One “Hec” of a coach: CHD’s interview about Washington coaching legend Clarence “Hec” Edmundson

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of a true coaching legend: Clarence “Hec” Edmundson. He was born in Moscow, Idaho in 1886 and was such a terrific track star at the University of Idaho that he ran the 400 and 800 meter dashes for team USA at the 1912 Olympics. After spending a couple of years as a track and basketball coach at his alma mater, he arrived in Seattle in 1920 and spent over a quarter-century as head coach of the Huskies while winning almost 500 games. The school later named the basketball arena after Edmundson in 1948, where the team still plays today. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with two of Hec’s former players (Walt Milroy/Bob Jorgensen) about inventing the fast break and the pre-game handshake.


Edmundson was nicknamed “Hec” due to the fact that his only expletive was “aw, heck”: who gave it to him, and how did he like the nickname?

Walt: He was a gentleman and I am sure that he never got called for a technical foul.
Bob: I think it just stuck from when he was young.

He also coached eight Olympians during his 36 years as track coach at Washington: how was he able to use his knowledge as an athlete to become such a great coach?
Bob: I do not think he knew a lot about basketball to begin with, but just developed a team slowly but surely over time. Some people did not get along with him that well but I thought he was nice guy.

As a basketball coach he is generally credited with developing the fast break: how much did his track background affect his decision to have his players run up and down the court?
Walt: He was an in-charge kind of person so you did things his way. His teams were extremely well-conditioned. Fast-break basketball usually includes a long outlet pass. They used to have a center-jump after every basket, but after that was eliminated he would have the guard dribble the ball up as fast as he could go. If you did not go as hard as you could you would not play.
Bob: He knew about track when he became basketball coach so he would run us up and down the floor a lot in practice. His whole offense for most of his career was a fast-break offense, which was new to the sport.

He also came up with the pre-game handshake by his starting five, and while he did not invent the one-handed shot he was one of the first to teach it.  How did he come up with all these innovations, and which was he proudest of?
Bob: I grew up playing with a two-hand shot but he taught this new thing to me and it worked.

From 1941-1946 he served on the NCAA D-1 Men’s Basketball Committee, why did he join the committee, and how did he like it?
Bob: I think they just asked him because he had developed into a guy who knew a lot about basketball. He really did not want to leave the sport by the end.

What are your memories of the 1943 NCAA tourney (John Hargis scored 30 points in a four-point win by Texas)?
Walt: I missed the game because I had already joined the Navy, but I used to sneak into the gym and sit right behind the bench. One of the guys I served with was Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.

In 1948 the school named the basketball arena after him: what did it mean to him to receive this great honor?
Walt: I am sure he was proud of that but he would not have said anything because he was not the most demonstrative man in the world.
Bob: He was so proud of that honor: he truly deserved it.

He was inducted into Helms Foundation Hall of Fame as both a track coach and basketball coach: how was he able to succeed as a coach of both sports simultaneously?
Walt: Virtually everyone back then coached multiple sports. We played Oregon and their coach Howard Hobson also coached baseball.
Bob: He would have his track athletes out there practicing even while he was inside coaching on the basketball court.

He died of a stroke in 1964: when people look back on his career, how do you think he should be remembered the most? Walt: He set the standard by creating the high school state tourney. He is a legend: I would put him and Tippy Dye/Marv Harshman as the best Washington coaches. I did well as a coach to copy Hec’s own bench manner. Bob: I got along real well with him: he would even give me a ride home a couple of times because I lived near him! He was an outstanding coach with some good teams who coached for a long time.