Lee Rose '58
Still Into the Game After 50 Years
Seven years after apparently ending his extensive full-time basketball coaching career when he retired in 2001 as assistant coach for the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association, Lee Rose ’58 finds himself back on the court as lead assistant to head coach Sam Vincent for the same team (now known as the Bobcats).
“Sam was a promising young coach I worked with in the NBA’s Developmental League,” Rose says. “He said, ‘Look, if I ever get a head coaching job, I want you to go with me.’ You know, that’s pie in the sky, a big wish. Because my wife and I love Charlotte and have grandchildren here, I told Sam I would help him only if he came to Charlotte, never dreaming that anything like that would happen.”
When Vincent was offered the job last year, one of his first calls was to Rose, who accepted the lead assistant position. In this role, Rose handles all of the administrative details associated with being a head coach, which includes game responsibilities.
“Sam depends on me to maintain orderly information to him as it relates to match-ups, a strategy change I think might be appropriate, how many timeouts and fouls we have, and other priorities as the game progresses,” Rose says. He also tracks off-court matters like community involvement for Vincent.
Rose’s background for his position consists of a virtual lifetime of basketball coaching and administration that began in 1958 when he accepted a teaching and coaching job at Versailles (Ky.) High School immediately after graduating from Transylvania. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his start in basketball.
Rose was an assistant coach, first under C. M. Newton at Transylvania and later at the University of Cincinnati, before returning to his alma mater to coach the Pioneers for eight seasons (1964-65, 1968-75) and compile a 160-57 record (.737 percent).
After leaving Transy, Rose took two NCAA Division I teams—the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and Purdue University—to the Final Four and coached seven seasons at the University of South Florida, winning National Coach of the Year (1977) and Big 10 Coach of the Year (1980) honors. His NBA career has taken him to the San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks before landing his first position with Charlotte in 1996.
Rose also has considerable international coaching experience. He coached the United States team at the 1979 Soviet Union Spartakade Games and at the 1985 World University Games in Japan, and was co-coach for the U.S. squad at the 1983 International Basketball Federation Games in Switzerland.
Regardless of how far around the globe (more than 30 countries so far) his travels take him, Rose has warm memories of his Transylvania years. He and Eleanor Lollis Rose ’61 were married during her sophomore year and were part of the Transy family in every possible way for many years.
After earning a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky, Rose left Versailles High School to join the Transylvania faculty and coaching staff in 1959, a job that included being director of the dormitories. He and Eleanor lived first in Ewing Hall, then in Hazelrigg Hall, and both of their children—Michael and Mark—arrived while they were living in the dorms.
Eleanor remembers well the challenges of starting a family in campus housing while Lee was getting his start in coaching, but credits Transylvania with providing an ideal support system.
“Our Transy years were a great place for Lee to get his feet wet in coaching because it was such a nurturing environment,” she remembers. “It was a demanding life, with young children, but I was in a comfortable place in many ways. Mitchell Clark was an English professor who was a mentor to me.”
The odd schedules required when building a life around basketball games often called for flexibility in family matters. “We used to have Mike and Mark’s birthday cakes at breakfast, because Lee would have to be at a game or out recruiting that evening,” Eleanor recalls with a laugh.
Eleanor and Lee have been a team for Rose’s entire career. As usual, she was the first person he consulted with when Vincent offered him his position. “I wouldn’t be what I am if it weren’t for her,” Rose says.
Outside of coaching, Rose began the Middle School Project in recent years, in conjunction with Forward the Fifth, a non-profit organization. Rose came to Transylvania from West Irvine, Ky., a small town in Appalachia. Today, he is giving back to the region by visiting middle schools in Kentucky’s 42 Appalachian counties, talking with small groups of students to encourage them to stay in school.
“Nationwide, 30 percent of all high school students drop out,” Rose says. “I’ve spoken to about 10,000 students so far, in 33 of the 42 counties. I’m going to do them all.”
What is there about coaching that would draw a person back to an active position in it after 50 years of practices and game days?
“Coaching is a profession that keeps you young and involved with people,” Rose says. “I enjoyed tremendously working with college kids, and I enjoy the relationships I have with NBA players as well. It’s a full and active life.”
—William A. Bowden