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Interview with Mel Gibson, May 9, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Mel Gibson, May 9, 2007
May 9, 2007
Mr. Melvin L. ("Mel") Gibson describes his career at UNCW and elsewhere in this visual oral history interview. A North Carolina native, Mr. Gibson played basketball in high school and earned a grant in aid to play at Western Carolina University. He graduated in 1963 and had the opportunity to play in the Pan American games. Mr. Gibson played professional basketball for a year and then turned to coaching. While coaching at Baptist College (Charleston, SC), Mr. Gibson met Coach Brooks, who recruited him to UNCW in 1972. After one year as the assistant coach, he became head basketball coach. Mr. Gibson discusses his coaching philosophy, his teaching philosophy (he taught in physical education and health throughout his career), and Mr. Brooks' leadership in getting UNCW a spot in the CAA. Mr. Gibson also reminisces about former players and colleagues. He stepped down from coaching in 1986, but continued as a faculty member until his retirement in 2000.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Gibson, Melvin L. Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 5/9/2007 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 65 minutes

Riggins: Hello, my name is Adina Riggins. I'm the UNCW archivist. I'm behind the camera here. I have in front of the camera a very special and welcome guest here at University Archives, somebody who's going to be contributing in oral history interview to the archives. Today is May 9th, 2007. We're in Randall Library and please, Mr. Gibson, can you state your full name for the tape please.

Gibson: Okay. Full name is Melvin L. Gibson but I prefer Mel and I have a lot of conflict with that name since it also belongs to a more famous personality than me but I still go by Mel Gibson and most people know me by that name.

Riggins: Sounds good. I won't ask you about Australia or anything like that.

Gibson: No, no. (laughter)

Riggins: Thank you. We're here today to talk to Mr. Gibson about your time on the faculty and staff of UNCW. We start off, though, by asking about your time before UNCW ever was around. Can you tell us where you were born and where did you grow up?

Gibson: Okay. I was born in a very small town in North Carolina. Actually, my history is kind of unique. I was born in the central part of the state, Cordova, to be official. It's a little mill village outside of Rockingham, North Carolina, which is in the center part of the state. I went to school in the western part of the state and then I lived most of my life here in the eastern part and I save the best for last so this is where I belong and I have enjoyed my route along the way. I grew up and played at Rockingham High School before it consolidated into Richmond County High School. Was very fortunate to be athletic and played sports there, all sports, and was fortunate enough to get a scholarship, an athletic grant and aid to Western Carolina University and that's where I spent my undergraduate and my graduate years.

Riggins: Rockingham, is there a race track there now?

Gibson: That's the race track. That was after I came along but it is now known as a NASCAR circuit race track and that's a big deal there. I haven't seen a race there so I'm not into racing but I understand a lot of people are and it's very popular and that is a popular race track.

Riggins: Draws people to that part of the state along with the North Carolina Zoo.

Gibson: Yes, not far from there. Right.

Riggins: I haven't heard of the town where you were born.

Gibson: No, you haven't and it's very small. It's, like, five miles outside of Rockingham toward Cheraw, South Carolina, right on the line there. It's a real small village and just an elementary school there. Actually, I went to grades one through eight there. I guess you would also call that middle school. Then went to Rockingham High School nine through 12.

Riggins: A very small town.

Gibson: Yeah, very small. In fact, Rockingham was small when I was there but we were very good in football and it was known as a football school. We played in the state championship my senior year. Later, they won the state championship there so they're very good in that sport.

Riggins: Wow, did you play football there?

Gibson: I played basketball only. My basketball coach would have shuddered if I thought about going out for football in collage but I was on a basketball grant and aid and played four years at Western Carolina. My last year there, we were very fortunate in having a very good team and actually won at the end of the season to qualify for-- that was Small College back then was NAIA and we won our district and went on to play in the national tournament and won four straight games there and got beat in the finals so we were runner up for the national championship in NAIA and it got me seen by a lot of people and I think had a lot to do with my good fortune of being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round later in the spring, after that winter that we did so well in basketball.

Riggins: That's amazing. If we can go back to-- so you were at Coleen the early '60s or...

Gibson: Yes, I went there in '59. I had graduated from high school in '59 and entered in the fall of '59 at Western and graduated in '63. Then I went to work teaching and coaching in the Charlotte Mecklenburg System after a year of professional basketball. I could see that my future wasn't that great in professional basketball so I started teaching and coaching in Charlotte and was going back with my wife, having gotten married previous to that, going back in the summers to get my master's degree and succeeded in doing that in three summers during '66, '67, '68.

Riggins: Okay. Wow. Well, you're kind of skipping over a lot here so I just want to go back and ask some about when you were at Western Carolina. Was basketball big there? I mean, it's a small college...

Gibson: Cullowhee, we used to make jokes about Cullowhee. When you went into Cullowhee, you had to set your watch back 10 years because it was pretty remote, about 52 miles west of Ashville. Most people know Ashville. This is before all the interstates. Later, of course, I-40 came into being but this was back when it was all two lanes and very long ride between Rockingham and Cullowhee but football and basketball were the big sports there but basketball was most notable, I would think.

Riggins: At that time...

Gibson: We excelled in that and they were before I got there and we were when I was there and they were when I left there. It's changed since because they have gone up to a division 1 level and, of course, that's a very competitive level but it was very quaint, very small, a lot like UNC Wilmington when I first came here. When I first went to Western Carolina, they had less than 2,000 students and they're 10 plus thousand there now and growing rapidly, like we are here at UNC Wilmington.

Riggins: Okay. So you were drafted to play in L.A.

