KNOXVILLE -- Ray Mears, the winningest coach in University of Tennessee basketball history, passed away at 1:15 p.m. Monday at NHC Health Care Center in Knoxville. Born Nov. 8, 1926, Mears was 80 years old. Arrangements are pending and will be announced by Rose Mortuary-Mann Heritage Chapel.
A native of Dover, Ohio, Mears coached the Vols for 15 years from 1963-77. During his term, Mears tallied a remarkable record of 278-112 equaling an astounding .713 winning percentage. Mears averaged approximately 18.5 wins per season while at Tennessee.
The accomplishments by Mears over his 15 years have placed him in the top 20 of the Tennessee, SEC and NCAA coaching record books. Mears and his 278 wins currently places him No. 1 all time at Tennessee, and tied for eighth all time for the conference. In addition, his .713 winning percentage puts him seventh in the SEC.
In 21 seasons as a head coach, Mears compiled a 399-135 record and a .747 winning percentage that currently ranks 17th among the winningest coaches in NCAA history.
Tennessee won three SEC championships with Mears as the head coach. Mears' teams won their first championship in 1967, then shared it in 1972, and again won it in his final season of 1977. The Vols also appeared in the postseason seven times under Mears. They made the NCAA tournament three times, the NIT tournament twice and once went to the discontinued Collegiate Commissioners Association meet. Mears also provided Tennessee with seven 20-win seasons during his time. Just as importantly, he created a rivalry with national power Kentucky and his 15 wins over Adolph Rupp throughout his career at Wittenberg and Tennessee are the most by any Vols head coach.
Ernie Grunfeld – Former Tennessee Forward (1973-77)
"I had the privilege to play for Coach Mears at the University of Tennessee. He was a very important part of my life and he will be greatly missed. I learned some great lessons from Coach. He was a great leader, innovator and an extremely competitive person. He taught me about hard work, dedication and loyalty — lessons that have stayed with me my whole life. His attention to detail was unmatched. He encouraged us to not only be good basketball players but also to be good human beings. I will never forget the four great years I had playing for Coach Mears in Knoxville. I want to extend my deepest condolences to Coach Mears's family as well as all Big Orange supporters.”
UT Director of Athletics Mike Hamilton
“Coach Mears was a true Tennessee legend. He created a tradition of basketball success, pageantry, and fan support by which all future basketball teams and coaches will be measured. When speaking with fans of Coach Mears or one of his former players, everyone has a Stokely story or a memory of his great showmanship. He made a difference, he made an impression and he had great vision. He will be missed.”
Head Coach Bruce Pearl
“Coach Mears was one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history. He brought a style of play and atmosphere to Tennessee basketball that always will be treasured. I feel very fortunate to have met him and to have spent time with him over the past few years. I know how truly excited he was about the resurgence of Tennessee basketball. I am glad that we were able to honor Coach Mears and John Ward last season and retire Bernard King’s jersey this season because their names will hang in the rafters forever.”
Former Voice of the Vols John Ward
“Perhaps more than any other person, Ray Mears made it comfortable for everyone to be a Tennessee fan by his marketing ideas. That made UT athletics inclusive rather than exclusive. Anyone could be a citizen of Big Orange Country. Ray Mears’ ideas made sidewalk alumni feel at home just as a much as a graduate with four degrees. That was his strength.”
Former Tennessee Basketball Coach Don DeVoe
“Ray Mears was a giant in the basketball coaching profession. He took Tennessee to heights that had never been experienced before. More importantly, he was a giant of a man and he will be missed by the basketball profession. I was the coached who replaced him but the support he showed me during that time of transition meant a great deal to me. He was always looking for the positive things for Tennessee basketball and how we could improve.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)