Ed Pepple, whose name was synonymous with Mercer Island High School boys basketball for 42 years, died in his sleep Monday morning at age 88.
He had cancer, said his son, Kyle.
“You play for him your whole life,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Monday, his voice cracking with emotion in a telephone interview after receiving the news.
Snyder, who played at Duke after being on the 1985 Islanders state-title team, said it was easier to write his feelings, and had earlier sent a text message: “Coach Pepple was the hub of a wheel that extended across states and generations. What he built he did so in foundational values that represented his beliefs. Basketball was the metaphor for those values. He was kind, he was tough when you needed him to be. And no matter how hard, he always told you the truth.”
Pepple is the winningest coach in Washington history with a record of 952-306 over 49 years. That includes early stops at Fife High School and Mark Morris High School in Longview. He was 882-237 at Mercer Island, where he won 23 KingCo Conference titles.
He is in six halls of fame, including the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame and the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Pepple’s Islanders teams won four state championships, with three at the 4A level (1985, 1993, 1997) and the 3A title in 1999. His 1981 team lost to Shadle Park when what appeared to many to be a late basket by the Spokane team was counted as good. That game is generally cited as the most controversial ending to any prep championship game in state history.
Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea once said of Pepple, “He’s THE legend as far as high school boys basketball goes. He set the standard. Every program out there has a little Ed Pepple in it.”
Born in Denver, Pepple lived in six states and attended 20 schools, in part because his stepfather was in the Army. He played three sports at Lincoln High School, where he developed as a 5-foot-9 guard on a state-tournament team coached by Bill Nollan.
After a season at Everett Community College, Pepple transferred to the University of Utah and played there.
After college, Pepple joined the Marine Corps and served before starting his career as a teacher and coach. His first season at Mercer Island was 1967-68 with a team featured Steve Hawes, who later starred at the University of Washington and went on to a 10-year NBA career.
Pepple started the feeder “Little Dribblers” basketball program on Mercer Island in the early 1970s, and it gave him a pipeline of players. His high school teams were among the first in the state to travel to out-of-state tournaments during the Christmas holidays.
In team meetings each year he worked with players to develop what he called a “recipe for success.” First-person pronouns were to be avoided — “I, me, my and mine” and were to be replaced by “we, us and our.”
A disciplinarian, Pepple disliked long hair, and players’ haircuts had to meet his approval.
Pepple retired from teaching at Mercer Island in 1988 but continued to coach through the 2008-09 season.
As word of Pepple’s decline spread in recent weeks, the family received more than 100 notes, cards and letters from former players, opponents, managers and stat-crew members.
At a retirement dinner in 2009 attended by about 300, Pepple said, “No coach has been more blessed than I.”
As the dinner concluded, Pepple took off his maroon blazer and left it on the podium for his successor, Gavin Cree. It was in keeping with the Islanders tradition of seniors taking off their blazers and leaving them at season’s end.
Along with his son Kyle, of East Wenatchee, Pepple is survived by his wife of 65 years, Shirley; sons Terry of Mercer Island; and daughters Jody (Page) of Enumclaw and Jill (Logie) of San Diego. Jill’s son, Matt, is a former Islanders player who now is the coach at Point Loma Nazarene in California. There are five other grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Ed and Shirley met when he was playing at Everett Community College and she was homecoming queen at Everett High School, Kyle Pepple said.
Kyle Pepple said his father will be cremated and his ashes placed in Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.