Gibson: I was drafted and really had, if I can back up a little bit more than that, I hadn't done so well in the national tournament. I was invited to participate in the tryouts for the Pan-American team, which is sort of, like, one step below the Olympic team. The Pan-American games are North and South America and all the countries in Central America and so on and so I was very fortunate to play in the Pan-American games in the summer of '63. After graduating, we went to San Paulo, Brazil, and played in San Paulo and Rio Di Janeiro. The tournament was in those two cities and that was quite an experience because I was there for several weeks and we won the Pan-American games, which made it even sweeter for us. And I had the opportunity there playing for one of the coaches, he was one of the assistant coaches, and I had the opportunity, after he saw me play, of going to play in what they call the AAU which is the Amateur Athletic Union, and I could have gone to play for Akron, Akron Goodyear. You also get into a supervisory position but you play basketball six months out of the year and then you train in the profession for the other six months. But, after being drafted number two by the Lakers, I opted to take that chance and go and so I did play for the Lakers that one year. I was the 12th man on a team that they had 11 man rosters back then so I would-- when somebody would be hurt, I would go from kind of what they call a farm club in Pennsylvania where I was playing and I would go back and join the Lakers and maybe stay for two weeks, three weeks, and then back to the Pennsylvania team. So I spent on and off that year with the Lakers but seeing that my future was probably in coaching and not being as great a player as I thought I needed to be, I thought it would be best for me to go back and get my masters and get into coaching and teaching.

Riggins: Right. And so you thought you'd like that. Had you done it?

Gibson: Yeah. I don't regret doing that and it was a good decision. It led me to here and how lucky can I be having found this university?

Riggins: When you were coaching in Charlotte, what kind of club was that?

Gibson: Yes. That was when I was-- when I first started, I was coaching at a junior high school there, this was before I got into college coaching, Wilson Junior High School, which was a feeder school to West Mecklenburg and I coached basketball, assistant football coach and I taught science and I taught health and I taught physical education. You do a lot when you're in the public schools. I stayed there for two years and then, as I was getting-- I'd be going back in the summer to get my master's degree. Then they got a call there at Western one day about a school in South Carolina. It was called Baptist College. Since, the name has changed to Charleston Southern. Then it was known as Baptist College and I was offered an assistant's job there and so I left the Charlotte Mecklenburg system and took that position as I was finishing up my master's degree. I served there as an assistant for one year and then was elevated to the head coach for four years. So I spent my first four years as a very young coach in college, I might add, because I was a head coach at 26 and that's very unusual in today's times. I coached there until I was 30.

Riggins: I see. You boasted a 57/34 record as the head coach.

Gibson: We were an independent team. I wish we'd have been in a conference like UNC Wilmington eventually got into here now, the Colonial Athletic Association, but we didn't have a conference so we had to go everywhere to play and up and down the east coast and we were fortunate enough to have some good players and we did win. In fact, we had the record there for the most wins for a long time, even after I left, but we did win 57 games in the four years I was head coach so I was real pleased with that.

Riggins: We'll talk about the conference in a little bit but I suppose a conference is good because you can automatically get good teams to play against?

Gibson: That's very big. It gives you two advantages. You've got a chance to get into post-season play much greater and then you've got guaranteed games with the other teams in the league because, otherwise, the teams you're playing are non-conference games to them so they want to win those games so they're very picky at who they'll play. If you're good, you know, they don't want to play you and so it made it complicated for us, even in my early years here at UNC Wilmington without a conference, which I spent most of my coaching career without one. It was very difficult. We spent more time on the road than we did at home and it made it hard to recruit. The Colonial was a big, big step for UNC Wilmington, no doubt about it.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. And then you developed a reputation of being tough to beat at home.

Gibson: Yes, oh, yes. This was good. Our first game-- I'm probably getting ahead of myself too far here but, when I was coaching here, we got in the conference. The first game we played was George Mason and we won that game and we weren't supposed to so it made it pretty exciting. But the conference was a big deal and, when I came here, of course, Wilmington College was a two-year school, that was before I came, and then, when I came, we were in NAIA, just like I was explaining a moment ago, but then eventually we went into Division 1, '77/'78 season, if I recall correctly. We had the good fortune of having Trask Coliseum to accompany us into that endeavor. That was big and we really had some very good teams early on in that league.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. So how did you hear about an opening at UNCW or what...

Gibson: Okay. I can go back to that. Coach Brooks-- when I was at Baptist College, in my coaching there, we would play everywhere and we were fortunate enough to get games with UNC Wilmington and so I got to know Coach Brooks because he was the head basketball coach at that time. Of course, Coach Brooks had about five titles to his name.

Riggins: I know.

Gibson: And that was all he won of them and he told me eventually, he was going to be getting out and asked me was I interested, after I told him in was interested in leaving, I wanted to get back to my state of North Carolina. My wife is from Durham and we wanted to get back here. He asked me would I be interested in coming as an assistant and I jumped at that chance because I knew the potential for explosive growth at this university or this college, at that time, and so I knew that it was going to be a very attractive situation. So I did. And I was an assistant for him for one year before becoming head coach for the next 14 years, if I remember correctly. That was a great experience because Coach Brooks probably had more influence on me than anybody in sports. He's the most humble, professional gentleman that I have ever been associated with.

Riggins: That's amazing. I mean, so you took over the head coach after being an assistant for one year.

Gibson: Yes, just like, in fact, it was very similar to Baptist College. I was assistant there for one year and then took over for four years and then I was assistant here one and then took over for 14. But being with Coach Brooks that year was very rewarding. We weren't very good that year but we began building and I think my first year, we won 10 and then we won 14 and then, eventually, in those early years, we won 19 games three seasons in a row after we went into Division 1. We were just very lucky and fortunate to have some good players in place when we made that transition because going from NAIA to Division 1 in the NCAA is, indeed, a very big step and it made it easier for us since we had some players already in place that could play.

Riggins: This was NAIA, did that precede the system where it's now Division 3?

Gibson: No. It's not Division 3. The NCAA has a division, 1, 2, 3, and the NAIA was a separate-- is a small college but it's the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and their home office is in Kansas City. They still have NAIA teams but a lot of the schools that were NAIA when I was playing and later coaching in North Carolina have since become Division 1 such as Appalachian State, East Carolina, High Point College, Campbell University. They were all NAIA at one time. A lot of people don't realize that. They were NAIA and we played those schools under that umbrella of NAIA but, after we went Division 1, we were one of the first ones of the smaller, midsize schools to go into Division 1, and, since that time, many, many schools have followed suit. They want more recognition. The alumni want, you know, better competition and so that's how that resulted.

Riggins: Seems like it was a big jump. What were your goals when you started as head coach?

