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Short Tales on "Mr. K-State"
Head Men's Basketball Coach Bruce Weber and former player Ernie Barrett with Willie Wildcat
March 27, 2014
By Mark Janssen
"Mr. OU" or "Mr. Mizzou" just doesn't sound right.
But "Mr. K-State?" Ahhhh... now that has a ring to it.
Ernie "Mr. K-State" Barrett came oh so close to being the head basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma or the University of Missouri, but thank goodness, it didn't happen.
"It was Sunday night and I was set to go down to a press conference on Monday, but I got a call from Bud Wilkinson," recalled Barrett of his close call at OU. "He said he had bad news. He said the Board of Regents said he had to hire a head basketball coach instead of an assistant."
It was a similar story the year before when Barrett thought he was going to the University of Missouri only to be told that a verbal offer was not going to be honored at the last moment.
"After I didn't get those two coaching jobs, Bebe Lee (then Kansas State Athletics Director) came to me and asked if I wanted to continue to be a basketball coach or move into administration," Barrett said. "I grabbed the opportunity in a hurry."
The year was 1963, and as they say, the rest is history as Barrett served as K-State's Director of Athletics from 1969 to 1976, plus worked tirelessly in the area of fundraising that literally changed the landscape of Wildcat Athletics.
"For most K-Staters, if not all, Ernie is still the face of the Kansas State athletic department, especially in the fundraising area. He is 'Mr. K-State,'" said Chad Weiberg, K-State Senior Associate Athletics Director for Development. "Everywhere we go we hear stories about Ernie coming to see them and raising money for certain projects. He didn't have e-mail and voicemail. Ernie got in the car and went out to see people.
"What's most impressive is what he did in times that weren't as favorable when it came to wins and losses," said Weiberg. "That's when relationships become more important, and no one had better relationships with K-Staters than Ernie Barrett."
FIRST ARRIVING AT K-STATE: While Barrett almost became a Tiger or a Sooner in his post-Wildcat days in the early-1960s, he nearly became an Oklahoma State Cowboys or a Colorado Buffalo out of Wellington High School in 1947.
Barrett's prep coach was an OSU grad and urged his 6-foot-2 center to go to the Stillwater-based school.
"I visited but never met Mr. (Henry) Iba, and I visited Kansas but never met Coach (Phog) Allen," said Barrett. "Colorado had sent me a plane ticket, but I was scared to make that trip. I had never been on an airplane, so I sent the ticket back."
That left K-State.
Jack Gardner was the head Wildcat coach and he told his new assistant - a guy named Tex Winter - that there was a pretty good player down in Wellington, and he needed to be at Kansas State.
"I worked for the railroad and more than once Tex would come down and we would sit underneath a box car in 110-degree weather and talk," reflected Barrett. Laughing, he added, "The foreman would come by and give Tex hell. 'Hurry up and recruit the kid or I'm going to fire him for not working.'
"My father worked for the Santa Fe Railroad for 38 years and my folks could have never sent me to college without a scholarship," said Barrett. "Tex recruited my parents and they appreciated that."
After playing freshman ball in 1947-48, Barrett averaged 8.8 points for his three-year career for K-State teams that won 13, 17 and finally 25 games in 1950-51 when the Cats won the Big 7 Conference, were ranked No. 3 in the nation, and reached the title game of the NCAA Tournament.
With the All-American Barrett playing with an injured left shoulder, K-State fell to Kentucky, 68-58.
DRAFTED TWICE: The Boston Celtics made "Black Jack" Barrett the seventh selection of the first round of the 1951 National Basketball Association Draft, but at roughly the same time, the K-State All-American was drafted into the Army, which delayed his pro career by two years.
Once joining the Celtics with a $7,000 contract, Barrett was the third guard behind Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, which limited his playing time. Barrett played the 1953-54 season, then retired to return to K-State and work for the Alumni Association for a year before being re-signed with the Celtics in 1955-56.
"That was the year they put the 24-second clock into play and they (Celtics) needed an extra guard because of the more up-tempo play," said Barrett, who had NBA career averages of 4.9 points and 2.7 rebounds. "It just wasn't for me, so I quit again when Tex called to encourage me to become his assistant. I jumped at the chance even though my salary was reduced."
With that move, the Wildcats had the makings of their "Mr. K-State."