Butler mourns loss of former coach

During a time when social injustice ran rampant, coach George Theofanis challenged the norms and established a new, diverse face for Butler basketball.

Theofanis, a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and Butler basketball coach from 1970-77, passed away Jan. 30 at the age of 79.

Don Benbow served as a Butler basketball and football coach in 1969 and recalls Theofanis’ tenure.

“He was the coach that brought the minority and diversity to the basketball program,” Benbow said.

Throughout his seven years at Butler, Theofanis assembled competitive squads while paying no mind to his players’ skin color.

“He recruited good athletes and good students just like you have at Butler today,” Benbow said.

Theofanis, who coached Shortridge High School to the Indiana State Championship game in 1968, was faced with the difficult task of succeeding the highly popular and successful Tony Hinkle as coach of the Butler Bulldogs in the 1970-71 season.

Amid the pressures of following Hinkle and the constraints of a nonexistent recruiting budget, Theofanis recorded a 79-105 record while at Butler. Despite the lackluster win-loss record, his always-competitive teams included some notable figures.

In addition to blazing the trail of unbiased and fair recruiting, Theofanis offered a scholarship to current Butler athletic director Barry Collier.

Collier came to Butler in 1974 as a junior college transfer and played under Theofanis for two seasons, earning the team’s co-MVP award in 1976.

Collier later went on to coach the Bulldogs to three NCAA tournament appearances and helped re-introduce the “Butler Way” philosophy into Butler athletics.

“Ultimately, all of his teachings to our teams and to me had an effect on my coaching,” Collier said.

Theofanis also coached former NBA first-round draft pick Oscar Evans, a two-sport athlete, at both Shortridge and Butler.

Benbow was the football coach at Shortridge in the 1960s, the same time Theofanis was the school’s basketball coach.

“I remember during one football game, Evans got knocked down and was pretty shaken up,” Benbow said. “[Theofanis] ran out of the stands and beat me onto the field to see if Oscar was okay.”

“He really cared about his players,” Benbow added. “He was a very intense coach and a very good coach.”