William Henry Harrison (Tippy) Dye, a former University of Washington basketball coach, died this past Wednesday (April 11) at 97. He was a successful coach but a complex man. As a Daily sports editor and columnist, I came to know him well and remained in periodic contact with him.
Dye came to the Huskies in 1951 from Ohio State and had an overall win-loss record of 156-91 over nine years. Though light and short of stature, he had been a star quarterback and basketball and baseball starter in college for the Buckeyes. Dye was the coaching star during most of his time at Washington, as Howie Odell, John Cherberg, and then Darrell Royal had only indifferent success as football coaches. (Jim Owens arrived on the scene to become a winner.) Dye excited the campus by taking the Huskies to the NCAA final four, almost immediately on arrival, but his teams never reached that competitive level again.
Dye might or might not have prospered in today's college-basketball environment. He was a fundamentalist and could be a stern taskmaster. He hated turnovers and defensive lapses and would quickly bench, during the game, a player who committed them. He believed in pressuring his players. Once I saw him stand behind a borderline guard candidate, trying to make the final roster, as the player missed 20 consecutive jump shots, all on line but just a tad short. I had little doubt that the player would have made 50 percent of his shots had Dye not been hovering behind him. Dye no doubt knew that. The player did not make the team.
Dye's teams succeeded when he had a strong pivotman but did less well when he did not. He did not adapt his system to his players.
instead, he stuck with his basic offensive system, which depended on a center with scoring ability. He helped develop All-American Bob Houbregs' hook shot and Houbregs led the Huskies to big winning seasons. But his other teams, lacking a Houbregs, never reached that level, though all were competitive. Many of Dye's Husky players were my Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers and, in their candid moments, could be critical of his sometime inflexibility. But all respected him for his discipline and integrity.
Dye, for whatever reason, took a liking to the undergrad sportswriter covering his teams. Once, when I missed Husky practices while ill, he called to inquire about my health. He suggested I take his basketball coaching class for physical education credit. When I got an 'A' grade, some of my classmates, almost all scholarship athletes, complained that Dye favored me. During the "laboratory" part of the course — that is, actual on-court teaching and playing — he chose to overlook my inadequate performance. When, during my senior year, I attended a student editors' conference at Ohio State, Dye arranged that the athletic director there, his brother-in-law, give me a tour of facilities.
Later, when I headed to graduate school in New York, Dye sent me a letter asking me to scout some high-school prospects in the area. I did and sent him a written report. I always was somewhat in awe of Coach Dye but he treated me generously and as a friend despite our age difference.
Dye wanted to be Husky athletic director but, when passed over, he eventually took the same job at the University of Nebraska. There he hired one of his former Husky players, Joe Cipriano, as basketball coach.
Several years ago his former Husky players held a reunion in Seattle and honored him. Then, a couple years back, retired Federal Judge Bob Bryan, one of Dye's mid-1950s players, and his wife Cathy celebrated their wedding anniversary in Tacoma. Dye flew up from California for the event. Jerry Johnson, another of his mid-1950s Huskies, watched over his old coach and steered old acquaintances and friends to his chair in a corner. Coach Dye was gracious but in his 90s clearly was tired and did not recognize some who said hello, including myself. That made little difference to the many of us that day who had the chance to see him a final time.
Coach Dye impacted all who came in contact with him over any significant period. He set high standards for himself and for those he coached. He also was a good man, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather who lived a very long and successful life.