Coach Leon Black
February 21, 1932 – October 12, 2021
Leon Black, 89, Austin, TX – “Coach Black” to the many who knew and loved him – spent a lifetime built around three key pillars: Faith, Family and Friendships. Coach Black put God first in all that he did and made a positive impact in all the lives he touched. He went on to be with his Savior on Oct. 12, 2021, comfortably in his home surrounded by family.
Born February 21, 1932 to Peron and Lillian Black, Leon grew up on his family’s farm in the small East Texas community of Martin’s Mill. Leon spent much of his youth picking cotton, grappling for catfish, and studying the Bible. Each morning, while doing his daily chores to feed the livestock, he trained himself to jump extraordinarily high, leaping up to touch ever-higher branches. By the time he was playing organized high-school basketball, Leon was renowned for his jumping talent – he could take a single step and dunk the ball, or with a running start, put either elbow up on the rim. People traveled across the state to see this leaping 5’ 8” farm boy. During his senior year, Leon served as both the Mighty Mustangs’ acting coach and starting point guard, leading his team of seven to a 54-4 record season and on to win the 1949 Texas State Championship. A true Texas version of “Hoosiers.” Over Black’s junior and senior year, this gritty team had a record of 109-8. Black would later be inducted into the Texas High School Hall of Fame.
The University of Texas at Austin men’s basketball coach at the time, Jack Gray, liked what he saw in young Leon at those championship games – his passion, discipline, grit, and uncompromising work ethic all shone through. And, as fate would have it, Leon longed to become a Longhorn. Although he received scholarship offers from seven Southwest Conference schools, as well as the University of Oklahoma, Louisiana State University, and Notre Dame, Black chose UT Austin as his new home.
From 1949-1953, Leon lettered in varsity basketball at the University of Texas, he became the team’s starting point guard and eventually, captain. A relatively small player at 5’8”, Black excelled at defense, and created his own scoring opportunities via super-speed reactions and remarkable rebound skills. Black graduated with his bachelor’s degree and his Master of Education and was a proud member of the Texas Cowboys, an honorary men’s service and spirit organization.
Following a brief period of service in the U.S. Army, Leon returned to Texas to launch his coaching career. He began at Schreiner University in Central Texas, then moved back to East Texas to coach at Van High School and Lon Morris College. During this time, Coach Black met and married the love of his life, Peggy Ann Chamblee, an East Texas beauty. They started a family, which grew to include four children – Chuck, Natalie, Audrey, and Jason, and were lovingly married for 64 blissful years.
Having led the Van HS Vandals to a 26-6 record in 1959, Coach Black really began to hit his stride at Lon Morris. There, he built a 131-37 record over five years, leading the Bearcats to a runner-up spot in the 1962 NJCAA National Tournament, an unbeaten record in the 1963 Texas Eastern Conference, and a 7th-place national finish in 1964. Coach Black was named Jacksonville [TX] Young Man of the Year and National Coach of the Year during his tenure at Lon Morris, but often noted he was most proud that every one of his players continued on to a four-year college and earned their degree.
In 1965, Coach Black was hired by his former coach, Bradley, as an assistant coach for the Longhorns. Three years later, Black took over as Texas’ head coach. Black’s legacy at Texas represents much more than statistics. He arrived at a time of historical transition at the University and in society when moral leadership was required. Coach Black was the man for the job.
Coach Black was responsible for integrating Texas’ basketball program by recruiting the Longhorns’ first seven African-American players. For Coach Black, race was a non-factor. He always treated everyone – students, colleagues, even some Aggies – consistently, with dignity and respect. Coach Black’s goal at Texas was to positively shape young men, to help students become better people through athletics. He never backed down from a fight, especially if it meant doing the right thing. Among the first African-American players Coach Black successfully recruited into the UT basketball program were: Jimmy Blacklock, Larry Robinson, Johnny Moore and Ovie Dotson, all of whom went on to have professional basketball careers.
