TERRE HAUTE —
Nine-ninety-eight … 999 … 1,000 … 1,001 … 1,002 … and counting.
The Rose-Hulman men’s basketball program reached the 1,000-victory plateau in a 71-42 win at Fontbonne University earlier this month. For the record, entering Wednesday’s home game vs. Manchester, the win total stands at 1,002.
The program’s been in existence since 1897 — peach basket days? — so at first glance, one might think 1,000 wins in their 114th season is not that much to crow about.
From 1897-1962, the team didn’t play nearly as many games, averaging under 15 games a season. That doesn’t count not fielding a team for 10 seasons. Heck, they were still playing on a dirt floor in venerable Shook Fieldhouse as recently as the 1963-64 season.
Yet the program holds a distinction during its early days by defeating 14 current NCAA Division I programs. The Engineers handed the University of Kentucky its fifth worst defeat in history, 52-11, in 1910.
A large percentage of the 1,000 wins has occurred in the past 48 years, “the modern times.” Head coaches John Mutchner (1963-88) and Shaw (1989-95, assistant coach; 1994-present, head coach) have been involved in 654 of the 673 victories in that timespan.
Their programs have won nine conference championships and appeared in eight NCAA Division III tournaments.
Mutchner and Shaw shared recollections of their time with the Engineers’ program:
John Mutchner (340 wins)
Mutchner, now 77, admitted he almost didn’t come to Rose in his initial interview process.
“I thought at the time, this is a job graveyard. I can’t win here,” he laughed. “The first interview ended as a mutual decision this was not a good for fit for either of us. [Rose] just had to change it’s athletic culture.”
But a few weeks later, Mutchner was contacted again.
“John Logan [school president] wanted to talk to me,” Mutchner recalled. “We hit it off right away. I told him ‘we absolutely had to recruit or you’re not going to be successful. Athletics have to be supported.’ [Logan] agreed.”
Mutchner stated that Logan and the next school president, Sam Hulbert, “understood the role of athletics at the school.”
The Engineers played in Shook Fieldhouse (1949-1997) during his tenure, which was located where the parking lot where the current Sports and Recreation Center is now.
“We had the dirt floor my first year, but the administration allowed us to make changes and put in a Tartan floor,” he recalled.
Crowds were not large for games when he started coaching, so he literally introduced “bells and whistles” long before the term became popular to enliven the fan experience.
Mutchner made good use of two bells, two police sirens, two submarine crash-dive Klaxons, and a cannon.
When all the noise created reached a crescendo with the firing of the cannon, a 40-foot banner would drop from the ceiling, proclaiming “Give ‘em Hell Rose.” Then the pep band would launch into a rousing version of the school fight song.
“We needed to drum up enthusiasm, so we kind of went to false enthusiasm,” he said.
Mutchner recalled one episode with the cannon, saying, “For one of our bigger rivals, I put in about twice as much powder. Jim Rendel, who was intramural director at the time, had an office at the fieldhouse. When the cannon was set off, the sound reverberated so much, it blew 20 or 30 sheets of papers off his bulletin board. It was raining paper in his office.”
Once the team started to win, “that false enthusiasm turned into genuine enthusiasm,” Mutchner said.
Mutchner also set in motion Rose teams traveling abroad to play basketball at least once every four years. Rose has the distinction of being the first college team to play in the Soviet Union, “back when they were still flying the hammer and sickle flag,” Mutchner noted.
Mutchner enjoyed 10 straight winning seasons heading into the 80’s. After a couple losing seasons, his final team won 17 games.
“I’ve had a lot of good players, but more important, a lot of outstanding people,” Mutchner noted. “I still talk to a lot of my former players. Many of them have done very well for themselves in the business world.”
252 wins, 72 wins as assistant
One year after Mutchner retired in 1988, Shaw was brought in as an assistant to current DePauw coach Bill Fenlon. Shaw assisted Fenlon for two years, three years under Bill Perkins, before assuming the head coaching position in 1994.
“It’s a tribute to a lot of players, a lot of coaches, a lot of administrators who’ve made it possible for us to win a 1,000 games,” Shaw said.
Shaw has coached in both Shook Fieldhouse and the new 2,000-seat Hulbert Arena.
“My first seven years here I was in Shook, and I loved Shook,” Shaw stated. “I love where we’re now due to the creature comforts, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a better environment for a small college basketball game than Shook.”
Shaw said the last regular-season game, against rival Wabash, at Shook Fieldhouse was a highlight of his career.
“It was definitely the loudest. It was packed,” he recalled. “There were people on all sides of the court. The Wabash fans were there banging their pots and pans, our students banging wooden blocks. The consequences were high because the league championship was on the line. It was a special, special day.”
“With all the bells and whistles that came with it and all the blemishes that came with it, it was a unique environment. I was here when we opened in this place and it’s one of the better venues in small college basketball. Obviously, I have a lot of good memories here too.”
Shaw’s seen highs and lows in his coaching tenure. Fielding three teams in the NCAA DIII tournament, and also seen his teams endure six losing seasons in a row.
But his team’s fortunes are enjoying an uptick once again, going 16-10 last year and winning five of six games for a promising start this season.
“Athletic participation is as good a learning tool as anything they will ever do in their lives,” he said. “Not only is it memorable, enjoyable, a great stress relief, but the lessons they learn playing are healthy ones and I think they get as much out of their experience playing college basketball as anything else they do.
“That being said, I’m fully aware and supportive of the fact that their academic goals are the primary reason they are here and has to remain the No. 1 focus, without question.”