Then & Now: Randy Cipriano on
Compiled By Dave Brandon
(Photo Courtesy NU Media Relations)
Cipriano was an Assistant Coach at Nebraska from
1982-1986, and saw his teams go a combined 91-57 (.615)
while serving under Coach Moe Iba.
is the son of the late Joe Cipriano (Head Coach,
1964-1980), who is second on the all-time victories
list at Nebraska (253-197, .562).
is our latest guest in this special two-part/two-week
edition of "Then & Now." Today’s edition will focus on
his father (pictured at left). Make sure to check back
next week when we talk about his life and coaching
career at Nebraska.
for joining us. For the first part of the interview this
week, we'd like to talk about and honor your Dad. Talk
about his childhood, and what got him so interested in
basketball at such a young age?
RC: Well, he grew up 9 miles from the
Canadian border in a small town called Nooksac. His Dad
worked for the railroad and was an immigrant. I think
his Dad came over on a ship when he was 12.
he grew up in was a town of about 10,000, and he was a
high school All-American (Class of 1949) and then went
on to the University of Washington on a scholarship,
where he played for Tippy Dye, a former Athletic
Director at Nebraska.
recruited my Dad and he went there. They had some really
good teams, and I don’t know if it was his junior or
senior year, but they went to the Final 4 before losing
had a real strong college career.
HHC: Yeah, I’d
say. His teams went a combined 79-15, won the Pacific
Coast title all three years, and finished third in the
NCAA Tournament in 1953. Anyway, after graduating from
Washington, your Dad spent three years as a player on
the AAU Buchan Bakers of Seattle, where he served as a
player-coach on one of the European trips. Are those the
days when he decided to pursue coaching?
RC: I couldn’t tell you, but I know that
his basketball knowledge started at a very young age
since he played all the time. Whether he made a decision
that he wanted to coach in high school, university, or
when he was playing semi-pro, I don’t know.
HHC: His first coaching job was as a high
school coach, which he did for one year. Do you recall
where that was at or hearing anything about that year?
RC: Yes, it was at Mercer Island High
School (Washington). I don’t remember anything specific
because I wasn’t around, but after he did that for a
year, he went back to Washington under Tippy Dye and was
the freshman coach.
time, there were a lot of young coaches coming up
through the ranks, and he learned a lot at that level.
Every Division One School had a freshman team and they
competed against each other and played just like they do
at the varsity level now.
HHC: After serving as freshman coach for
three years at Washington, your Dad went on to the
University of Idaho in 1959-1960. Do you remember
anything about that?
RC: Yeah, I was born in Seattle and I
remember Idaho. He had some great teams there, and a kid
that played in the pro’s named Gus Johnson. Johnson
played for the Baltimore Bullets, and had a gold-star in
his front tooth. He was 6’8”, and a kid that was just a
great athlete; he could really rebound and play.
was a friend of our family, and so that’s how my Dad got
him. He used to come to Nebraska after his NBA career to
help with my Dad’s camps and we’d go fishing.
HHC: Your Dad was extremely successful
during his times at Idaho. In fact, his three years
there, he led the team to records of 10-16, 13-13, and
20-6, before leaving for Nebraska in the fall of 1963.
He was asked at the time why he left a program with 20
wins for a school without a winning season in 13 years,
and a school that had finished above the .500 mark only
twice in the previous 26, and he said, "Because it was a
helluva challenge. There was only one way for the
program to go, and that was up." Does that quote sum up
your Dad pretty well?
RC: Yeah, but I think it was more
relationship driven than that. I think he was all about
relationships and loyalty, and Tippy Dye, his earlier
coach, was pretty persuasive and influenced him probably
more so than you just told me.
HHC: In just his third year at Nebraska
(1965-1966), your Dad took the Huskers to a record of
20-5, along with a #11 ranking in the final national
poll, and won the award of Conference Coach of the Year.
Was that one of his favorite years, and did he feel that
was his best team?
RC: Yeah, I’m sure it was one of his
favorites, and I remember that year. They had a great
had several teams that were really talented and won a
lot of games, but at that time, I think they took 8
teams to the NCAA Tournament, and then one year, they
took 16, so that was it. If you weren’t in the Top 8 or
16, you weren’t going to the NCAA Tournament. So, that
had an impact on the exposure that you got.
team that you’re talking about had Stu Lantz, Nate
Branch, Coley Webb, Willie Campbell… Those kids really
had a lot of personality. They were intelligent with a
lot of class, and it would have been a good bunch if
they had won 10 games, let alone 20.
got along and they competed, and had a handful of kids
that were really good.
HHC: The following year (1966-1967) was
highly successful as well, as the team captured the
schools first ever NIT bid. And, a key season of your
Dad’s times at Nebraska was 1970-1971 when Moe Iba
joined the staff, as Iba would later succeed your Dad.
Talk about what their relationship was like and how well
they complemented each other?
RC: Well, I think that my Dad had a lot of
respect for Hank Iba, as they were friends and talked a
lot of basketball. So when Moe was looking to make a
move, my Dad’s relationship with Hank was really the
factor that got Moe to come to Nebraska.
obviously grew up around basketball and was a great
basketball mind. I think they complemented each other in
a number of ways. My Dad had a lot of energy,
personality, people skills, and was a great offensive
mind. And Moe was a great defensive mind.