These players will all tell you that as a coach Leon Black was a disciplined and disciplinary father figure. He held himself and everyone else to relentlessly high standards. He ran an extremely tight ship – players were expected to be clean-cut, facial-hair-free, no tattoos, no swearing, no shortcuts. He didn’t believe in taking the easy way out, and frequently reiterated this favorite maxim: “If it were easy, then everyone would do it.” Coach Black’s style was to “play anyone, anywhere” to best prepare his teams for tournament competition.
In recruiting gifted players to UT, Coach Black faced many headwinds – the ancient, decaying Gregory Gymnasium, a perception that the University of Texas was not welcoming to African-American players, the sports publicist Jones Ramsey declaring the only two sports at Texas were football and spring football and the widespread ramp-up in pay-to-play recruiting in the Southwest Conference.
Coach Black ushered UT Austin into the modern sports era, following two Southwest Conference championships, and a milestone upset of the University of Houston that put Texas into the Sweet 16 in the 1972 NCAA Tournament, as well as being named 1974 Southwest Conference Coach of the Year and Coach of the Year - Southwest Region by Coach & Athlete Magazine.
During Coach Black’s tenure, “alternative recruiting strategies” in the Southwest Conference were rampant and blatant. Black loathed the obvious corruption. After losing a few more top recruits to Texas A&M, Black reported Texas A&M University to the NCAA for multiple recruiting violations, which led to probation sanctions for the Aggies. This period was very difficult for Coach Black and his family, as enraged A&M fans harassed and threatened them, even in their own home.
The harassment of his family contributed to Coach Black’s 1976 resignation as head coach after 8 years, but by that time, his mark had been made. By being himself and standing by his own values, Black changed the panoramic view of Texas men’s basketball forever. Under his leadership, racial tensions diminished, black athletes and their extended families became loyal Longhorns, and a solid foundation for a winning basketball program was laid. Additionally, before stepping down, Black ensured Gregory Gym was set for retirement, too; he led efforts in funding for a new state-of-the-art multi-use arena – later dubbed the Frank C. Erwin Center.
Following his resignation, Coach Black received other offers to continue coaching elsewhere – most notably from other Southwest Conference schools and from the Mexican Olympic basketball team. But Coach Black was a Longhorn for life – he accepted and held a position as an Assistant Athletic Director until his 2008 retirement. In post-retirement, Coach Black was a strong supporter of the program and cherished his special friendships with Coach Rick Barnes and Coach Shaka Smart. The byproduct of his passion for UT basketball is a record that won’t show up on any books: for 54 years [1964-2018], Black only missed three home basketball games. During the Eyes of Texas after a victorious game, Coach Black would be seen with a tear in his eye beaming with pride for his alma mater.
Coach Black had a truly special 70+-year relationship with The University of Texas at Austin; the school provided a farm boy from East Texas with the opportunity to get a good education, to follow his passion of coaching, and to build lifelong relationships with Longhorn Nation. UT was good to Leon Black, and he was great for Texas athletics. Coach Black was inducted into the UT Hall of Honor in 1989 and the Greater Austin Sports Foundation Hall of Honor in 2020.
As you might expect, UT Austin was a large presence in Black’s family life, too. Though his coaching/recruiting schedule often kept Black away from home, his eldest son, Chuck, has fond memories of accompanying his dad and the team on some of their away-game trips, riding and hanging out with the players. Black’s eldest daughter, Natalie, cherishes her memories of summer vacations spent with Texas Athletic Department staff and their families at Fort Clark Springs, swimming, biking, and horseback riding.
Coach Black had a few other passions besides Longhorn sports ...fishing and playing golf with his friends and family. He absolutely loved fishing– he cherished the black bass fishing trips in East Texas with close friends David McWilliams, Ron Franklin and Bill Bethea or the all-night catfishing trips with his youngest son, Jason, where father and son filled big trash cans full of 3-10 pound channel cat.
