March 04, 2023
Soul Achievers – Clarence “Big House” Gaines
Clarence “Big House” Gaines was a national coaching legend at Winston-Salem State University where he led the Rams to 18 20-win seasons and guided WSSU to eight Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) titles. In 1967 he led WSSU to a 31-1 record and coached the Rams, and future NBA star, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, to an NCAA Championship, making the Rams the first basketball program from a historically black college or university to capture a NCAA national championship.
Gaines was named the CIAA’s coach of the year a record five times during his 47 year coaching career at WSSU. It is a little known black history fact that over the span of those 47 seasons, Gaines compiled an overall record of 828-447, well enough to place fifth in wins in NCAA history behind Dean Smith (North Carolina), Adolph Rupp (Kentucky), Bob Knight (Texas Tech and Indiana) and Jim Phelan (Mt. Saint Mary’s). He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.
A native of Paducah, KY, Gaines was born on May 21st, 1924. Despite his self-proclaimed mediocrity on the court as a player, Gaines would go on to become one of the greatest collegiate basketball coaches in history, as he is still, to this day, the African-American coach with the most wins in NCAA history.
Following his graduation from Morgan State University, Gaines would take a job as the head football coach at WSSU (then Winston-Salem State College), a position he would hold for three years (1946-49). Gaines would then become the Rams’ head basketball coach in 1949. Gaines would serve as the Rams’ head coach for 47 seasons until his eventual retirement following the 1993 season.
Gaines would graduate nearly 80 percent of his players over that 47 year span while winning nearly 65% of his games, sending several to the NBA, most notably, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. Gaines was named to several basketball halls of fame including the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and his namesake adorns not only WSSU’s C.E. Gaines Center where the Rams play their home basketball contests, but adorns WSSU’s C.E. “Big House” Gaines Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Nothing anyone can say about Coach Gaines can really sum up the impact he had on Winston-Salem State University or the collegiate basketball world.
Coach Gaines was an icon, who helped raise the profile of WSSU to national prominence, said WSSU Chancellor Harold L. Martin, Sr. His contributions and accomplishments in sport were incredible, but the contributions he made to uplift the lives of so many young people during his lifetime, I think, is his greatest legacy. However, it was not just his exploits as a coach that marked his greatness. Gaines was very involved with youth throughout Winston-Salem, the state of North Carolina and beyond. He was founder and administrator of the WSSU National Youth Sports Program, a sports and academic enrichment program that still impacts the lives of hundreds of youth each summer. He served as president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He was a cofounder of the Winston-Salem Youth Baseball League.
WSSU recently honored Gaines during the Rams’ Living Legend Benefit, a gala to raise funds for the Clarence Big House Gaines Endowed Scholarship. In January 2005, Gaines was honored during a half-time ceremony of the game between the University of Kansas and the University in Rupp arena, before a capacity crowd of more than 24,000. He received the designation of Kentucky Colonel from Governor Ernie Fletcher, the highest honor a native son of the State of Kentucky can receive.
For your accomplishments, SoulTic Magazine salutes you Clarence “Big House” Gaines.