Marv Harshman, the Hall of Fame college basketball coach who became one of the most respected and beloved sport figures in the Northwest, died Friday. He was 95.
Harshman coached for 40 years, first at his alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University, then at Washington State University and finally at the University of Washington. He had his greatest success with the Huskies, handing legendary UCLA coach John Wooden his final defeat, and guiding Washington to the NCAA tournament in his final two seasons.
Harshman was the last stalwart of a generation of legendary basketball coaches on the West Coast that included Wooden, California’s Pete Newell, and Oregon State’s Ralph Miller and Slats Gill.
“All of those guys were cut from the same cloth,” said UW assistant Brad Jackson, who played one season for Harshman at WSU. “All of them coached in the era before huge dollars. They coached because it was a great job. They loved kids.”
Current Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar – who played for Harshman at Washington – said he spoke with Harshman’s son, Dave, Friday morning after his former coach passed away.
“We obviously lost a legend. I learned so much from Coach. He is one of the main reasons I’m here at the University of Washington,” Romar said in a statement. “I went to Washington expecting to play with a legendary coach; I didn’t know I would get the bonus of playing for a legendary person.”
Dave Harshman said his father passed away of natural causes at an assisted-living facility in Tacoma, where he had been living for the past two years.
“(Thursday) night he was sleeping heavily and I read to him like I always do,” he said. “We read the Bible together and we said the Lord’s Prayer. I was planning to see him (Friday) morning when I got that call.
“It was peaceful. There wasn’t any pain. Not any sudden heart attack or anything like that. It’s sad because that’s my father and I won’t be able to have a conversation with him anymore. But it’s kind of bittersweet, too, because he had a long and wonderful life.”
Marvel Keith Harshman, born Oct. 4, 1917, in Eau Claire, Wisc., graduated from Lake Stevens (Wash.) High School. He was a star athlete at PLU, lettering in four sports.
After a stint in the Navy, Harshman returned to PLU, where he coached the football and men’s basketball teams. He led the Lutes to four NAIA District I titles in basketball and four national tournament appearances. He was 236-117 in 13 years (1945-58) at PLU.
Harshman moved on to Washington State, where he compiled a 155-181 record during a 13-year tenure from 1958-71. His best teams finished second in the Pac-8 conference three times behind powerhouse UCLA.
At Washington, Harshman had his greatest success. In 14 years with the Huskies (1971-85), he led them to four 20-win seasons and five postseason appearances, including three NCAA tournament berths (1976, 1984 and 1985) and two National Invitation Tournament appearances (1980 and 1982).
Harshman was the last coach to beat Wooden – a 103-81 Huskies victory over UCLA on Feb. 22, 1975. He recorded a 246-146 mark at UW. He’s second on the school’s all-time wins list. Harshman’s most accomplished players included Steve Hawes, Louie Nelson, James Edwards, Detlef Schrempf, Chris Welp, and current UW coach Lorenzo Romar and assistant Paul Fortier.
“It appealed to me the way he taught basketball,” Schrempf said. “It was just like my high school coach and just like my coach did it back in Germany. It was all about fundamentals.
“All the players took the same steps. It was based on team basketball. He didn’t care about showing other people up. Or how many times you can dribble between your legs. He taught me how to play basketball the right way, and that had a lasting impact on me and many people.”
In 1975, Harshman was head coach of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games.
When Harshman retired after the 1985 season, he had compiled a 637-444 record in 40 seasons. He coached in 1,081 college games, the ninth-highest total in Division I history. His 637 wins rank 34th on the all-time NCAA coaching list.
The year he retired, Harshman was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Washington dedicated a basketball practice court to Harshman. But his exit as Huskies coach was controversial. He led UW to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in 1984. The Huskies were back in the tournament in 1985, but after that season UW president William Gerberding pushed Harshman into retirement.
Dave Harshman said his father had offers to coach at Hawaii and Denver, but chose to retire. “He wasn’t done coaching, but he wasn’t given that opportunity at the University of Washington and I was very disappointed in that,” Romar said.
Even as his health declined, Harshman remained a fixture at Washington games, attending a few per season until a couple of years ago.
“I’ve gone to many banquets and award shows where he was being honored and he just was revered by so many people; everyone from Bobby Knight to Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and on and on and on,” Romar said.
“I could always say I played for Marv Harshman and right away those great ones know who he is – not just in the state of Washington.”
Basketball made Harshman famous, but it wasn’t why he was beloved. “He didn’t talk about wins and losses,” Dave Harshman said. “He talked about the relationships and the importance of those relationships. He talked about working with kids. That was the most important thing to him.”
Harshman is survived by his sons Michael and Dave and grandson Rick Harshman. The family is planning a memorial service to be held in a couple of weeks.