RAY MEARS OF WITTENBERG UNIVERSITY
Mears took his first coaching position at Cadiz High School in Harrison County in 1949 and doubled as the head basketball coach and assistant football coach. In 1950 he left Cadiz for a two-year stint in the service, and returned to the head basketball coaching position at West Tech High School in Cleveland in 1952. This team won the district championship and finished second in the city of Cleveland. Mears spent four successful years at West Tech.
The young Mears next moved to Wittenberg University (Springfield) as head basketball coach, assistant football and head tennis coach. In six seasons at Wittenberg, he led the Tiger's to four Ohio Conference titles and a 121-23 record. The hallmark of Mears' team was great defense. For three season, Wittenberg was ranked Number 1 in defense in the country and produced two first-team All-Americans. In 1960-61 the Tigers won the small college basketball title. Mears was named the Ohio Coach of the Year in 1960.
From Wittenberg, the thirty-five year old Mears went to The University of Tennessee, becoming one of the NCAA's most successful coaches during his 15-year stint there. He compiled three Southeastern conference championships between 1962 and 1977 and an overall winning percentage of .713. Twice Mears was named the SEC Coach of the Year (1967 and 1977). He coached 12 All-Americans at Tennessee, including NBA star Bernard King. After 21 years of college coaching and a 399-135 record with no losing seasons and a 74.7 percentage, he retired in 1977. As of 1991, he was ranked 13th on the all-time list of winningest collegiate coaches.
One of the prime achievements of Mears' time at Tennessee was the introduction of the phrase "Big Orange County" to the Volunteer fans. As an Ohio native, Mears recalled the Steubenville "Big Red" and liked the name and all it implied. The Volunteers and the Knoxville area took it to heart, along with the innovative pre-game shows Mears brought to the fans.
His coaching philosophy was Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. There's lots of room for winners in the world but the 'standing room only' sign is up for losers. A winning spirit is essential in a player as well as the fact that a coach be a living example of enthusiasm.
Coach Mears was born in 1929 in Dover Ohio and is married to the former Dana Davis. They have three sons: Steve, Mike and Matt. He played college basketball at Miami of Ohio University as a walk-on, graduating from there in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in education. He earned his master's degree at Kent State while coaching at West Tech. He is a member of the Miami University Athletics Hall of Fame and is one of the reasons Miami is recognized nationally as the "Cradle of Coaches."