But no one — not even Harshman himself — could have imagined how far the game would take him.
Harshman started coaching college basketball after World War II and continued for the next 40 years. In a career that started at Pacific Lutheran College (now Pacific Lutheran University), then took him to Washington State University and later the University of Washington, he became one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history.
Harshman, who died Friday at age 95, retired in 1985 with a career record of 642-448. That same year he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“We obviously lost a legend,” UW head coach Lorenzo Romar said in a statement released by the school.
“I learned so much from Coach,” added Romar, who played for Harshman at Washington in the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons. “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.”
Harshman was born on Oct. 4, 1917, in Eau Claire, Wis., but his family moved to the Puget Sound area and he graduated from Lake Stevens High School in 1935. He attended Pacific Lutheran, where he earned 13 varsity letters in four sports and was a basketball All-American prior to his 1942 graduation.
He spent the next three years in the U.S. Navy, but in the fall of 1945 he returned to the school as the head basketball coach. He later became the head football coach, too, and filled both roles for seven seasons.
Harshman spent 13 years at Pacific Lutheran before becoming the head basketball coach at Washington State for 14 years. In the fall of 1972 he became the head coach at Washington, where he stayed for 13 years.
While at Washington, he was named the Pacific-8 Conference (later Pacific-10 Conference) Coach of the Year in 1975-76, 1981-82 and 1983-84. He closed his coaching career with back-to-back Pac-10 titles in 1983-84 and 1984-85, and was the national Coach of the Year in 1983-84. He also was named The Herald’s 1984 Man of the Year in Sports. At the time of his retirement, he was the winningest active coach in the NCAA.
In another career highlight, Harshman became the final coach to beat legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. On Feb. 22, 1975, Washington thumped the Bruins 103-81 at Seattle’s Hec Edmundson Pavilion, just a few weeks before UCLA won the national championship in Wooden’s final season.
Two other members of Washington’s current coaching staff are Harshman protégés. Assistant coach Paul Fortier played for Harshman at Washington from 1982-83 to 1984-85, and Brad Jackson was on Harshman’s WSU teams from 1971-72 to 1973-74.
“He was just an unbelievable teacher for me personally,” Fortier said. “He was an incredible teacher and the (basketball) court was his classroom. He really taught me how to keep things in perspective — in life and in basketball.”
“We lost a great one,” Jackson said. “But when we look back and see how many lives he and Dorothy (Harshman’s wife, 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.”
In 2010, Harshman was part of the inaugural group of inductees into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame. In what was perhaps his final public appearance back in his boyhood area, Harshman was too frail to stand during his acceptance remarks. But his smile and his sense of humor were as good as ever.
“It’s great to be here tonight,” he told the crowd at Everett’s Edward D. Hansen Conference Center. “Of course, at my age it’s great to be anywhere.”
The audience roared with laughter, and then rose to salute Harshman with a standing ovation.
Harshman had been in failing health in recent years, but still occasionally attended UW home games. He was living at an assisted-care facility in Tacoma at the time of his death.
Over the years, 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 (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski) and on and on and on.”
It was a source of pride for Romar because, he said, “I could always say I played for Marv Harshman. And right away those great ones know who he is.”
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