Then & Now: Norman Coufal
Compiled By Dave Brandon
Coufal played for Nebraska from 1955-1956, and was a
Husker during the Jerry Bush era (1955-1963, 81-132).
shooting guard from David City, Coufal is our latest
guest in this Sunday's version of "Then & Now."
HHC: Nice to
speak with you. Do you keep up with Nebraska basketball
these days at all?
NC: I don’t follow them near as much as I
used to. I don’t know anyone there anymore. The coaches
are all gone and they are all different, so I don’t
follow it quite as closely, but I do keep an eye on it,
and I’ve got all kinds of friends back there.
thinking of having a get together, actually, us
old-timers, from both the basketball and baseball teams.
We did it back in 1983 and again in 1993, and it was a
great time. All these guys that left don’t get to see
thinking about doing it again for Bus Whitehead and Bob
HHC: Very cool. You were a shooting guard
at David City High School. What was that experience
NC: It was great. We won the state title
my junior year, the Class B State Championship.
HHC: And what made you decide to play
basketball at Nebraska?
NC: Well I don’t know, I grew up there,
and everything was there. I had a chance to go there,
and had a chance to play basketball and baseball both. I
had a couple of other places to go, such as Kansas State
and Oklahoma State, but I wasn’t interested. It was 50
miles from home and nice and close.
HHC: What did the recruiting process
consist of back then?
NC: They’d come and see you, and then
you’d visit. Nothing too different. They didn’t have to
worry about me, though, because that’s where I wanted to
go and I didn’t have that problem (of being persuaded
HHC: Your first year on varsity was Jerry
Bush's first year at Nebraska. Before we talk about that
though, tell us about Coach Harry Good (1947-1954,
86-99), whom you played for on the JV team. How well did
you know him, and what was he like as a man?
NC: I knew him, for sure. My sophomore
year he was there. I don’t want you to print anything
that I’d say about him, though (Laughs). But he was a
HHC: Fair enough. Do you know what
happened to him?
NC: He stuck around there and he worked
there in the Phys Ed department for a while, as long as
I can remember. We had Jerry Bush the last two years, so
I don’t know.
HHC: Talk about Bush, and describe what he
was like as a man?
NC: Jerry Bush was enthusiastic and
excited. He was the best player we had. If he got out
and played with you, he could play. Hell, I don’t know
how old he was then, but he could still play the game
(Laughs). He knew it, and could play probably as good as
he could coach.
Yes, and that’s incredible, because he could get out
there and do things none of the rest of us could do. And
we had Rex Ekwall, Bill Johnson, Fred Seger, just some
pretty dang good players that Bush could get out there
and play with.
him a lot.
HHC: What do
you know about his basketball background?
NC: He played at Toledo, and then he
played with the Pistons, I think. He was big and he was
probably 6’4” or 6’5”; he was a pretty good-sized guy.
He could play at 40 whatever years old, I’ll say that
HHC: What kind of coach was he?
Same old stuff. We played a lot of man-to-man defense,
not too much zone, just played whatever we had. But it
was a big improvement over what we had my sophomore
HHC: Was he well liked by the players?
NC: I think everybody liked him. I don’t
think anyone disliked him. He was enthusiastic and
excited about life; he was a neat guy.
HHC: What was the atmosphere like in the
old Coliseum, and what kind of home court advantage did
NC: I don’t know if we had all that much,
honestly, as far as an advantage. It was what we had and
it’s where we played.
were playing, all the places were the same, and then
they got a new place at the University of Kansas, and
Kansas State was always nicer, but they were a lot
newer. Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Colorado were like what
we had though, or maybe not quite as good.
played Iowa, and played all over the country. Our arena
was just about as good as anybody’s with the exception
of the new arenas.
HHC: Right on.
Your first season on varsity was 1954-1955, which was
also Jerry Bush's first year. You guys went 9-12 (6-6,
T-3rd) and were led by Willard Fagler (13.6 PPG) and Rex
Ekwall (11.5 RPG). Talk about those guys, and what kind
of players they were?
NC: Both of those were not only good guys,
but they were great players. Everybody loved them; they
were just neat guys, and they could play.
HHC: Your last year on varsity was
1955-1956, and the team went 7-16 (3-9, 6th). The
biggest moment of that season was beating UCLA and John
Wooden (Home, 71-65), who went on to win the Pac-8
Conference. What do you remember about that game?
NC: (Laughs) Well, us and the clock and
the referees, we didn’t do too bad, huh? (Laughs).
HHC: (Laughs) What do you mean by that?
