When you watch the Kentucky Wildcats take the turf at Commonwealth Stadium, they’re standing on C.M. Newton Field. When you look up to the rafters up Rupp Arena and see the 1996 and 1998 Championship banners, you can thank C.M. Newton.
Newton’s name carries a different meaning for people of different generations. Youngsters probably just know the name from Commonwealth. I simply knew him as the A.D., not the man that dug Kentucky out of probation by convincing the New York Knicks’ head coach to come to Lexington. Maybe there are a few readers that remember Newton as a player for Adolph Rupp’s 1951 National Championship team. A short resume:
He played for Adolph Rupp and worked for Bear Bryant. Helped select the legendary 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.” Won a national championship as a college basketball player and two more as an athletic director. Chaired the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee. Served as president of USA Basketball. Elected in 2000 to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The 86-year old has been a mainstay in the sports world his entire life, coaching at Alabama and Vanderbilt before coming to Kentucky. At every one of his stops, he’s provided unprecedented opportunities for African-Americans. The Undefeated examines all of his moves, including the decision to hire Tubby Smith to replace Rick Pitino.
Smith said that in his discussions before accepting the job, Newton did not talk much about the historic aspect of the hiring. Which is not to say color never came up. “He said, I’m not hiring you because you’re black, I’m hiring you because you can coach,’ ” Smith recalled. “ ‘The only color we see around here is green.’ What he was saying was, ‘You’ve got to win.’ But I still thought he made a courageous decision. I’m sure there were people who frowned on it. But that’s who C.M. Newton is: a gentleman, courageous, caring, a man of vision.”
Hiring Tubby was one of his last monumental moves. There are many more that came before, told in great detail in this lengthy read that’s well worth the time.