, coached Vanderbilt from 1982-89, leading the Dores to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his final two seasons. The Rockwood, Tenn. native led the Commodores to the Sweet 16 in 1988, a run that included an epic 80-74 overtime win over Pittsburgh in the Round of 32.
At Vanderbilt, Newton coached All-American Will Perdue (1983-88) and USA Basketball Team member Jeff Turner (1990-84). Legendary Commodores Barry Goheen, Phil Cox, Barry Booker, and Frank Kornet likewise played for Newton on West End, among others.
Newton became closely associated with two giants of intercollegiate athletics, playing for (and later competing against) legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp and working for then-Alabama athletic director Paul “Bear” Bryant, who hired Newton as the Crimson Tide’s head coach in 1968.
At Alabama, Newton amassed a 211-123 record over 12 seasons, winning three straight SEC titles from 1974-76. His Crimson Tide squads were the first to earn NIT and NCAA Tournament berths in program history.
In 1969, Newton signed Wendell Hudson as the first African-American scholarship student-athlete in University of Alabama history. Historic Crimson Tide figures such as Leon Douglas, Reggie King, Charles Cleveland, T.R. Dunn, Ray Odums, Anthony Murray, Robert “Rah Rah” Scott, Eddie Phillips, and Mike Davis also played under Newton’s tutelage in Tuscaloosa.
As a player at Kentucky, Newton helped win the 1951 NCAA Championship with the Rupp-coached Wildcats. He later served as director of athletics at Kentucky from 1989-2000, hiring coaching giants such as Rick Pitino, Bernadette Mattox, Tubby Smith and Bill Curry during his tenure in Lexington.
From 1992 to 1996, Newton served as the president of USA Basketball. It was on Newton's watch that the decision was made to allow professional basketball players to represent the United States in the Summer Olympics. This decision gave rise to the "Dream Team,” which won gold at the 1992 games in Barcelona.
Newton was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame last year. In 2017, Newton was the subject of an ESPN Films production, “Courage Matters: The C.M. Newton Story.”
A 1998 survey conducted by the San Antonio Express-News proclaimed Newton “the most powerful man in college basketball.” Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese proclaimed Newton the best NCAA basketball committee chairman ever.
Following his retirement as AD at Kentucky in 2000, Newton continued to have a large role in college basketball as President of the NIT (which is owned by the NCAA) and as a consultant on virtually every major basketball coaching move in the nation.
Newton was preceded in death by his childhood sweetheart and wife of 49 years, Evelyn Davis Newton. He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Nancy Watts Newton. He also is survived by his three children, Deborah Newton, Tracy Chappelle, and Martin Newton; six grandchildren, Katie Champion, Madison Wood (Andrew), Charles Martin Newton III, Joshua Newton, Sheridan Chappelle and Davis Chappelle; two great grandchildren, Charles Martin Newton IV and Sawyer Champion; brother Lt Col. Richard Y. Newton, Jr.; nephews William F. Bryan (Becky) and Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III (Joey); niece Catherine Ahlwardt (El); and stepdaughters Laura Fletcher and Sherry Plott.
IHe also was predeceased by sister Jean Newton Bryan, father Richard Yates Newton, and mother Adelia Martin Newton.
Nicholas S. Zeppos
“C.M. Newton has left behind an incredible legacy, including here at Vanderbilt. His accomplishments in the sports world are legendary – particularly on the issue of race and sports in the South. He was willing to make decisions, considered controversial at the time, to open up numerous opportunities for African-Americans in the SEC. We have lost a visionary leader and our hearts go out to Mr. Newton’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
“We are saddened to learn that our friend and colleague C.M. Newton has passed away. C.M. served and led within the SEC in many ways including as a student-athlete, coach, athletics director and as part of our staff. His legacy lives on through the many lives he touched.”
David Williams II
Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director
“C.M. was a great in the field of college sports. As a coach, an athletics director or an advisor to those of us who worked with him, played against him or were fortune to learn from him, C.M. represents the very best of college sports. The foundation of what we have been able to accomplish at Vanderbilt is directly linked to C.M.’s time on our campus and his longtime love and support for this university. On a personal note, C.M. was a great friend who always had time to help with the complex issues, as well as offer a simple hello and ask how family was doing. College athletics are much better because of C.M. Newton.”
Vanderbilt men’s basketball coach
“We are saddened by the news of Coach Newton’s passing. The Vanderbilt program wants to say thank you to Coach Newton for being a trailblazer in his profession and always living up to the highest standards in honesty and integrity. You will missed as your legacy will forever be with us at Vanderbilt.”
“C M Newton: Excellence and class. Excellence as evidenced by his accomplishments as athlete, Coach and administrator. Class as evidenced by the fact that he is admired and respected by everyone in the SEC and he is “One of ours” for 3 schools: Kentucky, Alabama and Vanderbilt. Unprecedented.”
“Coach Newton was the true definition of a leader. He was my coach at Vanderbilt, but he also was so much more. He was my father away from home, a role model for me to look up to, a motivator and a truly patient individual. He taught me basketball, but he also taught me what's expected of a man. The basketball community has lost its best friend.”
Vanderbilt alum, former Vanderbilt radio announcer
“Coach Newton is the finest man I have ever met in athletics. I feel so fortunate to be able to call him a friend. I will miss his wisdom and genuine goodness.”