HHC: Your Dad
and Iba were definitely a dynamic duo, as Nebraska
finished under .500 only once in the 1970's (1972-1973),
and had its best season ever (at the time) by going 19-8
in 1975-1976. What are your favorite memories of those
teams and times?
RC: Well, at one time Nebraska had one of
the longest winning streaks, as far as finishing above
.500, in the country. I think they had like the second
or third longest.
RC: Yeah. But I remember the players, the
relationships, and all that, but I was in high school at
that time (the 1970’s). Jerry Fort and I were really
good friends, and I became close with a lot of my Dad’s
players. A lot of my friends even to this day are via
basketball and either played for my Dad or at Nebraska.
HHC: Talk about some of the great players
that your Dad coached at Nebraska, and who were some of
RC: Jerry Fort was a great player. Brian
Banks was a great player. Steve Willis, who played guard
with Jerry Fort, was one of the best guards to come
through the basketball program at Nebraska as well.
Those two guards were awesome, and just really good, and
they roomed together. They also had a kid from New York
named Rickey Marsh who came in for a year before he got
homesick and went home. There are just too many good
players to name.
HHC: Your Dad
is described as a character who would do things from
firing off the gun at the scorers table during a game to
telling players to run over the Jayhawk logo at center
court in Allen Fieldhouse during warmups to rile up the
fans. What are some of your favorite colorful stories?
RC: My Dad thoroughly enjoyed life; it wasn’t
just at the basketball arena. I remember a lot of things
growing up, and how he liked to have fun and was a
practical joker. He had a lot of friends, a lot of
personality, and there was a lot more depth to him than
HHC: Did he
hate Kansas as much as we hear?
RC: Oh, that’s a competitive thing Dave,
and you can use the word hate in a competitive way, but
as far as really hating them, absolutely not. He had the
utmost respect, but you have to remember that Kansas was
the team that beat him when he was in the Final 4, so he
probably got tired of getting beat by them. He got beat
by them when he was playing, and he got beat by them
when he was coaching.
Kansas fans always liked him, and I’ll never forget when
my Dad got sick, and all of a sudden the UPS truck comes
up, and here comes the UPS guys with what looked like a
rug, but it was a roll of paper rolled up with 20,000
signatures from all the KU fans saying, “Get well,
thoughts and prayers.”
awesome, I never knew that.
don’t, we didn’t tell it all.
HHC: Since you
are a former coach yourself, talk about what your Dad
liked to have his teams do on offense and defense, as
far as sets and beliefs?
RC: Well, he was one of the guys who really
believed in the passing game. He learned a lot from Pete
Newell and Hank Iba. Actually, there were several people
who really influenced his offensive philosophies. And, I
think he was one of the guys that helped Bobby Knight go
to the passing game like he has.
know my Dad believed in the passing play more than maybe
the true passing game, meaning that he wanted to set up
a play to get a shot for a certain player, and if it
broke down, then you go into your passing game.
HHC: And did
he believe in hard-nosed man-to-man defense like Moe Iba?
RC: Oh, I think all coaches believe in
that, but he did a lot more pressing with that team when
he had Lantz and (Nate) Branch, and they pressed most of
the time, and I mean full court. They scored a lot of
mention that your Dad played a big role in the
development of Coach Knight. Talk more about that.
RC: Well, Hank Iba hired my Dad to come in and
help with the selection of the Olympic team in Colorado
Springs, and Bobby Knight was one of the coaches that
came in with him. So they spent a lot of time together
and they were tight.
remember going with his sons (Coach Knight) and him up
to Montana and trout fishing for a week. And I remember
growing up listening to my Dad talk basketball with Hank
Iba, Bobby Knight, Norm Stewart, Pete Newell, Don
Haskins, and a lot of other great guys that he was
and talk about Mrs. Cipriano and your brothers and
sisters, and what are they up to today?
RC: I have two sisters, and we all grew up
in Lincoln and went to Southeast. My youngest sister
lives in Seattle, and my oldest lives in New Mexico. My
Mother lives in Seattle.
being diagnosed with cancer in 1979, your Dad's last
couple of years at Nebraska were both inspirational and
courageous, but also sad, as he fought with every ounce
of energy he had to stay with the team until the end of
his life in 1980. What were his spirits like at the end?
RC: Well… brave. He had an opportunity to
get things in order, which he appreciated. He had time
to spend with his close friends that meant so much to
him, which he appreciated.
HHC: Did your Dad teach you more about
life and battling in his last year than ever before?
RC: No, that’s something that he taught me
while I grew up, and we knew that was there when it
happened. He traveled everyday of his life that way,
ever since I knew him, so that wasn’t something we were
surprised to see at all.
how would you describe your Dad, in your own words?
RC: He had a
lot of passion for life, in everything he did. There was
always passion and competitiveness.
He had a will to succeed in not just basketball, but he
also wanted to be a solid person in all aspects of his
life. Unfortunately with coaching, it consumes people.
Just like when you see these coaches that say they are
going to retire to spend time with their family, and