Coach Black had a standing golf tee time [M/W/F 7:30AM] at Barton Creek Country Club with his motley crew of 18-hole walkers. Despite making two very lucky hole in ones, he was a terrible golfer. During most rounds, normal golfers desired the fairway, not Coach Black, he found his joy weaving in and out of trees or navigating the creek bottoms “hunting for golf balls.” At the end of each round, on the way to eat their chocolate chip cookies in the 19th hole, Black would have a scorecard in the 90s, more balls than he started with, and fresh battle scars [scraped-up arms and legs] and shoelaces filled with sticker burs.
Coach Black had two minor vices throughout his lifetime; a craving for some tobacco [pipe, chewing tobacco, then chewing double wrapped cigars] and his nightly bowl of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.… Most nights he could be found asleep in “his chair” with a cigar in his mouth and an empty ice cream bowl in his lap.
At the center of Coach Black’s life was the cherished relationships with his wife, kids and grandkids. Each had a special place in his heart. To them, he was their role model. To him, they were his inspiration. Coach Black and his wife, Peggy, were the All-American East Texas couple. Peggy loved being “The Coach’s Wife”, as his #1 fan and supporting his passion of coaching and sharing in his love for the University of Texas. Their 64 years of marriage was a true love story, arguments were few and far between, a faithful relationship that served as an example for their children and friends. The heartbreak for Coach Black as a parent was the loss of his daughter Audrey. We rejoice for them to be reunited in heaven.
A characteristic that would be used to describe Coach Black is that he was “tough as nails” and a fighter. Nothing was more emblematic of this than his stare down with hospice. In March of 2020 [during Covid-19], Black spent three weeks at the Heart Hospital. Doctors informed the family that the kidneys have failed and they put him on hospice, Black said “I don’t want to die in the hospital, send me home.” Black returned home and immediately displayed the work ethic he often demanded of his players by working out to get his body stronger. As his heart doctor, Dr. Morris profoundly stated, “if anyone can beat hospice, it is Coach Leon Black.” 18 months later, hospice was in the penalty box.
Coach Black fought for his family, he fought for more coaching sessions with his kids and grandkids and cherished diving into more tubs of Blue Bell. During this overtime session, every day was a blessing. A special celebratory moment was seeing Coach Black celebrate his granddaughter’s commitment to play golf at the University of Virginia, where she will carry on the family tradition of D1 athletics. The icing on the cake was celebrating 12 months off of hospice over Easter Brunch at Austin Country Club.
Finally – yet from the very beginning – Black was a humble man of God. He grew up in a Southern Baptist home, and was deeply rooted in his Christian faith. Coach Black kept God heart-centered through ritual: praying prior to eating, reading daily devotionals, and serving as a deacon at Hyde Park Baptist Church for over a half-century. Those he touched remember some of the simple maxims he shared “nothing good happens after 10PM” “Never seen anything good from alcohol.”
Both salt of the earth and a bright Texas star, the legacy of Leon Black will continue to live on reflecting his devotion to his faith, family and friends during his time on earth. Welcome to Heaven Coach Black, job well done!
Coach Black is survived by his wife, Peggy Black, son Chuck Black, daughter Natalie Hetherly and husband Mike Hetherly. son Jason Black and wife Kelly Black. Grandchildren Blake and Brandon Hetherly, Gaston and Chantal Reeder, Ally and Katie Black. He is preceded in death by his parents, Peron and Lillian Black, his brother Bill Black and daughter Audrey Black Reeder.
As they say in athletics, Black left it all out on the court.