Gibson: Well, when I came to UNC Wilmington after I left Baptist College, I was 30 and became a head coach the next year and I'm still a young coach to already be a head coach. I was just trying to win games. That was my goal, you know? To try to win games and, back then, it made it difficult because all of your salary didn't come from coaching. I was also faculty and 50% of my income and, fortunately, that helped me get the job because I did have a master's degree in health and physical education from Western Carolina. Eventually, I channeled off just into health and wellness and that's what I taught here most of the time, courses in nutrition, human sexuality, wellness, CPR. I was later certified in CPR and first aid and so I've taught quite a number of different courses here. What I was mentioning, it made it difficult because half the day we would wear one hat and then, the other half, you would put your other hat on and it complicated it in a lot of ways. It made recruiting difficult because I didn't have an assistant when I started and I eventually got an assistant and then another assistant later down the line. It was hard to get out and recruit so I had to get a lot of local players and a lot of my early teams were, you know, players were mostly within 150 miles of Wilmington but we were very fortunate in getting some. Later, when our budget increased and my teaching load decreased some, we were able to get out of state and I loved Indiana and I loved Ohio and we got some very nice players who have since come and graduated and many of them I still see. I saw one of my players the other night at Coach Brooks' induction into the greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame, Dave Wolf, came from Indianapolis, Indiana, and he married a southern girl after he graduated here and he teaches-- actually, he's a principal here so a lot of successful stories from players that came and found out what a great place Wilmington was and have stayed right here.

Riggins: It was good to go to the Midwest because there are a lot of players there?

Gibson: They do emphasize basketball so much in some of those states like Indiana, Hoosier Hysteria, as the saying goes, and there was a lot of good players. They had a lot of good players in North Carolina, though, but they, you know, we would sometimes get beat out by the North Carolinas and the NC States so we could go out of state and find good players. There were more of them to go around out of state so, you know, we were forced to do that but we did get a lot of players from local-- actually, some of my players were not only local in the state but local in the city. Hoggard High School, I had some players from there. I had some from New Hanover. I would have liked to have had one from Laney named Michael Jordan but that wasn't to be. (laughter)

Riggins: That would have been something, yes.

Gibson: But I saw him come along and, interestingly, he would come out from Laney and play against my players here because he wanted better competition than he was getting there. I could see him, you know, playing above the rim with them and I'm thinking, oh, would I like to have him. But he was destined to be a rare player, indeed, and maybe the best ever. So Wilmington has a big claim to fame on that.

Riggins: His hands are very big.

Gibson: Oh, my goodness. When he plays, he looks like, from a distance, he's, like, 5'10". You get closer to him and you realize he's 6'6" and he jumps like he's 6'10", you know, he gets so high. I would watch him in Trask and he'd be going head to head against some of my better players, the best I had, and, I mean, it was just obvious that he was right there with them and there he was a junior, between his junior and senior year in high school. He could play. He could really play. No matter of us missing on him, it was a matter of knowing that he was going to a large, large university.

Riggins: Yes. So you came and your goal was to win and there was no conference when you first started.

Gibson: No conference. I knew that our-- you know, my athletic director and I talked about it a lot and he had made efforts to get in conferences and, in some, we had invites in some and he didn't seem, you know, it was too spread out, which would, budget-wise, made it impossible for us. Coach Brooks had his eye on the Colonial. It was a different name prior to that but, once that-- when he had the opportunity to go into that league, he is solely responsible-- if everybody knew the work that Bill Brooks did in getting us into that conference because he realized that that is where our future was. That's where it lay, right there. We had to get into a league and get affiliated and his diligence and persistence and hard work made that possible.

Riggins: I mean, he was, like you said, a very modest person.

Gibson: Yes, his humility-- when you need a dose of humility, just, you know, get around him and you'll get back to reality. He's an outstanding person and I've been retired for a number of years and so has he. We still have lunch once or twice a month and I call him a lot. In fact, I'm an avid fisherman and I catch a lot of grouper and Coach Brooks loves to eat grouper so I'll carry him fish every so often. He enjoys that. So we still stay in touch.

Riggins: That's great.

Gibson: It's been-- we reminisce about those years and hurdles we had to get over in those times and it made it easier when you have people like him around you.

Riggins: Yeah. What were some of the hurdles? You mentioned a travel schedule.

Gibson: Budget was always, you know, such a big hurdle and scheduling. Before we got in the conference, he and I both spent so many hours doing that and getting players to come without being affiliated in the conference so recruiting was difficult and, you know, you called on all your resources. I know, if I had been recruited to come here, it would have been easy for me because I love the coastal area and I love the ocean...

Riggins: [inaudible]

Gibson: You're right. And so I tried to sell that to kids and it was successful but a lot of them, ESPN was around, has been around for such a long time until those young guys would see ESPN and they wanted to play on television and they wanted to get as much exposure and so it made it difficult for us recruiting when we didn't have-- in those early years, we didn't have TV games with one exception. When we dedicated Trask Coliseum, it was-- that game was televised and we had-- we were right there until the very-- I think we lost by three points but we were right there 'til the end and it was televised. That was our first televised game that I coached. It was very exciting.

Riggins: [inaudible]

Gibson: Yeah, very exciting, Wake Forest, and that wasn't a Wake Forest team that didn't have talent. They had good talent. They had an all American there, Rod Griffin was his name. Actually went to school right over here close to Elizabeth Town. Rod Griffin was a great all American player. They had a guard that went on to play in the NBA. I can't recall his name but the game was really big and that's the noisiest I've ever seen Trask Coliseum in all the year I've been-- that I coached there, that Coach Eastman coached there, Coach Brown, they all coached there, Coach Wainwright coached there, that night was the noisiest, you know, because we had that ACC interest and...

Riggins: That's the first game.

Gibson: Right. So if I'm not wrong, no other ACC team has played-- we've played many ACC teams but not in Trask, you know? They don't like to come here but that game was one that they-- it was the dedication and I think there were some strings pulled in Raleigh and, you know, to dedicate the facility...

Riggins: Maybe Dr. Wagoner...

Gibson: And I'm sure Dr. Wagoner had a lot to do with that. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Riggins: He went to...

