Lee Rose, widely regarded as the best coach in USF’s basketball history, dies at the age of 85

Former USF men’s basketball coach Lee Rose, who guided the Bulls to their first three post-season spots and is still considered the best coach in the program’s history, died Tuesday.

Rose, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was 85.

“The intensity that comes with being a winner, he made sure it felt from top to bottom,” said Tony Grier, who played his last two seasons for Rose and remains seventh on the Bulls’ career scoring list.

An ordinary native of Kentucky, Rose’s employment with USF – a program less than ten years old – was considered a coup when it was announced on April 3, 1980. He had already led UNC Charlotte (1977) and Purdue (1980) to the Final Four when the attraction at a palace arena (the Sun Dome) and a verbal commitment from the USF, which developed into a first-class program, led him to Tampa.

One of only two Bulls coaches to have posted a winning record with the program (Seth Greenberg is the other, 108-100), Rose was 106-69 in six seasons for the program’s best win percentage (0.606) by far.

“This is the ultimate compliment that I think I could give him as someone who worked for him: We felt that if we – the staff – could get him into the last five minutes of a match, could he win it for us. ” said veteran ESPN college basketball analyst Mark Wise, who served in various capacities on Rose’s staffs at USF.

“He was so good.”

Rose set the tone during his tenure immediately, and Rose chewed out almost all players at his first team meeting (held in the old USF gym) to sit on their seats, Grier recalled. From there, every detail was chronicled.

In practice, a rating scale was established with points awarded (for scoring, assists, charges, etc.) and deducted (for turnovers, bad fouls, etc.). The team started staying at a local hotel the night before home games to minimize distractions. Delay was a cardinal sin.

“He used to have a saying, ‘You don’t have to be on time for anything we do, just make sure you’re early,'” Wise recalled.

In Rose’s first season, the Bulls went – 6-21 the season before – 18-11 and qualified for NIT, the program’s first postseason spot. His team played two more NIT appearances and never had a losing campaign in its six seasons.

“Honestly, I always felt like he was just a brilliant, brilliant coach,” said Tommy Tonelli, a burning point guard for Rose, who earned his 500th career win at Wharton High last season.

“He just knew the game, the game’s Xs and Os, the strategy and the breakdown of his opponents and the preparation. … Every game had a written, detailed game plan, and it was always spot-on. We just had to go out and do our job. ”

The Bulls’ first two wins against Florida came on Rose’s guard; he also won 4-0 against Florida State. Among the players he recruited for the USF: Robinson High alumnus Charlie Bradley, still the program’s career scoring leader, and Tonelli, who is still among the program’s career assistant leaders.

“It was an honor to be coached by him,” said Tonelli, who led Wharton to his second state tournament last season. “Everything I’ve ever done as a coach, he’s had a big, big impact on my philosophy and my approach to coaching.”

Over time, Rose’s relationship with the USF administration became strained. Dick Bowers, the athletic director who hired him and with whom Rose had helped draft the constitution for the old Sun Belt Conference, was reassigned. And the school eventually succumbed to public pressure to play University of Tampa.

For Rose, who did not equate playing a Division II enemy with “first class”, that was the drop.

“I said, ‘OK, I’m playing them, but that’s not what I came here for,’ ‘Rose told Tampa Bay Times in 2017.

His 1985-86 team topped the Spartans with 12 points in what would be his penultimate game as coach. Rose resigned shortly after.

USF has had 12 winning records in the 36 seasons since.

Rose totaled a 388-162 grade as a college coach in total and also served as an assistant to four NBA teams after leaving the USF.

“In life, people come in contact with others, and many times we do not know the cause,” Grier said.

“I can say that I speak on behalf of all the other guys, all the lessons that he taught all came true with our own children and our children that we coached. … It’s important to understand, that change, no matter how hard it is and can be, turns into something that ultimately makes you a better person. ”

Rose leaves behind his wife, Eleanor, and two sons, Mike and Mark.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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