He was a Hall of Fame coach who took his teams to four Final Fours, who attended every Final Four for 58 years and who was instrumental in bringing a living legend to the Utah Jazz.
Longtime University of Utah basketball coach Jack Gardner, whose influence on basketball in Utah was felt in a variety of circles, died Sunday night due to natural causes. He turned 90 just two weeks ago.
Nicknamed the "The Fox," Gardner coached at Utah for 18 years, winning seven conference titles and compiling a 339-154 record with appearances in the Final Four in 1961 and 1966. He coached Ute greats such as Art Bunte, Billy McGill, Merv Jackson and Mike Newlin during his tenure.
He also was instrumental in the building of the Special Events Center (later renamed the Jon M. Huntsman Center), which opened in 1969 and was referred to by many as "The House that Jack Built."
Gardner was born March 29, 1910, in Texico, N.M. However he spent most of his first 29 years in California, attending high school in Redlands, where he was a four-sport athlete, and college at USC, where he was the captain of the basketball team and leading scorer in the conference.
After earning his Masters degree, he began his coaching career at Alhambra High School and then moved on to Modesto Junior College, where he won three state championships in four years.
In 1939 he was hired as the head coach at Kansas State, where he led the Wildcats to two Final Fours before moving on to Utah in 1953. During his 18 years at Utah, Gardner led the "Runnin' Redskins" to 10 postseason appearances, capped by the Final Four teams of 1961 and 1966. He compiled a 486-235 record in his career at Utah and Kansas State.
After retiring from basketball in 1971, Gardner became the golf coach at Utah for seven years before retiring from the U. in 1978. He was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. He also set a record that may never be broken by attending every NCAA Final Four from 1939 to 1996.
Gardner became a consultant for the Utah Jazz soon after the franchise moved to Utah from New Orleans and received much of the credit for helping "discover" John Stockton.
His son, Jim, said Gardner used to stay with him and his family in Malibu, Calif., during the winter. As Jim tells it, his father used to get "bored," so he would attend games at nearby Pepperdine University. One of the teams in Pepperdine's conference was Gonzaga, which had a guard named John Stockton, who impressed Gardner. He urged the Jazz to take a good look at the unheralded guard, and the Jazz later drafted him with the 16th pick in 1984.
Coincidentally, one of Gardner's longtime rivals, former BYU coach Stan Watts, died four days earlier. Watts was the BYU coach the entire time Gardner coached at Utah, and the two had many memorable matchups over the years. Gardner finished with a 19-17 edge against Watts in their 18 years of in-state battles.
Gardner is survived by his son, Jim, daughter-in-law Diane, and three grandchildren. His wife, Marion, died in 1996.
Services will be Friday at noon at the Rice-Eccles Stadium Tower. A viewing will be Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at Larkin Mortuary (260 E. South Temple).