“He fought the good fight. He ran the race well. He kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7)
The family will have a graveside service for family and East Texas friends on October 20th at 11:00 AM at Holly Springs Cemetery in Martin’s Mill, Texas. For the Austin community, Longhorn Nation and friends of Coach Black, a Celebration of Life Service will be held Saturday, October 23, 2021 at 11:00 AM, 2313 Red River St, Austin, Texas. Immediately followed by a reception at Royal Memorial Stadium in the Hall of Fame Room. The family would like to offer our special thanks to Coach Black’s network of doctors who compassionately cared for our hero over the last few years. Special thanks to the team of doctors; Dr. Dave Morris, Dr. Kunjan Bhatt and the entire staff at the Austin Heart Hospital, and Dr. James Marroquin and Dr. Yasser Nasser; to the healthcare support from Halcyon, the tenderness and love from Flora Mari & Emeka Igboegwu, you brought joy to him every day. In lieu of flowers we request that a donation is made in the Coach’s honor to the Austin Sports Foundation or To Cure a Rose Foundation.
Celebration of Life
LBJ Library Auditorium
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Coach Leon Black
October 22, 2021
A good coach, and an even better man. A great soul, and a humble spirit. This is the Leon Black I met at Gregory Gym in the fall of 1972. He was a “Breath of Humanity” for me, a young African American man stepping onto the UT campus in the fall of 1972 as an Instructor in Physical Instruction, and then a year later as the Women’s Basketball Coach and the first African American head coach of any sport at UT. We quickly developed a relationship based on respect, trust, and dignity. Race and integration were at the forefront at UT which was grappling with many related issues. UT was nothing like it is today, athletically nor racially. Leon and I engaged in many deep, honest conversations about the reality of race, athletics, and recruiting.
Leon was a man of Faith living what he professed and what his faith required. Truly rare and courageous, particularly for those times. He was a forerunner and trailblazer in accepting and understanding the innate humanity and dignity of all human beings no matter the color of skin. His words and actions matched his heart which was genuine and true. From my humble perspective, this is the greatest treasure of Coach Leon Black's legacy. It is my belief that UT Athletics should initiate a special Leon Black Humanitarian Award.
My warmest regards and condolences to Peggy Black and the entire family.
May the soul of Leon Black rest in Peace, Power, and Presence! Well Done, faithful servant!
October 21, 2021
I knew Leon Black as “Coach Black", having the honor to play basketball for him at The University of Texas from 1970-74. He was a man of faith, a great family man displaying his moral fiber to his core, a fierce competitor, a humble person with a sense of humor, and a great coach/teacher. He led by example. His life lessons were very impactful to me and I carried them over into my own coaching/teaching career. Betsy and I often reflect on the role model that “Coach” provided to everyone he knew. His beliefs and influence will long be remembered. We talk about “difference-makers” in our lives. For us, Coach Black, served as a difference-maker as he touched the lives of people too numerous to mention. His actions throughout his life continue to make a difference and the world a better place.
Coach, God bless Peggy and your wonderful family. Rest in Eternal Peace.
Harry and Betsy Larrabee
October 21, 2021
Coach Leon Black was one of the kindest men I have
ever known. He was always Positive, but he too
always had the fight to win whatever Game it might be.
We became friends when I was at UT and retained
that friendship, even during the years when I was
PA Announcer for the SMU Mustangs against his
Leon was a true gentleman and leaves a large
hole in the Longhorn Nation!
May God Bless my Friend Leon and the Family.
October 20, 2021
Coach Black will long be remembered for his honesty and integrity. He was such a fierce competitor; however, he kept it under control. I came to UT in the fall of 1972, after a 1,400 mile trip from Stevens Point, Wisconsin with my Mom and Dad. Stevens Point had 20,000 people and the University close to 44,000. Talk about culture shock. With that said, Coach Black was always available to talk and discuss all things...not just basketball. He believed in working hard and getting better. He always asked the question, "What can you do to make your teammate better." Coach Black was a servant leader and always put others before himself. I learned so much from him; however, it took me a lot of years to figure out how much he taught me. I can see Coach up in heaven right now, organizing a pick-up game and competing at the highest level. Coach, you will be missed; however, your affect on the world is still going strong as you touched so many lives while you were here.