Gibson: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. And that probably had something to do with it, too, and plus we were, you know, an upstart little team and I'm sure Coach Tasey[ph?], Carl Tasey was there at that time, you know, he figured we weren't going to be much of a contest but we just happened to have-- we had a set of twins named Billy and Bobby Martin and, if people go back and look in the archives about those two players, they were unbelievable.

Riggins: I'll have to look in the yearbooks.

Gibson: Phenomenal players. They came from a town smaller than where I grew up. They came from a town called Biscoe and most people would be hard pressed-- it's in Montgomery County and actually not far from Richmond County where I grew up but they went to a junior college called Chowan. They're now a four-year school but, at that time, they were a junior college and, when we saw them, it was so strange because one of them would be-- they were guards but they would cross one another coming in and out. The coach played them separately. He never played them together.

Riggins: Were they identical?

Gibson: Identical. And so once the other guard fouled out one game, they played them together and it was like magic. They were unbelievable together. So, when we played here, when they played here, they always played together unless one of them had fouled out because they had a sixth sense about them and they were just unbelievable.

Riggins: How can you go up against that? The teams...

Gibson: Oh, yeah, and people would accuse us, because they were identical, people would accuse us of switching their numbers because one of them would start hitting shots and they didn't think he was the shooter and so they would-- but we never did that but they were hard to tell apart. I always had a safe way of doing it in practice. Of course, in practice, they didn't have numbers like they do in games. I knew their numbers but, in practice, the jerseys were just plain so I would just call them B, B for Bobby or B for Billy and I was always right. (laughter) So they were a class act and they both graduated and got into coaching. So that was a very exciting time. We had some good players there. They're not the only two. We had a player from Indiana named Denny Fills, a 6'8" center that was outstanding; Dave Wolf was on that team, I alluded to him a moment ago. It was just a quality bunch of people that were willing to work really hard and it reaped a lot of rewards because they were such hard workers.

Riggins: I can imagine. Well, this was a time when basketball was really taking off around the state, I think.

Gibson: Absolutely. And particularly with the interest in the ACC and bringing focus and Trask being a facility-- we were really fortunate to have that facility when we did because it was probably beyond, you know, the size of our school because it seated 6,100 and there was a lot of interest so we had lots of people at games in those early winning years.

Riggins: What about scholarships? Was that a part of budget that...

Gibson: Yeah, it helped us-- in NAIA, we were certainly limited in our budget but, once we got into Division 1, I didn't have the full complement to start with but, eventually, we did have the full limit of scholarships and, of course, that helped. Budget, once you got more people in the stands, you know, we started getting a better budget and you had to, for traveling, because there was a lot of-- you had to go up to Fairfax and D.C., Richmond, Williamsburg, Virginia, the teams were spread out. In the early years, East Carolina was in that league and that also created a lot of rivalry, you know, between us. They've since dropped out of that league and went into another one and it took away some of that but we're beginning to play them again now in the regular season so I like that.

Riggins: Oh, just as...

Gibson: Just as non-conference opponents.

Riggins: The navy was in the...

Gibson: Oh, that's the big-- the navy team was with Admiral David Robinson, who went on to a successful career with San Antonio in the NBA and those early teams-- not only navy, I mean, there were some great teams. George Mason was outstanding. William and Mary had a player named Keith Saplicky[ph?] that was drafted by the Lakers and he was very good. There were some really good teams early on but navy was special and they went onto, I think, the final eight my last year of coaching. My last year of coaching was in '86 and I think they played into the final eight before they were beaten. So they were really good.

Riggins: Where I went to college was American University.

Gibson: Oh, yes, we played American University.

Riggins: And they didn't have-- they had a small place to play off campus. It was after you left...

Gibson: I was out of coaching when they got their new place but it's a very good place. I've seen it on TV. It really is and Ed Tapscott[ph?] was a coach back then and I got to know Ed very well and he was a very nice person. That's an outstanding university, I understand, academically as well.

Riggins: Mm hm. Yeah. It's a good place. I'm from North Carolina so it's certainly a change but it was good. There's so many good places to go to school in North Carolina...

Gibson: That's right. Absolutely.

Riggins: Can't beat D.C. So you had a lot going on. How long did you teach?

Gibson: Actually, believe it or not, when I got out of coaching, when I made that decision to leave coaching, and I really think I was-- I didn't know what was wrong. I was in the hospital the last couple of years I coached a lot. The stress was really, really high for me because I took it, you know, so seriously and so personal and, later, after I got out and started staying with teaching, I realized I was professionally burnt out. It was a burn out and I just, you know, just exhausted all of my energy and my resources and I was staying stick, pinched nerves in my neck, I had kidney stones, it was-- I couldn't sleep. But even up until the end, I was still teaching. The coach who replaced me, they took him-- they didn't have to teach but, up until then, I was still teaching two courses a semester, which was, again, that helped fund my salary and they liked the way I taught. So after I got out of coaching, in fact, I went into teaching 100% and stayed for a year 100% teaching and carried a full teaching load. Then, later, I was assistant athletic director and that cut my load back some doing that, too, but I've taught the whole time and I've enjoyed teaching and I took it seriously. My evaluations were always decent so I-- I probably could have taught instead of athletics but I wouldn't have had the ride I've had if I hadn't of had sports.

Riggins: Yeah, it's certainly a different ride.

Gibson: That's right. But teaching was always important to me and I didn't look at it as something that I had to do. It was something that I did and, professionally, I approached it that way and I think I did a good job doing it.

Riggins: Were most of your classes then out of the PE department? You said it was health...

Gibson: Health, yes. I did most of the basic health 105, I think that's what they still call it. It's an individual wellbeing course and I taught most of my courses there but, like I said, after I got out of coaching, I also got certified in CPR and first aid and taught that as well. Actually even taught some for the Red Cross and helped them out. It was very interesting.

Riggins: When you taught, you probably got to work with all those people in the department like David Miller and...

