Hall of Fame coach W.C. (Red) Myers, who developed championship teams in basketball, football and track, passed away Tuesday in Greenwood, leaving a legacy that extends far beyond the world of games.
“He taught you how to play team basketball and he taught you how to be a man,” Bill Simpson, a retired Columbia attorney and all-state performer under Myers at Erskine College, said. “He was my hero.”
Myers began his coaching career at Dreher High after graduating from Erskine in 1950, and his teams won three state football titles and five state track championships. He returned to his alma mater in 1958 in a fund-raising capacity and almost accidentally became the college’s basketball coach.
A legendary career ensued that led to his induction into the Erskine, NAIA, and South Carolina Athletic halls of fame.
“He went to the top of his profession from scratch,” Tim Whipple, the highly successful Irmo High coach who played for Myers 1973-77, said.
Coach Gene Alexander had resigned unexpectedly at Erskine before the start of the season to take over the Wofford program. Several players followed Alexander, a legal practice in those days, and left Erskine without a coach or a full team.
In stepped Myers, whose first team naturally struggled. His second broke even and his next 23 racked up winning records. His 25 teams compiled a 413-192 record. Six won 20-plus games and two advanced to the NAIA national championship tournaments.
Former Newberry coach Nield Gordon, whose teams formed a fierce rivalry with Myers’ Flying Fleet squads, called Myers “the best coach in South Carolina” and “a big influence in my life” in 2008 ceremonies to name Erskine’s Belk Arena court in Myers’ honor.
Those thoughts personify Myers, Simpson said.
“His teams won more than 400 basketball games and you never heard anyone say anything genuinely negative about him,” Simpson said. “Even coaches who had better players and lost to his team did not say negative things about him.”
Erskine played home games in a snake pit called McGee Gym and even Frank McGuire learned the challenges that Myers’ team presented. McGuire’s first USC team opened at home with a 17-point win against the Fleet, then traveled to Due West in February for a return match.
After the Gamecocks escaped with a 59-57 win in overtime and a year later slipped out of town with a 7-point win, McGuire vowed he would never again test Myers’ team on the road.
“I never took a class from Coach Myers, but no one taught me more,” former player Jim Bradford said.
His influence stretched around the globe. He traveled to Australia four times to conduct clinics for players, coaches and officials and the latter — assisting officials — surprised Simpson.
“I was aware of the times he tried to educate officials during games,” he said and laughed. “Seriously, the thing is, he helped people. That’s who he was.”
Myers, 86 at this death, always claimed, “I never played a minute, I just watched,” but his players knew better.
Whipple, who also played baseball at Erskine under another legend, Harry Stille, picked up a vital part of his coaching philosophy from Myers.
“His ability to get the most out of his players is something that has always stuck with me,” Whipple said. “I understood from him that you won’t always have the best athletes and you have to get the most out of your players. I want my teams to be competitive no matter how much talent we have, and that’s a direct reflection from Coach Myers.”
Whipple saw Myers from the last time at the 2008 dedication of the arena’s floor in the coach’s honor and remembered how excited Myers was.
“He didn’t show much emotion as a rule, but you could tell that night,” Whipple said. “It meant a lot to me and the other former players, too. He was so important to all of us.”