Written by John Antonik
A standout basketball player, coach and athletic director, Fred Schaus impacted athletics at West Virginia University like few others.
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As a player, Schaus became one of the first WVU cagers to score 1,000 career points (1,009). As a coach he led the Mountaineers to unprecedented success, reaching the NCAA finals in 1959, and as an athletic director, he helped rejuvenate an athletic program that had fallen on hard times in the late 1970s.
Schaus was an all-state center at Newark (Ohio) High in 1943 before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. While in the Navy, Schaus struck up a friendship with Scotty Hamilton, West Virginia's first basketball All-American, and it was from there that Schaus became interested in the Mountaineers following his discharge in 1946.
Schaus immediately became a star player at WVU for coach Lee Patton, helping the Mountaineers to a 19-3 record and the school's fourth NIT appearance in seven years when he led the team in scoring with a 16.9-points-per-game average. A broken wrist limited Schaus to just 15 games in 1948, but he recovered to have an outstanding junior season in 1949, ranking 10th nationally in scoring with an average of 18.4 points per game to earn third team All-America honors.
In 1950, Schaus was elected class president by the student body, but he graduated early and chose instead to sign a professional contract with the Ft. Wayne Pistons, playing four years with them from 1949-53. In 1951, Schaus averaged 15.1 points per game and was selected for the NBA's first all-star game played in Boston on March 2, 1951.
Schaus had just completed his fifth NBA season with the New York Knicks in 1954 when his alma mater came calling following the sudden death of Legs Hawley and the promotion of basketball coach Red Brown to athletic director.
In six seasons as West Virginia's basketball coach, Schaus led WVU to unprecedented success. West Virginia won the Southern Conference all six years Schaus coached the Mountaineers, claiming a then-record 44 consecutive regular season conference games and 56 games overall from 1956-60.
Schaus' West Virginia teams also won 42 consecutive games in the Field House from 1956-60, produced a 63-5 record against Southern Conference competition, and reached No. 1 in the national polls in 1958.
In 1959, West Virginia reached the NCAA finals in Louisville, Ky. where the Mountaineers lost to California 71-70. Schaus led WVU to the NCAA tournament once again in 1960 with a 26-5 record; his final three seasons at West Virginia saw him accumulate an 81-12 record while his teams never fell out of the national rankings. His overall coaching record at WVU was 146-37.
More than 50 years later, Schaus' teams and players stake claim to more than 40 school records, including highest scoring average (89.5 ppg.) and highest winning percentage in a season (.929 in 1958).
Schaus coached All-Americans Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West, and recruited a third, guard Rod Thorn, although he never got to coach him in college.
In 1960, Schaus was enticed to take the Los Angeles Lakers coaching job and led them to seven consecutive playoff appearances before moving up to the front office to become vice president and general manager for new owner Jack Kent Cooke.
Schaus was responsible for four Western Conference titles (1962, 1963, 1965 and 1966) as a coach, and then as general manager, he helped construct the team in 1972 that included Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillian, Pat Riley and Happy Hairston that won an NBA-record 33 straight games and captured the first title in franchise history.
Schaus returned to the college game in 1973 when he was hired by George King - Schaus' first full-time assistant coach at West Virginia - to coach the Purdue Boilermakers. Schaus sat on the bench for six more seasons, compiling a 104-40 record with the Boilermakers before becoming the school's assistant athletic director in 1979.
Two years later, Schaus returned to his alma mater to become athletic director. By the time he retired in 1989, West Virginia had made six NCAA tournament appearances in basketball under Gale Catlett and five bowl appearances in football under Don Nehlen, including a trip to the Fiesta Bowl to face Notre Dame for the 1989 national title.
Schaus served on the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee and also played a role in the reorganization of college football's television arrangement as an advocate of the College Football Assocation (CFA).
Schaus, the recipient of the Order of Vandalia in 1992, is a member of the West Virginia state and Ohio Basketball halls of fame.
In 1989, the athletic department initiated the Fred Schaus Captain's Award, which is presented annually to West Virginia University's most outstanding team captain as awarded by the WVU Athletic Council.
Schaus died February 10, 2010. He is survived by his wife Barbara, sons John and Jim (athletic director at Ohio University), and six grandchildren.