Gibson: Oh, I had great people in the department. Charlie Lewis was my department chair. I had several chairs during the time I was there but Dave Miller. He was a department chair for awhile and later came over in another part of the administration but we had very good people, good teachers, many who have since retired. Calvin Lane, Judy Lewis, very good people, taught with Jackie Blackmore. These are relationships that I still, you know, nurture and enjoy seeing these people from time to time. I mentioned a moment ago about the other night at the greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame and I saw so many people, I didn't have time to speak to everybody. It was so nice seeing them. They were there primarily because of Coach Brooks' induction and the connection there but it was a UNCW audience for sure.

Riggins: Really?

Gibson: It was very big, very big, yeah. Saw UNCW stickers on windshields everywhere when I was parking.

Riggins: That's great. Coach Gross was chair, I guess...

Gibson: When I first came, he was. People don't realize, when I first came here, he was chairman of the health physical education department, he was athletic director, he taught in the physical education department, he was the head basketball coach and he was the head baseball coach. That is now five different jobs, which is phenomenal, you know? People today wouldn't even think about taking that kind of a load and so I have the distinction of claiming, getting him out of his first one. I became head basketball coach so he shed that title and then, as time went on, he got down to where he should have been, as just the athletic director.

Riggins: Right. But he told me he fought that. He wanted to keep coaching baseball.

Gibson: Oh, he did? Of course, the job got so big, I mean, he...

Riggins: ...said I need you to be...

Gibson: Absolutely. He bleeds baseball. I mean, the man, he loves it and he, to this day, you know, we're May of '07 and if there's a game out here and he's healthy and he's not somewhere else, he's there 'cause he's that kind of person.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. That's incredible. David Miller. Then there was also another-- I'll have to look-- Warner...

Gibson: Oh, Dave Warner, yes. Dave Warner has been a long-time, even when Dave retired, he came back and taught part-time for many, many years and Dave is still living and is approaching 100 years of age. He's got longevity in his family. His mother and father-- his daughter, Debbie and I, still communicate. I see her occasionally and she's in the medical profession and I see her occasionally in that light. But Dave was an outstanding teacher and also taught some of the same courses I do, health, but he's been a jack of all trades. He could teach anything. He was such a delight to his students because he always had a smile on his face and that's why he got the name "Pop". They call him Pop Warner and that name still sticks with him.

Riggins: Pop Warner.

Gibson: Pop Warner.

Riggins: Pop Warner. I haven't talked to him yet. I was thinking if I went to his home...

Gibson: Oh, yes, he's debilitated and you would have to do that but-- and he's got some dementia but he's amazing. We should all be that lucky to live the life that Dave Warner has led but, yeah, very good instructor and a Wilmingtonian from the get-go.

Riggins: I saw him at a luncheon a few years ago. He told me about the years he taught here and everything. I'd really like to talk to him. And Judy Lewis is also retired?

Gibson: She is retired, yes, and her and her husband live up close to me, Scott's Hill. I live in Hampstead now and my last few years of teaching, I wanted to get on the water. I'm an avid fisherman and so we built a home up on the intercoastal waterway in Pender County, Hampstead, and I commuted. My wife taught in public schools and she also commuted for her last couple of years in her teaching before she got her 30 years in and we both are retired there now and enjoy that location a lot. It makes it very accessible, you know, 18 miles down here to Wilmington and yet we have the pleasure of being on the water and being in a very nice recreational area as well.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. With nice views of the boaters and...

Gibson: Yeah, so I can-- my boat's in the canal in my backyard and I can be in the ocean in ten minutes and that makes it really nice for me because I love to go offshore and fish. So that's how I spend my spare time. So you got something in retirement to look forward to. You have to work to it.

Riggins: That sounds all right. Yeah, sure. We were talking about seeing some other people that you taught with. What about some of the others that you knew throughout the university? Did you get to know Dr. Wagoner at all?

Gibson: Yeah, Dr. Wagoner was the chancellor for many years when I was here and, of course, I had a nice relationship with him. Dr. Leutze was the other and, of course, after, when I retired completely, Dr. Leutze stayed on for a few more years before his position was taken over by someone else. Dr. Wagoner, I don't know the number of years he served here but he was definitely a mainstay in the building of facilities and this university because, like I said, I saw it grow from under 2,000, I don't know what our current enrollment, isn't it close to 11, 12?

Riggins: Oh, yeah, it's above 12, including graduate students.

Gibson: So it definitely-- and they have to control the growth. The growth would go, you know, they could take it-- if we had the facilities to handle it and infrastructure, it could go much faster than that but it's a controlled growth. That allows us, I'm sure, it allows the university to take a higher quality of student so it's good for everybody in that respect.

Riggins: Oh, sure. Well, I guess there's growing pains when there's so much growth so fast but you probably don't-- experienced that the whole time you were here.

Gibson: When I came, let's see, the freshman-- Galloway, is that the dorm that I'm talking about? That was the only dorm on campus.

Riggins: Yes.

Gibson: And that was such a big deal but everybody lived off campus and then, of course, as the years went by, dormitories were added but mostly what you see in the front part of the campus is all we had and then all the growth back that way, toward the east, is just amazing. As I parked today, I mean, I'm thinking, look at all this space and there's still great space to expand. Somebody had the foresight to get ample property that this university has set for many decades to come.

Riggins: Oh, that's great.

Gibson: But, yeah, the growth has been phenomenal and not only academics, athletics, student-wise, but every area, physical structures, but the quality, we get very good students and we should be very thankful about that. It attracts a lot of people. UNC Wilmington, maybe sports had a lot to do with that. The school is known, you know, in wide circles I think because of the accomplishments of some of the athletic teams, not just basketball but, you know, track and field, Jim Sprecker[ph?] has done-- Dave Allen in the swimming program, it's just unbelievable the notoriety these people have in other sports.

Riggins: I think it helps with so many things including the students to this day coming because their father played soccer for another team and came to UNCW and thought it was really pretty and, you know? I mean, I have a student worker who-- that's the story. He's from Maryland and his father played soccer for some other team in the CAA and always thought...

Gibson: I hear that all the time as well and, you know, they'll say, well, I'm here because my dad played soccer for Calvin Lane way back when and I realize that. I know it's been a lot of years because I'll see-- I'll run into people who went to school with some of the children of some of my players and I'm saying, wow, so I am getting down the road.

