Ladell Andersen used to make his living in crowded, noisy arenas, but these days he lives a quiet life in St. George. He watches a lot of TV, goes to church on Sunday, exercises daily and lives with one of his sons and lots of memories.

There’s a whole generation of Utah sports fans that has never heard of Andersen, which seems a shame. There was a time when Andersen seemed to be in the middle of all things basketball in this state.

It’s been 26 years since he quit coaching basketball at a relatively young age. He may be the only man ever to coach at all three of Utah’s major universities — Utah, Utah State and BYU — plus the Utah Stars, Salt Lake’s original professional basketball team, the pre-merger Utah Jazz of their day.

He also has the distinction of having held three head coaching jobs — totaling 18 seasons — without ever being fired.

That’s what happens when you win two division titles in as many seasons with the Stars, earn nine NCAA tournament appearances, win more than 100 games at all three stops, produce a 403-210 won-loss record, and coach BYU to arguably the greatest regular season in school history, one in which they climbed to No. 2 in the national polls.

He retired in 1989, when he was only 60 years old. He left the game because his wife was having serious health problems. “I decided I better take care of her,” he says. She passed away in 2010.

Andersen is 86 now. He had quadruple bypass surgery a few years ago and both knees have been replaced. “The doctors say I have a strong heart, but I’m 86 so my days are numbered,” he says. “But I’ve had a great life.”

He golfed regularly after he retired, but years ago he gave up the game. He exercises every day — “I’m going to try to be here as long as I can,” he says — and watches the news shows and all the ballgames on TV, especially the Utah teams. Like most fans, he was infuriated with Utah’s decision to dump BYU from its basketball schedule. “A terrible decision, just terrible,” he says. “I am so ashamed of them for doing that. You don’t do that to a rivalry. I’ll never root for them again because of that decision.”

His son, Rich, lives with him, and another son, Bob, lives in nearby Hurricane and stops by daily with a meal. Another son, Larry, also lives in St. George. Andersen has old friends in the area. One of them is another legend-in-residence, LaVell Edwards, the football coach who has a second home in St. George. Edwards and Andersen have known each other since the early 1950s, when they were athletes at USU — Edwards an all-conference football player and Andersen an all-conference basketball player. They bump into each other at church now and then.

Andersen, who grew up in Malad, Idaho, played basketball well enough at USU to earn an invitation to the Olympic basketball tryouts in New York City. He became an assistant coach under Jack Gardner at Utah for six seasons, deflecting an invitation from BYU to apply for its head-coaching job. Instead, he became the head coach at his alma mater in 1961 and guided the Aggies for 10 seasons.

Then he coached the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association for two successful seasons. When management warned him of impending financial difficulties (the team would last three more seasons before folding), Andersen returned to his alma mater again, this time to serve as athletic director. He stayed at Utah State for another 10 years. When Title IX began strapping his already-tight budget, he bailed out and accepted the head coaching job at BYU.

“BYU had been after me for years to coach down there and they happened to be looking for a coach,” he says. “I was Mormon and had had success against BYU.”

After six years at BYU he quit the game completely, except to do some occasional scouting for the Utah Jazz and to serve on committees for the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

His coaching career stretched over more than three decades and along the way he coached the likes of Zelmo Beaty, Wayne Estes, Cornell Green, Willie Wise, Ron Boone, Phil Johnson, Mike Smith, among many other great players.

He is called whenever Estes’ name comes up. Estes died just hours after breaking the career 2,000-point mark with a 48-point game against Denver. He was named first-team All-American posthumously. Andersen still delights in telling how he recruited Estes during a long recruiting trip through Montana in his car. He thought he was signing an athlete for the school’s track team, but Estes told him he wanted to play basketball and was given a scholarship on the spot.

Andersen also played a role in the signing of another great player. While working on the All-America committee for the NABC, Andersen contacted coaches around the country asking them to name the best player in their conference. One of the calls was to a coach in Santa Clara, California, who told him the best player in the conference was Gonzaga’s John Stockton.

“What is he, 6-9, 6-10?” Andersen asked.

“No, he’s six feet, and he’s the best player in the league. No, he’s by far the best player in our league.”

Andersen subsequently told Utah Jazz president Frank Layden about Stockton on a flight to the East Coast.

“What is he, 6-9, 6-10?” asked Layden.

“No, six feet.”

Stockton of course became one of the greatest players in NBA history while playing for the Utah Jazz.

That was three decades ago as Andersen recalls it from his home in St. George. He’ll watch some TV today, go for a walk, get his exercise and talk to his sons.

“My doctor said my health is good, so I might be around a while yet,” he says.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com