Marv Harshman, the Hall of Fame college basketball coach who became one of the most respected and beloved sport figures in the Northwest, died Friday morning. He was 95.
Coach Harshman coached for 40 years, first at his alma mater, Pacific Lutheran, then at Washington State and finally at Washington. He had his greatest success with the Huskies, handing legendary UCLA coach John Wooden his final defeat, and guiding UW to the NCAA tournament in his final two seasons.
Coach Harshman died the same day as Frosty Westering, PLU’s iconic former football coach.
Dave Harshman said his father passed away of natural causes at an assisted-living facility in Tacoma, where he had been living for the past two years.
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“(Thursday) night he was sleeping heavily, and I read to him like I always do,” he said. “We read the Bible together, and we said the Lord’s Prayer. I was planning to see him (Friday) morning when I got that call.
“It was peaceful. There wasn’t any pain. Not any sudden heart attack or anything like that. It’s sad because that’s my father, and I won’t be able to have a conversation with him anymore. But it’s kind of bittersweet, too, because he had a long and wonderful life.”
Marvel Keith Harshman, born Oct. 4, 1917, in Eau Claire, Wis., graduated from Lake Stevens High School. He was a star athlete at Pacific Lutheran (PLU) in Tacoma, lettering in four sports.
After a stint in the Navy, Coach Harshman returned to PLU, where he coached the football and men’s basketball teams.
He led the Lutes to four NAIA District I titles in basketball and four national tournament appearances. He was 236-117 in 13 years (1945-58) at PLU.
Coach Harshman moved on to Washington State, where he compiled a 155-181 record during a 13-year tenure from 1958-71. His best teams finished second in the Pac-8 conference three times behind powerhouse UCLA.
At Washington, he recorded a 246-146 mark. He’s second on the school’s all-time wins list.
In 14 years with the Huskies (1971-85), he led them to four 20-win seasons and five postseason appearances, including three NCAA tournaments berths (1976, 1984 and 1985) and two National Invitation Tournament appearances (1980 and 1982).
Coach Harshman was the last coach to beat Wooden — a 103-81 Huskies victory over UCLA on Feb. 22, 1975.
Coach Harshman’s most accomplished players included Steve Hawes, Louie Nelson, James Edwards, Detlef Schrempf, Chris Welp and current UW coach Lorenzo Romar and assistant Paul Fortier.
“It appealed to me, the way he taught basketball,” Schrempf said. “It was just like my high-school coach and just like my coach did it back in Germany. It was all about fundamentals.
“All the players took the same steps. It was based on team basketball. He didn’t care about showing other people up. Or how many times you can dribble between your legs. He taught me how to play basketball the right way, and that had a lasting impact on me and many people,” Schrempf said.
When Coach Harshman retired after the 1985 season, he had compiled a 637-444 record in 40 seasons. He coached in 1,081 college games, which is the ninth-highest total in Division I history. His 637 wins rank 34th on the all-time NCAA coaching list.
The year he retired, Coach Harshman was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Washington dedicated a basketball practice court to Coach Harshman. But his exit as Huskies coach was controversial.
He led the UW to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in 1984. The Huskies were back in the tournament in 1985, but after that season UW President William Gerberding pushed Coach Harshman into retirement.
“We knew something was going on,” former player Fortier said. “Our motto was ‘Final Four in ’84,’ and that year the Final Four was in Seattle. We tried to go as far as we could.
“We started that next year in the top 10. That’s when we started to hear things. Coach never talked about it. Never said anything, but in the back of our minds we knew this could be the last year. It was very emotional.”
Coach Harshman had a 46-17 record and was 28-8 in conference during his last two seasons.
Afterward, Washington fell into a tailspin, and it took three coaches and 13 years before the Huskies made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances again.
Dave Harshman said his father had offers to coach at Hawaii and Denver, but he chose to retire.
“He wasn’t done coaching, but he wasn’t given that opportunity at the University of Washington, and I was very disappointed in that,” Romar said. “As a coach, I wanted to pick up where he left off.”
Coach Harshman was the last stalwart of a generation of legendary basketball coaches on the West Coast that included Wooden, California’s Pete Newell, Oregon State’s Ralph Miller and Slats Gill.
“All of those guys were cut from the same cloth,” said UW assistant Brad Jackson, who played one season for Coach Harshman at WSU. “All of them coached in the era before huge dollars. They coached because it was a great job. They loved kids. Not getting wealthy off the game, and even the exposure limited regionally.”
Basketball made Coach Harshman famous, but it wasn’t why he was beloved.
“He didn’t talk about wins and losses,” Dave Harshman said. “He talked about the relationships and the importance of those relationships. He talked about working with kids. That was the most important thing to him.”
Coach Harshman is survived by sons Michael and Dave and grandson Rick Harshman.
The family is planning a memorial service to be held in a couple of weeks.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com.