Spoonhour rebuilt foundation for Rebels’ success

Beloved former UNLV men’s basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour died at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Wednesday morning at the age of 72.

The cause of death is not known, but Spoonhour had been in and out of the Duke University Medical Center in recent years after receiving a lung transplant there in 2010, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Known more for his successful head coaching runs at Missouri State (1983-92) and Saint Louis (1992-99), Spoonhour was a fan favorite locally for his three seasons spent at UNLV from 2001-04.

He led the Rebels to 21-11 records and NIT appearances in both 2001-02 and 2002-03, but stepped down late in the 2003-04 season due to health reasons when the team was 12-9. His son, Jay, took over the team, leading them to a 6-4 finish and another NIT berth.

Aside from his outstanding 373-202 (.649) record in his 19 seasons as a Division-I head coach, which included eight NCAA tournament berths, he was also known for his unique sense of humor

Jay Spoonhour attempted to land the full-time UNLV job after that season, but the university acted quickly in hiring Lon Kruger, who led the program for seven seasons. After he left for Oklahoma last April, former Spoonhour assistant Dave Rice was hired as the program’s new head coach.

“Coach Spoon was an incredible person,” Rice said in a statement released by UNLV this morning. “I learned so much from him about coaching, but more important, he taught us how to keep things in perspective and showed us how to be better people. He made a difference and had the unique ability to make everyone around him feel so special.”

Spoonhour took over a UNLV program that was essentially in shambles following more trouble with the NCAA under coach Bill Bayno, who was relieved of his duties during the 2000-01 season. Spoonhour was brought in with the assignment of cleaning up the program and getting it back on solid ground, which he did in a remarkably short period of time. It was because of the strong foundation laid by Spoonhour and his staff that Kruger was able to be lured to the desert, and it can be argued that the success being enjoyed by the UNLV program today wouldn’t have come had Spoonhour not gotten things rolling in the right direction.

According to Jay, who now coaches at Moberly Junior College in Missouri, Charlie Spoonhour — referred to by fans as ‘Spoon’ — passed away peacefully while with his family. He’d come home from the hospital just a couple of days ago.

Spoonhour is survived by his wife, Vicki, and two sons. Funeral arrangements are pending.