Riggins: Calvin Lane's another one I talked to a number of years ago and he's another one who just-- the energy in this department from you and Coach Brooks and Calvin Lane and he's another one who had several jobs and worked all night and, you know?

Gibson: Yeah, that's the way-- back when we were in Hanover Gym before we went into Trask Coliseum, you know, there were many a days I would be sweeping the floor and-- just like Coach Brooks, dragging the field for baseball. We all had to wear a lot of different hats and...

Riggins: But that passes on to the players.

Gibson: Oh, yeah.

Riggins: They were the same way, I'm sure.

Gibson: They knew that we were putting out a big effort for it and, when we were only in Hanover Gym, we had to share that with so many other teams, you know, and now, having more facilities, it makes it a lot easier for them. But it's come a long way but, yeah, we've witnessed a lot of growth here. I came in '71 and then fully retired right around 2000 but spent most of my adult life here and...

Riggins: Yeah, if you were 30 when you came.

Gibson: Right, I was 30 when I came and so I have seen a lot of growth and the university has come, you know, leaps and bounds.

Riggins: Definitely. That's quite a success story, that's for sure. I'd like to also ask about something we were talking about before, the mascot. Can you tell us about...

Gibson: Sure. Well, you know, the Seahawks, the name was here when I came as far as the mascot itself but-- the logo and so forth, but we didn't have that mascot on the floor and there was a gentleman here, he works at the university now, Jim Harris, and he works on the scores table and has, even when I was coaching. So Jim got the idea of having the Seahawk hatched prior to one of our games and I can't remember the game and the year but I think the year was '77, maybe '78, but we were in Trask Coliseum, we'd just been in Trask Coliseum and they constructed a giant egg, maybe the size of this table, maybe a little bit wider than this table and maybe two to three feet high. It looked just like an egg. It's white and so on and so forth and then, as the background music was playing and all the attention was focused on the egg, it started shaking and then, all of a sudden, you could see they had pre-cut the crack in the egg and, all of a sudden, the egg pops open and out comes the first Seahawk mascot. The music is 2001, A Space Odyssey, I believe, playing in the background. (laughter) And that was the first Seahawk and, of course, the uniforms have changed and the people in the uniforms have changed but that was the beginning of our mascot.

Riggins: That was Jim Harris' idea?

Gibson: Oh, Jim Harris is the one. He's got to get all the credit. You need to do an archive interview with him because he could give you the background on that and more specifics than me but he's the one responsible. He's just been such a big supporter and he, even today, I still come to all the home games and sit up there close to Coach Brooks in the stands and I look down and there's Jim Harris, still on the scores table. So, you know, that part hasn't changed.

Riggins: I got to talk to him. He might work in landscape or somewhere in the physical plant.

Gibson: Yeah, actually, he works in an administrative post there but I don't know-- maybe it's in purchasing or something like that. Not really sure but, yeah, he's there and he's been an avid supporter before he-- but he applied for a job here many, many years ago and he used to be in sporting goods, selling sporting goods, Bosman[ph?] Sporting Goods, he worked there, and I got to know him there originally and then, when he got a job here, it just made it a lot easier because that's where his heart was anyway. He has done a real nice job for UNC Wilmington.

Riggins: Speaking of people who work here who have been big fans, did you know Michael Bradley?

Gibson: Oh, yeah. Dr. Bradley and I played intramural basketball together. Dr. Bradley was a good athlete, is a good athlete. Back when I was here, we played sports together in the intramural program, I should say, so we enjoyed that.

Riggins: Before this new student rec center was built, you must have played over...

Gibson: Right. Yeah. I wouldn't know how to act with that-- the new center. We played in the back of Hanover Gym and everywhere.

Riggins: Real scrappy.

Gibson: Yeah. Back where the weight room is now used to be a small gym and we played a lot of intramural games back there. It was a junior high size, I think it was 74 by 42 so it wasn't a full college gym, 94 by 50, it was kind of a mini-gym but there was a lot of games played in there. The intramural program was back there most of the time and then Hanover Hall was, I think that was official college size as well.

Riggins: That sounds all right. The intramural program, was that faculty?

Gibson: Yeah, we had a faculty team in the intramural program. We had a faculty team and Dr. Bradley and several...

Riggins: Really? I guess there might still be.

Gibson: They still may. Several people in the health physical education department would play and we played right along with the students. We didn't always beat them but it was a good time.

Riggins: Oh, how fun. Yeah. Jim Sabella[ph?]?

Gibson: Yeah, Jim Sabella. I know Jim well. He's retired. In fact, he and his wife live up in Hampstead, Forest Sound, and I see them occasionally, both of them. Cathy I think's her name and I see Jim. He was big in the athletic committee and chairman.

Riggins: Yeah, he was faculty athletic person for so many years.

Gibson: Yeah, he sure was. Just a great person.

Riggins: ...down to the NCAA meetings.

Gibson: Right.

Riggins: Yeah. So who took over coaching basketball after you?

Gibson: Head coach. I became a head coach in the '71/'72 season and went to '85/'86 and so, yeah, those were-- I was here for 14 years as head coach and, as I said, when I got out of the coaching, I still stayed on and taught. I was assistant athletic director.

Riggins: Who was head coach after you?

Gibson: Okay. In fact, I was on the search committee. I was fortunate enough to be on the search committee. Kevin Eastman. I'm sorry, let me back that up. That's not true. I was on the search committee for Kevin Eastman. Robert MacPherson followed me. He was here for I think it was four years and then Kevin Eastman was the next coach.

Riggins: You were probably on that committee too.

Gibson: Kevin Eastman left after four years, I think it was four, and he went to Washington State as a head coach so he left because he got a much greater position. And then Jerry Wainwright, of course, and we all know what an outstanding job he did.

Riggins: Did you get to know him?

Gibson: Oh, yeah, I knew Jerry well. In fact, Jerry used to ask me to come out and help him coach some as a volunteer and I said, "Coach, I appreciate it. I'm going to watch you play and watch you practice. I've had my turn. It's your turn." But he really got the ball rolling as to where the notoriety and post-season play because we never-- we came close in my last year of coaching, I mean, one of my first years in coaching, when we were 19 wins, but Jerry just, you know, having that conference to work with, he got us into the NCAA on the NIT several times. Then Brad Brown, they all followed...