October 19, 2021
I never met Coach Black other than a few quick handshakes and hello's through the years. Everyone talked about what a good man he was & I really enjoyed reading his obituary & comments from his friends. I just remember when I started at UT in September 1969 for 4 years, we would rush over to Gregory Gym for the freshman games to grab the coveted seats on row 2 across from the UT bench, and we would stay through the varsity games of course. That was some of my most memorable times at UT, particularly when we would play M&A. That arena would be rocking for our UT players. Coach Black was always cool and collected, and he was a great coach. Thank you Coach Black for being such a great example and great UT coach. It was so much fun.
God bless Coach Black and his family at this time of loss. I am so glad y'all had time to talk and visit before his passing. I wish I had known him better and more. God is good.
October 17, 2021
I was blessed to have met Leon in 1965. I was associated with radio station KVET-AM 1300. We broadcast all the UT basketball games.
If there was one word to define Coach Black it was his "integrity"
GOD bless his family and may his memory last forever!
Leon was a special man!
October 16, 2021
Coach Black helped and prayed for me at the start of my career with FCA in 1990. I could always count on him. We had some great discussions during Bible study in the T room with several other coaches and athletic department staff! He will be missed! Prayers for Peggy and the family!
October 15, 2021
To the Blacks Family, sorry for your loss.
I cherish the honor and privilege of knowing Coach Black as a friend ,educator and college referee during his coaching years at Lon Morris in the early 60's and at UT. He was a gentleman on the court and off the court. During my tenure with the SWC I always enjoyed our professional friendship during his coaching tenure and after his retirement. Coach Black was a role model for our student athletes and in my opinion what coaches should strive to follow. A Great Person.
October 14, 2021
Blessings on the families that have come together to make these kinds of memories so amazing special. Blessings on Leon Black's "ripple" --- whereby he has flowed up...into a world that we are now beneficiaries of.
October 14, 2021
I came to UT from Kentucky to play basketball, the year AFTER Coach Black’s last year as UT head coach. However it wasn’t too long before I met Him at the UT dining hall. Our friendship grew deeper at Hyde Park Baptist Church, and along side him in the Athletics Department for several years. He was at every game on the front row as I recall.
I’ll never forget telling him once that I was” in over my head at UT” having been a small town man myself and a sub on the team. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “John, you don’t give yourself enough credit”. I’ve never forgot that. As such, I stayed the course at UT instead. I earned a starting spot my senior year. And, I graduated with a degree.
Coach Black played a big role in my future. While I didn’t play for him, I benefited from his encouragement and friendship.
Always glad to see you, always an encouragement, Coach Black will always be remembered as more than just a good man. I’ll remember him as a fine Christian example to all of his friends, and an authentic man of God.
For me, I can only rejoice for Coach Black as his suffering is over for all eternity. UT has lost a giant of a man, and I am so happy that he called me his friend. Condolences to his outstanding family!
Rose Marie Harbison
October 14, 2021
Peggy.Natalie.Jason and Chuck
I am so sorry for your loss. He was such wonderful person and great coach.
Thinking of you.
Dr W Kenneth Horwitz
October 14, 2021
To the Leon Black family: In my dealings with Leon I never found a more humble and caring man. When two of my children enrolled at UT I told them to seek out Leon Black as a man who would help in any way possible if he could. My feelings about him never changed over the years because he never changed. Please accept my sincerest sympathy with the knowledge that his memory will be eternal.
Ken Horwitz , UT Basketball, '55-'57
October 14, 2021
Coach Black's core beliefs of hard work and winning with integrity continue to be blessings to all of us. Well done Coach!
Mrs. Black and Family, please take comfort that Coach is enjoying the everlasting and boundless grace of our Heavenly Father.
UT Basketball 1974 - 78