John “Red” McManus never met a basketball team he was afraid to play.
As Creighton's coach from 1959 to 1969, McManus scheduled some of the game's biggest names, with many of the games on the road.
“Red used to brag that as an independent, we played border to border and coast to coast,” said Tom Apke, who played for McManus and later coached the Bluejays. “Red was too stubborn to accept that we couldn't shoot for a big time.”
McManus passed away Tuesday after a lingering illness. He was 88.
“Red McManus will be remembered as one of the greatest Bluejays of all time,” Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said. “His passion for life is something we'll cherish with fondness as we remember what he did within the Omaha community and for Creighton.”
McManus, elected to the school's athletic hall of fame in 1979, often was credited for returning “big-time” basketball to Creighton. The school had de-emphasized athletics after World War II before school officials decided in 1955 to again commit resources toward athletics.
In 1959, Creighton hired McManus, who had been an assistant coach at Iowa. Three years later, McManus had the Bluejays playing in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the second round with a victory over Memphis State. Creighton lost in the round of 16 to Cincinnati but finished a 21-5 season with a win over Texas Tech in the consolation game that was played in those years.
Two years later, McManus guided Creighton to a school-record 22 wins and another trip to the NCAA tournament. The Bluejays won their opening game before losing to fifth-ranked Wichita State and dropping the consolation game to Texas Western.
The star of those teams was All-American Paul Silas, whom McManus won a recruiting battle with national power San Francisco for Silas' services.
“Red went to our athletic administration and said he was going to fly out to San Francisco and recruit Silas,” Apke said. “They wouldn't authorize buying a round-trip airline ticket from Omaha to San Francisco because they thought there was no way Creighton could get a player of that caliber.
“Red paid his own way, and he did successfully recruit Paul.”
Under McManus, Creighton played Providence when the Friars had national player of the year Jimmy Walker, Miami when Rick Barry was a Hurricane and Houston when Elvin Hayes was a Cougar.
The Bluejays also won a 1961 game against John Wooden's UCLA team in Omaha.
In a 1983 World-Herald column, McManus recalled the circumstances that led to the scheduling of the game.
“A tournament they were supposed to play in was canceled and that left them with a hole in their schedule,” McManus said. “John Wooden called me and asked about a game with us that week. I checked our schedule and told him we were playing on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
“We had Wednesday open. I said, “This will mean we'll play four games in a row but we would play you even if we had to go 14 in a row.' ”
McManus' team won all four games, defeating Gonzaga at home on Dec. 18, winning at South Dakota on Dec. 19, posting a 74-72 win over UCLA on Dec. 20 and finishing things with a home victory over Rice on Dec. 21.
McManus was known for his fiery sideline demeanor.
“People used to worry about my blood pressure,” McManus said. “They were afraid I was going to have a stroke. Actually, my blood pressure was normal. I never had an ulcer.”
Eventually, McManus' scheduling practices and his sideline antics caught up with him. Creighton didn't make it back to the NCAA tournament in his last five seasons. He resigned, under pressure, as coach and athletic director after the 1968-69 season.
“I could see the handwriting on the wall the year before when they gave me a contract for just one year instead of three years,” McManus recalled in 1983.
After leaving Creighton, he went into private business, opening a successful tuxedo rental business in west Omaha. He also remained close to the basketball program.
Creighton began playing all of its games at the Civic Auditorium during McManus' third season as coach. When the university played its final game at the facility in 2003, it was McManus that flipped the switch to “turn out the lights” in a postgame ceremony.
When Dana Altman became the Bluejays' coach in 1994, he would take McManus on several road trips each season.
Altman recalled one game when McManus and Lee Bevilacqua, the longtime team physician, almost got a technical foul for shouting at the referees while they were sitting at the end of the bench.
“Finally, I had to go down to them and say, 'Fellas, you're going to have to tone it down,' ” Altman recently recalled. “We had enough problems in those early seasons. We didn't need them adding to them.”
Current Creighton coach Greg McDermott invited McManus to practice for his 87th birthday in 2012. Cake was served, and McDermott and his team serenaded the man everyone still referred to as “Coach” with “Happy Birthday.”
“I am deeply saddened to learn of Coach McManus' passing,” McDermott said late Tuesday night. “He was a great friend and offered incredible support to our program. Creighton lost a true champion today.”
Services are pending.
Sad to hear about Red McManus..a legend that will never be forgotten. #Rip— Doug McDermott (@dougmcd3) July 24, 2013
RIP Coach Red. Big part of Creighton basketball. Sad day— Grant Gibbs (@DoubleGfor3) July 24, 2013
So many memories of Red McManus. He left coaching in 1969, yet was at practice 43 years later for a birthday serenade http://t.co/kpb7vSaWVa— Rob Anderson (@_robanderson) July 24, 2013