EL PASO, Texas -- Don Haskins left one indelible mark on college basketball.
The Hall of Fame coach, with 719 victories, took his team to the NCAA tournament 14 times. He brought home seven Western Athletic Conference championships.But Haskins, who stepped down Tuesday after 38 years in charge of the Texas-El Paso basketball team, will be remembered for a bigger accomplishment.
On March 19, 1966, he led the Miners to the NCAA championship, and he started five black players -- a first in the title game. Texas Western, as UTEP then was known, upset the all-white, top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats 72-65.
At first, the decision meant a lot of hate mail for Haskins. But over time, he would be revered as the man who broke down the color barrier in college sports.
"When he was able to win that national championship against Adolf Rupp's all-white team, it changed the look of the game forever," said Oklahoma State's Eddie Sutton, who has coached college basketball for 29 years.
Haskins went on to finish with a 719-353 career record, putting him 10th on the victory list of college coaches. He remains the only men's basketball coach to bring a national title home to Texas.
Now, after spending more than half his life coaching the Miners, Haskins says it's time to move on.
The 69-year-old, known affectionately to UTEP fans as "The Bear" for his burly physique, says he's grateful for all his years at UTEP.
"How many people have been somewhere 38 years and been happy? Not many," he said in announcing his retirement at the Don Haskins Center, the arena renamed for him in 1997.
"That's a miracle," added his wife, Mary, seated beside him.
His wife was misty-eyed throughout the announcement, but Haskins retained a sense of humor.
When asked whether he has any regrets, he looked up, smiled and said, "A hell of a lot. We haven't got time."
UTEP athletic director Bob Stull said a search will begin right away for a new coach. "We're going to do a national search and try and find a coach that can replace a legend," Stull said.
Haskins made it clear it was his decision to leave, and he's not being forced out. The university offered to pay his salary for the next year, which he accepted.
In the last few years, he has had to deal with a number of health problems. He had a mild heart attack during a game in 1996, followed by triple-bypass surgery. Earlier this year, he had a pacemaker implanted in his chest.
Haskins' career started as a student at Oklahoma A&M, where he played for coach Henry Iba, another Hall of Famer. He was an unknown Texas high school coach when Texas Western hired him in 1961.
For nearly four decades at UTEP, Haskins consistently fielded competitive teams, even when he had only a handful of talented players. In the 1980s, UTEP was a WAC powerhouse that featured, among others, a young Tim Hardaway.
In the '90s, Haskins' program struggled after twice being slapped with NCAA sanctions.
In 1991, the school was placed on three years' probation after the NCAA found that basketball players received improper gifts.
Then, in 1997, UTEP was put on a five-year probation for rampant violations in basketball, football and other programs. An investigation found that UTEP used ineligible players and incorrectly certified ineligible players.
Looking to the future, Haskins said Chicago Bulls coach and longtime friend Tim Floyd offered him a job as an assistant, and he plans to serve as an adviser from time to time. Floyd coached under him at UTEP from 1977-86.
"Everything that has happened in my career has been because of my association with Don Haskins," Floyd said. "I have always measured every coach against him and none has been able to compare."
Also, Haskins said Warners Bros. signed him to a deal three years ago to make a film about the 1966 championship team. When asked who would play him in the movie, Haskins joked, "Robert Redford.