Charlie Spoonhour was a gifted coach and quipster

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You could count on Charlie Spoonhour for two things: A winning season and great quotes. The first made him popular at the places he coached, notably Missouri State and St. Louis. The second made him popular with, well, everyone.

Spoonhour, who died Tuesday at the age of 72, only had three losing seasons in his 19-year career, using “Spoonball” – a mix of sharpshooters and stiff defense – to take Missouri State (known as Southwest Missouri State when he was there) to five NCAA tournaments and St. Louis to three. But even when his teams lost, they were still fun to watch and play on.

“Coach Spoon always wanted us to have fun. When he came here, the tone was pretty negative. But he said to (Erwin) Claggett and me, ‘We’re just going to have fun. This is not like life and death. We’re going to have fun.’ We were 12-17 my sophomore year (Spoon’s first season) and that was one of the most fun years I’ve ever had,” former Billiken Scott Highmark told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He was like a pied piper. People would come to a game just to see Charlie Spoonhour coach. Who does that? He was such an interesting character. He’d go to Tom’s Bar and Grill after a game and somebody would run up to the bar to talk to him and soon they’d be saying Charlie was their best friend.”

Coaches also liked “Spoon.” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins fondly remembers days when he was still at Cincinnati and he and Spoonhour would spend the nights before tournament games chatting, laughing and telling stories. Scout and watch film? Forget it.

But Spoonhour’s greatest gift may have been hit wit.

There’s an incredible collection of quotes and quips assembled at The Dagger, but two are too good not to post here. (Hit The Dagger for the rest.)

  • “They’ve been on the road longer than Custer.” — Spoonhour on upcoming opponent Grambling’s arduous non-conference schedule that resulted in a 2-11 start. (Sports Illustrated, 1988)
  • “I’ve got these huge bags under my eyes; I look older than I am, if that’s possible. When the season is over and I can get away from basketball, I don’t get blond-headed or anything, but I look a little bit younger. Right now, I look like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet.” — a 54-year-old Spoonhour on the grind of the 1994-95 season. (Minnesota Star-Tribune, 1995)

Then there was this nugget after a 28-point loss to Cincinnati in 1998: “I would suggest we get out of here before the roof falls in.”

Insight and humor paired with a keen coaching mind? Hard to believe he didn’t win more than 373 times as a coach.

Spoonhour spent his post-coaching career as a TV analyst for the Missouri Valley Conference and was always a hit on the banquet circuit. No wonder why.

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