NC: What I mean is we got a few breaks
that night. Actually, we got a bunch of them. It was no
contest, but we had a referee and everything else that
was pretty good there in Lincoln, and we gave it to them
pretty good, I thought, and everybody else thought the
the game and you win a few and lose a few, and sometimes
we got a lot of help, and we got plenty of help that
night. I mean, that was no contest (Laughs).
What else sticks out about that senior year?
I had a great time that year, and we had a great bunch
of guys, and traveled all of the country. You know, it’s
a great deal for any young man that’s fortunate enough
to do it. It’s a blessing.
up down here in Texas when I got out of school in ’56,
and I would have never come to Texas if I didn’t come
down here every year when it was 20 below zero up there
(in Nebraska) when we were getting on the bus to leave
for our Texas and southern trip.
down here and it’d be 70 during the Easter Holidays. And
then I came down on June 6, 1956, when I got out of
school, and there was a whole bunch of different heat
that day. I came down in wool suits and hell, I thought
I was going to burn up (Laughs).
know, I grew to like it, and it’s a great place here.
every place is great in this country. Every place you go
is better than what our service men and women are going
through overseas to protect us everyday, so I value
HHC: Very good point. Here’s a good question; if
you had to pick the biggest play or shot that you made
during your two years on varsity, what would it be?
NC: I made one from the opposite free
throw line at Colorado right before the half one time.
It was off to the right a bit on the other side, and I
let it fly, and it went right through.
worst disappointment I had was when I was guarding the
little guy from Oklahoma… I forget his name… But we were
tied, and he stood out there in the middle, and he came
over across the free throw line and hit a jump shot to
beat us with 2 seconds left (78-76 Oklahoma, February 21st,
1955). Lester Lane was his name.
HHC: Who were
some of the other great players you guarded?
NC: Kansas had some good guys, and a guard
in particular, but I forget his name. BH Born was there.
Man, it’s been so long… Norman Stewart, we competed
against him in basketball and baseball at Missouri.
Yes, “the” Norman Stewart (Laughs). He was a baseball
pitcher, so I saw him two or three times a year.
that’s right, I forgot to ask you about that earlier.
Talk more about your baseball career at Nebraska?
Well, I played shortstop and played the last two years.
Don Brown was an All-American on our team at 3rd,
Murray Bachus was the catcher, and was from Millard.
Bill Giles played, Cedar Gall… Dirx Ralston was the
second baseman my junior year, and Tony Sharpe was the
right there behind the Coliseum, kind of by the track,
where they now have the new Osborne Center, if I’m not
HHC: What are your favorite off the court
and field memories of UNL?
NC: I had a great time there. I met a
bunch of great guys, I traveled all over the country… I
mean, I was blessed.
kid from David City, who traveled all over the west
coast, all down south, and in the Midwest… Chicago,
Michigan, where it was 25 below zero and the wind was
blowing about 400 MPH, and the gym was about 350 years
old, and we wore short pants in that sucker (Laughs). We
about froze to death, and I’m telling you, you didn’t
want to play that game, you just wanted to get your wool
underwear on (Laughs).
been that cold as our trip to play Michigan (in
1955-1956, a 77-71 Nebraska loss); we were cold at
Nebraska, but nothing like that, brother.
And have you stayed in touch with any of your old
teammates or coaches, and if so, what are they up to
NC: I’ve seen them from time to time, and
then at those parties in ’83 and ’93, and we think we’re
going to do it again, but that’s about the only way to
keep everybody together.
HHC: Do you
know of any deaths of former teammates?
NC: In baseball, Jim Cedardog passed on
some time ago… Bob Giles is gone. But I think pretty
much everyone with the basketball team is in pretty good
shape, as far as I know.
what have you been doing the past fifty years, and where
will we find you today?
NC: I’ve been in business for myself, and
I’m retired. I’m going to be 72 years old soon; I’m
getting old, brother (Laughs).
going to play basketball tonight at Second Baptist with
my brother and friends, and we’ve been playing for about
25 years once a week. Can you believe that?
HHC: No, I
can’t! You’re probably in better shape than I am
NC: I don’t know about that (Laughs). I
don’t think I am, because I’ve had prostate cancer and a
heart bypass, so I don’t know about that, but I’m out
there. My brother comes and picks me up, he’s five years
younger than me, and I’m the old guy in the bunch.
long ways from being any kind of good basketball, but
it’s a good time.
thanks a lot for taking the time to do this. Do you know
how to access the Internet and would you be interested
in taking some e-mails from our readers?
My wife knows how to do that, but I don’t.
like to let you know that I appreciate you doing this
and sorry if I didn’t help you out much. It’s been a