Former Hoop Coach/AD Hickman Dies

February 21, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Bernard "Peck" Hickman, head men's basketball coach for the University of Louisville from 1944-67 and the school's athletics director for 13 years, died Feb. 20 in Louisville. He was 88.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Paul United Methodist Church (2000 Douglass Blvd.), with burial in Louisville Memorial Gardens West. Memorial gifts may go to the American Cancer Society.

Hickman is credited for building the University of Louisville's traditionally strong collegiate basketball program. Before Hickman's arrival, the Cardinals had produced only one winning season in its previous nine. The pre-Hickman composite record at Louisville was an unimpressive 137-167.

Hickman changed that image quickly. He promptly turned the sagging Cardinal program around, guiding his initial U of L team in 1944 to a 16-3 record. That maiden year under Hickman started a string of 46 consecutive winning seasons for the Cardinals, an NCAA record.

In 23 seasons at U of L (1944-67), Hickman directed the Cardinals to a 443-183 overall record, a .708 winning percentage that ranks him among the top 45 NCAA Division I coaches of all time.

His tenure as head coach was amazing in many respects, but perhaps none more so than the fact that he never had a team with a losing record. He produced eleven 20-win seasons at U of L and averaged over 19 victories a season. He guided the Cardinals to five NCAA Tournament appearances and six NIT appearances.

In only his fourth season at U of L, Hickman's Cardinals capped a 29-6 campaign by winning the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament (NAIB) in 1948, the school's first national championship. Eight years later, his 1956 team won the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) championship, posting a 26-3 record.

Hickman directed U of L to its first of seven NCAA Final Four appearances in 1959, winning the Mideast Regional championship. Four teams during his tenure at U of L were ranked among the nation's top ten in the final Associated Press polls.

While his teams achieved lofty measures on the court, Hickman's players also reached high academic standards. Over 82 percent of his players graduated during his 23 seasons at U of L, with 108 of 131 players earning degrees.

Hickman took over the administrative responsibilities of serving as U of L's Director of Athletics in 1954. He remained in the dual role of athletic director and head basketball coach until his retirement from coaching in 1967. His .708 winning percentage ranked seventh among active major college coaches when he retired to devote full time to his athletic director duties, a position he held until 1973.

Under his guidance, Louisville's athletic program joined the Missouri Valley Conference in 1964. The University's intramural program was expanded under Hickman, due mainly to his involvement in the completion of Crawford Gymnasium. He was also instrumental in renovating Fairgrounds Stadium (now Cardinal Stadium) to a 36,000 seat football complex. Six NCAA Final Fours were staged in Freedom Hall during his 20-year reign as the U of L athletic director.

A fiery competitor and yet at the same time extremely likeable, Hickman acquired the reputation of a winner even before joining Louisville. An all-state basketball player two seasons at Central City (Ky.) High School in 1930-31, he went on to star at guard for three years on Coach Ed Diddle's powerful Western Kentucky teams. The Hilltoppers were a combined 68-17 (.800 winning percentage) during Hickman's career, including a 24-3 mark his senior year when WKU's three losses were by a total of five points.

After graduating in 1935 with a bachelor's degree in physical education, he went into coaching at Hodgenville (Ky.) High School and suffered through a 3-18 record in his first year. He soon reversed the trend, however, and went on to compile an outstanding 216-49 record at Hodgenville and Louisville Valley High School before taking over U of L's head coaching position in 1944. Two of his three Valley teams advanced to the state tournament.

A native of Central City, Ky., Hickman earned a master's degree in physical education through the University of Kentucky College of Education in 1944. He has served on the NCAA Press Committee, NCAA Hospitality Committee, NCAA Housing Committee (chairman), the UPI Coaches Association, and as the chairman of the Missouri Valley Conference Public Relations Committee. Hickman also served as an assistant professor in U of L's physical education department.