Riggins: And he was the second one to...

Gibson: Yes.

Riggins: ...get promoted from assistant...

Gibson: Absolutely.

Riggins: ...after you, yeah.

Gibson: And Brad, of course, what do you say about him? He's just absolutely an outstanding coach and we hated to see him leave. And then now Benny Moss is here and he's had his first year and I'm sure they're looking for a better season. They just had a very unfortunate injury-plagued year and, you know, bad circumstances all the way around but I think the program's going to swing back the way it was in the Brownell and the Wainwright era. Those were classic years. Those were 12 unbelievable fan-spoiling years. We just expected to win, you know, because they were so good. They still have a lot of those athletes in place and they're recruiting good ones so I'm sure it's going to get back.

Riggins: Right. And he was looking for people who would stay for several years, not, you know...

Gibson: Absolutely.

Riggins: You work with him real well and then they're gone, you know, after a couple of years. There's still a lot of energy, that's for sure.

Gibson: Can I take a couple? Can you cut that off just for a second?

Riggins: Oh, certainly.

[tape change]

Riggins: We're back. Tape 2 with Mr. Mel Gibson talking about the good old days, not only long ago but now they still continue. We're glad that you're involved with life here on the campus and I'd like to know what kind of things you attend now and who you see at the university.

Gibson: I'm very active in the university. In fact, I'll mention something and I don't know all the professor's names who took part in this but I came back recently, there is a group of professors here, there is about five, by my thinking, they have a rock and roll band and they have...

Riggins: The School Boys.

Gibson: Oh, that's who it is? Okay. Well, they had...

Riggins: That's what they're called.

Gibson: Madeleine Suite a few weeks ago, they had a performance, a dinner, one of the most pleasant evenings I believe I've ever spent and they were really good. Somebody had told me that they went to it last year and they enjoyed it and so I said, well, I'm going to try that because I'm very familiar with the university and so I went and it was absolutely a delightful evening. Great meal. And they were so funny. They're-- and they're not in the music department. That's the funny thing. They're in the business department, most of them.

Riggins: Some of them are business. I know...

Gibson: And marketing and things like that. I don't know exactly names-- it's a 40-something group and it was just outstanding.

Riggins: I know Rich Olsing[ph?] from Communications?

Gibson: I recognized-- yeah, that's true. He was in communications. I remember that name.

Riggins: Ron Turnball from Communications also.

Gibson: Okay. They were really good but things like that and I had the good fortune of being inducted into the UNC Wilmington Hall of Fame, Athletic Hall of Fame.

Riggins: 2006.

Gibson: And that was outstanding and unbelievably coupled close to that same time, my university, where I attended, Western Carolina, actually retired my jersey. Their Hall of Fame started a few years ago and mine was the third jersey retired in basketball for men. They have one for women and then they have some football jerseys so I was real pleased with that as well. But here at the University, I'll mention again, going back to the greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame, I attended that the other night. Lots of people. I reminisced with Pat Halloway. Pat was here, she came next to my last year of coaching and so I got to know here. Greg Dalton in the athletic department. We still stay very close. Joe Browning. I talk to Joe every once in awhile and email on the computer makes it easier for me to stay in touch with a lot of these people, we're exchanging emails. Persons in the department, Marsha Todd, I stay in touch with her. Trish Berger also teaches. I've been in touch with her. There's just so many people that were here and still teaching and I get to see them when we have special events or just to chat with them as friends. We just-- when you're here for so long, you make a lot of lifetime friends so it's been one of the bonuses, I think, of being here at such an outstanding university, to have people like that.

Riggins: Then you get to stay because it's a nice place to retire.

Gibson: Absolutely. You don't want to go anywhere else to retire. You're at the perfect place to do it. So that's-- we enjoy this area very, very much. As I said, I had the distinction of being both in the middle part of the state, the western and the eastern part and this is the best part, for me.

Riggins: That's what we think, too. What about the students that you've known? Have some of them joined you in the UNCW Hall of Fame?

Gibson: Two of my athletes are in the Hall of Fame, were recently inducted. Gary Cooper, who is from the Pamlico Sound area up here, Pamlico, North Carolina, and Dave Wolf, who I mentioned a moment ago, from Indiana, they're both in the Hall of Fame and I had the good fortune of presenting them when they were inducted. Dave Wolf presented me when I was inducted so we reciprocated in that sense. I stay in touch with a lot of the players and occasionally we'll run across students and students who are teaching and some of them even getting into their late 40s and 50s now that I taught early on and so it's an interesting time, also to have students come to me when I was teaching here, and they would say, "Well, my dad said he played sports at Western Carolina when you were there playing basketball" and I don't want to hear that, it makes me seem so old. (laughter) But, yeah, those are things that I experience a lot.

Riggins: And you see them around town, too?

Gibson: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And a lot of the supporters that supported the program when I coached here at UNC Wilmington are still supporting the program, George Roundtree comes to mind, Kay Crocker comes to mind and these people were instrumental in my program and they still are active today so that says a lot for their staying power, you know? And this was a lean year in basketball but yet they stayed on board and that's important, to have that kind of loyalty.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. Did Seahawk club start when you were...

Gibson: We definitely had the Seahawk club and it did not rise to the level it has risen to recently but we did have support from the Seahawk club and funds were raised and I might-- I think Mike Capesio[ph?], who served as Athletic Director, proud of that. He was the executive director and I understand that was a record-setting time in fundraising, due primarily to his efforts.

Riggins: When you were around, I don't know, did they have a paid...

Gibson: No, they did not. They did not. They did not have a paid staff member. It was just something Coach Brooks kind of did that on the side...

Riggins: Another one of his titles.

Gibson: Right. And his fundraising and he was able to do a good job but as, you know, you really need that community support and that's what I think we have now.

Riggins: They definitely had a great fundraising year there. I'm sure they'll keep it up. They have a new director I think now.

