Jim Padgett, who coached Cal basketball teams in the early 1970s featuring Phil Chenier and Charles Johnson, died Dec. 19 of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
Padgett spent five seasons as the Bears’ coach, from 1968-69 through 1972-73, compiling a record of 52-53. His 1970-71 squad was 16-9 and tied for third place in the Pac-8 Conference. That team included future NBA guards Chenier and Johnson, along with Jackie Ridgle and Ansley Truitt.
His first team, in ’68-69, was just 12-13 but took UCLA, with senior All-America center Lew Alcindor, to overtime before losing 84-77.
At Cal, Padgett became one of the game’s first coaches to put five African American players on the floor at the same time, when that was not a universally popular thing to do.
“He was somebody who really didn’t see color,” son Pete Padgett told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “He just enjoyed people and athletes and gave people opportunities that very few others would have given them.”
Born in Oklahoma City, Jim Padgett was a star athlete at Shasta High in Redding from 1944-48. He played basketball at Oregon State, served two years in the Air Force during the Korean war, then began teaching and coaching in San Jose. He was coach of the San Jose City College team that won the California state title in 1960.
After his five seasons at Cal, Padgett coached at the University of Nevada in Reno for four seasons, where he compiled a record of 43-61 just as the program had jumped to the Division I level.
Son Pete Padgett was a star high school player at Del Valle High in Walnut Creek and at the University of Nevada, and later became a successful coach at Reno High. There he coached his son David — Jim’s grandson — who went on to play college ball at Louisville.
“I think it was our life. I think it was his life,” Pete told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “That’s pretty much what we were and are, and that’s basketball people. He had a long career and he always used to say, ‘You’re always a coach.’ I think he always looked at life that way.”
Jim Padgett later served as principal for a new high school program run by the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, Nev., building a successful prison education program.
Padgett is survived by Nancy, his wife of 58 years, sons Pete (and wife Debbie) Padgett, Jim J. Padgett, Chris (and wife Jenny) Padgett, and eight grandchildren: Melissa, Chris, David, Lisa, Anna, and Adam, Aaron, and Jena Hatch.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, well-wishers make contributions to the Shriners Hospital For Children – Northern California.
A public memorial service for Jim Padgett will be held in Reno at a time and date to be announced.