Arnie Ferrin has been part of the Utah sports scene ever since leading Utah to the NCAA Basketball Championship back in 1944. Since then he has played in the NBA, been the general manager of the Utah Stars, the athletic director at the University of Utah as well as a top amateur golfer. Mike Sorensen sat down with Arnie to talk about his remarkable athletic career.
Q: Last fall you were inducted into the second class of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. What did that honor mean to you?
A: When Jim Haney first called me to tell me I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, I sat down and couldn't talk about it. I wanted to call my kids, but emotionally I was unable to. If you look at all the players who have played from 1939 to 2009 you look back and think how special it is, particularly 65 years after we played, for people to remember that. It's something you dream about and when it happens you're so excited. To think of John Wooden, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson . . . it's really special.
Q: You will be attending the Final Four again this year. Can you tell us how different it was when you played in the National Championship game in 1944?
A: I don't think we had any idea of the significance back then. There were four teams in the West and four in the East, and we went back to New York for the finals at Madison Square Garden. It wasn't the Final Four, it was the NCAA Championship. Our practice area that year was the girls gym at the university. We played our home games at the Deseret Gym, which held about 1,500. We walked onto the floor at Madison Square Garden and there were 15,000 people. Imagine going from Deseret Gym to Madison Square Garden.
Q: What are some of the biggest changes in college basketball you've seen over the years?
A: Something that most people don't know is that back when I played, you couldn't go to the coach. We would sit out on the floor cross-legged and talk about what we wanted to do. If Vadal (coach Vadal Peterson) wanted to tell us something, he had to send a substitute in. When we played, it was a finesse game. If you look at the studs that are playing now and watch the pounding in the center, the game is much more physical than when we played. I was 6-foot-4 and when I played there was just one player in the conference taller than me. The athletes are so much quicker and stronger today.
(I think part of the game that's not as appealing are all the timeouts. Now because of the money that TV pays to televise it, they sit down and say, if we pay this much money, we want this much inventory, so we can make enough money to pay this much money. So we have to have longer (and more) timeouts. I think that detracts from the game. We didn't have that problem in 1944.)
Q: What are some of your memories from your days with the Utah Stars (1972-75)?
A: Maybe the best job I've had was working with (owner) Bill Daniels for the Utah Stars. He wanted everything to be first class. After the team went bankrupt in 1975, I had about $1,500 in expense vouchers that didn't get paid. About two years later I got a check in the mail for the full amount from Bill Daniels. I took the check and put it in an envelope and said, 'Working for you was one of the pleasures of my life. I never filed a claim and you don't owe me any money.' A week later I got a letter back that said, 'Arnie, I said I'd pay every penny back. If you don't cash this check I can't say that.' He was a quality guy. Not many people would do that.
(We might have won the ABA Championship (in 1974), but Ron Boone punched the New York Nets best guard, got an infection in his hand and couldn't play. We could have won it that year if Ron Boone hadn't been punching other players (laughs). I still joke with him about that.)
Q: A lot of people don't know that you were once one of the top amateur golfers in the state (State Amateur runnerup in 1961 and 1962). Are you still enjoying golf and can you shoot your age?
A: I went to Palm Springs and played with LaVell Edwards, Ernie Schneiter and Loren Moench this winter. LaVell and I have played together on winter vacations for 28 years. It's fun if you enjoy the people you play with, even if you don't play well. The first time I shot my age I was 68. I probably could shoot my age now -- I'll be 84 this summer. The great thing about golf is you always think you can go back the next day and play better.