Gibson: Right. I see a lot of the old timers and, like, I saw Tyler O'Riley the other day and I said, "Tyler, when are you going to retire? You've been at this..." and he says, "Rosemary needs me so I have to tell her all the history and the people and she's learning." So he serves an interesting capacity here. He's...

Riggins: Oh, yeah, well, he's, you know, kind of doing my job. I mean, I'm the archivist but he's been her so long...

Gibson: He keeps on the-- he tells you where to go.

Riggins: He keeps me going because, yeah, that just shows how valuable history is.

Gibson: Absolutely.

Riggins: People are trying to handle...

Gibson: He's a walking history book and he retains, his recall is so phenomenal, I can't believe it. So...

Riggins: And he's out there with people and he's always doing projects...

Gibson: Absolutely.

Riggins: Trying to put out fires here and there.

Gibson: Absolutely.

Riggins: This place-- did you have children?

Gibson: Yes.

Riggins: Did any of them go here?

Gibson: Both my kids went to NC State. They wanted engineering. They would have come here but they did not have engineering so their degree needs were somewhere else and they both are graduates of NC State and they are both gainfully employed and so I'm a happy man in that respect. So, yeah, they were-- but they were very avid in following me as a coach and, since they were knee high, they would come to games and my wife would-- that was an automatic. They were here. But, yeah, I have two sons.

Riggins: Right. No qualms about telling any kids today to come here?

Gibson: Absolutely not. No qualms at all. I grew up-- in fact, all the summer camps that we did, that was one of my pleasant experiences, too, is we started-- in fact, one of my-- I'll give you another archive piece of information here. One of my former players started the little Seahawks when I was coaching. His name was John Caliperi[ph?]. John Caliperi is currently the head coach at Memphis State but John was here for two years as a player. He later left because of lack of playing time and he wanted to get back home and he was from Pittsburgh and he went to a smaller school back in that area, Clarion State, I think it was, but he actually started the little Seahawk program from watching the little panthers at Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh. And so we had a meeting and the parents came and we explained to them what the little Seahawks would consist of and so that got it rolling and John would work with them, you know, in dribbling, the ball handling, the passing and, today, even when I go to games and I see the little Seahawks, I think about that because they were formed back in the '70s.

Riggins: Just as a grassroots...

Gibson: Right. Grassroots came from John Caliperi and he was the sole purpose because he came to me. I didn't know what he was talking about with the little Seahawks. I thought he meant a competitive team. He said, no, no, no, they're just ball handling and it's kind of a-- and he said it'll really foster good relations with the parents and he was right. So we had an excellent turnout, initial...

Riggins: And that's not a camp, that's just...

Gibson: No, no, it's just a little Seahawk program and just during the season and they'd come together and practice and they do rhythm to music and bouncing the ball and handling it and behind the back so it's just a friendly little thing and...

Riggins: And they perform at the games?

Gibson: Right. And they develop skills at doing that and they can lay on the floor and bounce the ball behind their back and...

Riggins: And everyone gets a ball.

Gibson: Right. Everybody's got a ball. You know, there's no competitive playing against one another. It's more like a ball handling type thing. But that's how that got started.

Riggins: And the camps, did they start-- did you start a lot of camps?

Gibson: Yeah. We had summer camps and, of course, they still do the same thing. Most every college program does that and we would have summer camps and the girls would have camps and the guys would have-- in basketball and, of course, they do that in all sports, too, you know, soccer does it and all the sports do that so that's a wonderful thing for summertime.

Riggins: Who was the woman's when you were here?

Gibson: Oh, Marilyn. You got me on a senior moment.

Riggins: Yeah.

Gibson: Marilyn Kristoff.

Riggins: I'll have to look...

Gibson: Marilyn Kristoff[ph?] was the woman's coach and she coached here for about as long as I did in the head basketball coach but Marilyn did a great job and their teams were very competitive. Like me, they benefited once we got into the conference, but, prior to that, it was a tough road, you know, to hoe as far as scheduling was concerned because she won lots of games and it was hard to schedule when you win games because people, they want to play if they got a chance of losing so-- but, yeah, she was here then. I see her occasionally. She had a player a couple of years ago inducted into the Hall of Fame and I saw her at that event and we spoke. She's retired and enjoying her retirement years.

Riggins: Sure. She's another one I need to talk to. That's another good thing I get from talking to these people such as yourself is other names.

Gibson: Right. That's correct. They come back.

Riggins: So then I go tell them, Coach Gibson said I need to talk to you and then they feel like, oh, okay, I guess I should do it. (laughter) So I'm giving away my secrets on tape here.

Gibson: Okay. Well, that's what you should continue doing because that will definitely contribute to the archives.

Riggins: Yes. Definitely. I appreciate your coming in because, like I said, these recollections are really not available anywhere else in these archives or anywhere so...

Gibson: Absolutely. Well, I enjoyed it and I hope that it'll be of benefit and, as the weeks and months and years pass, I'm sure it'll become more available because people will be referencing back to learn, you know, the roots of this university and there was a lot of great quality people that had something to do with it and I'd like to think that I had a small part to play in it.

Riggins: Oh, definitely. We have newsprint articles, we have clippings, we have books but it's just good to have...

Gibson: People.

Riggins: ...a primary source of material, this interview right here. Thank you for coming in. Any closing thoughts about the university?

Gibson: Closing. Only to say that, you know, that I consider myself very fortunate in having the opportunity to come to a fine university and I knew that, in fact, I left out one piece of information, when I had the opportunity to come here as an assistant basketball coach, I also had the opportunity to go another school, I won't mention the name, I could have gone to another four year school as the head coach and I pondered the two and I weighed them and I saw more potential coming here as an assistant with the promise of being the head coach then going there immediately as a head coach because I could see that this university was destined for great things, the location, the leadership, everything just-- my instincts told me this was where I should go and I played on those instincts and it worked out but that's how I feel. I'm just fortunate to have had the years here and the people that I met here and where else can you go to have a place to retire and you don't have to leave? You just stay right where you are. So that's the benefits I saw in this university and this location.

Riggins: Thank you. Thanks for coming and keep enjoying your retirement.

Gibson: I promise I will. Thank you.

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