April 12, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Marv Harshman was a giant in our state, as tall and enduring and recognizable as an evergreen.
"I had a woman today, a woman he knew from the Y, tell me, 'If there were more people in the world like Marv Harshman the world would be a better place,'" Dave Harshman said Friday, remembering his father.
"That's what I'm most proud of."
Mr. Harshman, the Hall of Fame coach, mentor, icon, and player at Washington, Washington State and Pacific Lutheran University beloved throughout the state and beyond, passed away Friday morning.
Dave Harshman informed Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar and assistants Paul Fortier and Brad Jackson of his father's 9:02 a.m. passing at the Young At Heart AFH 3 assisted-living facility in Tacoma during phone calls later Friday morning. Romar, Fortier and Jackson played for Coach Harshman.
Mr. Harshman was 95 years old - and revered in our state from Omak past Olympia, from Puget Sound across the Palouse. His health had recently been deteriorating from heart disease, though his son got to watch Monday's NCAA championship game between Louisville and Michigan on television with him.
"I said to him, 'Dad, it's a good thing you aren't still coaching -- because the way this game is being played and the referees would drive you nuts,'" Dave Harshman said Friday afternoon, through sobs of pride.
"He got a big smile on his face."
So did Romar, anytime he was asked about his mentor.
"We obviously lost a legend," Romar said Friday. "I learned so much from Coach. He is one of the main reasons I'm here at the University of Washington.
"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.
"He will be missed by all of us."
Mr. Harshman was 642-448 in 40 seasons as coach at Pacific Lutheran - where he also coached the football team - and at Washington State and UW. He was conference coach of the year three times (1976, '82, '84) while leading Washington from 1972-85. He led the Huskies four 20-win seasons, and five postseasons, including three NCAA tournaments. Almost as soon as he left coaching he was elected to both the Naismith Basketball and Husky halls of fame, in 1985.
"You're talking about coaching at PLU, Washington State and Washington, and his own background as an athlete - he was just a household name," Romar said.
"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. 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."
Mr. Harshman would have been even larger nationally than he was had the Pacific-8 and Pac-10 conferences not sent only one team annually to the NCAA tournament each year during John Wooden's era at UCLA. Wooden's time coincided with much of Harshman's in the league, and the two became great friends.
Mr. Harshman was the last coach to beat Wooden. On Feb. 22, 1975, UW raced past UCLA 103-81 at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, the Bruins' last defeat on their way to their 10th and final NCAA title under Wooden. Wooden retired at the end of that season.
Legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy was emcee for Mr. Harshman's induction ceremony into the Naismith Hall of Fame. Dave Harshman still remembers what Gowdy told his audience that night in 1985 about his father.
"Many of you back East here may not have heard of Marv Harshman," Gowdy said that night in 1985. "But I guarantee you, if there was a Hall of Fame for being just a great, fabulous person Marv Harshman would get in it on the first ballot."
Fortier met Mr. Harshman in 1981 when the coach was recruiting him to UW out of the Bay Area.
"He was just an unbelievable teacher for me, personally," Fortier said. "He was an incredible teacher, and the court was his classroom. He really taught me how to keep things in perspective, in life and in basketball. Along with his wife, Dorothy, he was a great family man.
"Winning. Basketball. But family - that was Coach Harshman. He was a basketball coach. He was a baseball coach and a football coach when he was younger, too. But I saw how much he was still about his family."
Mr. Harshman was born Oct. 4, 1917, in Eau Claire, Wis. He moved to the Pacific Northwest as a child and graduated from Lake Stevens High School in Washington. He lettered 13 times in four -- four-- sports and was a basketball All-American at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma. That's where he met Dorothy, Pacific Lutheran's homecoming queen. He graduated in 1942 and served the next three years for the U.S. Navy before returning to PLU to coach two sports.
"Most people don't realize my father was a straight-A student," Dave Harshman said. "He got one B, in graduate school. And he was a biology major.
"He was no dumb jock."
After 235 basketball wins at Pacific Lutheran from 1945-58, Mr. Harshman moved to WSU. He won 155 games in 13 seasons with the Cougars.
Jackson, the national-champion head coach at Western Washington last year who just finished his first season assisting Romar at UW, chose to play at Washington State over Washington because he wanted to learn from the best, Harshman.
"Marv had a great life, and it's sad today. But I think this is a cause of celebration, as well," said Jackson.
He met Mr. Harshman when he was a 15-year-old trying to get recruited by the legend to WSU.
That friendship will last beyond Friday.
Jackson had been in touch with Mr. Harshman "almost daily" in recent years, the Huskies assistant said, while Mr. Harshman moved to an assisted-care facility in Tacoma. Jackson visited the coach many times in his place near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and had said this winter that Mr. Harshman's health was deteriorating.
When Mr. Harshman left Washington State to coach Washington in 1971 he got a $3,000 raise up to $21,000 annually, according to a profile of him by Steve Kelly in the Seattle Times on June 11, 2011.
The legacy he left behind Friday in this state is beyond priceless.
"We lost a great one," Jackson said. "But when we look back and see how many lives he and Dorothy (who died in 2008) influenced, he was a pretty significant factor in the Northwest for many decades. Not just in sports. In life.
"He just loved people. And people loved him."
Dave Harshman knows how his father enriched so many lives, in Washington and beyond.
"He didn't remember many basketball games. What he remembered were the people he had coached with and played with," Marv Harshman's son said.
"He epitomized not just a coach but an adult role model. You didn't want to let him down.
"How can you be disappointed," he said, "when God gives you 95 1/2 great years on this earth?"