Ted Owens says one of the best things that ever happened to him took place in the spring of 1964.
That’s when University of New Mexico assistant basketball coach Sam Miranda phoned to inquire about a job opening on Owens’ first Kansas University coaching staff.
Owens hired him, and in 13 ensuing seasons, the two were part of five league championship and two Final Four teams.
“Sam was a great friend, a special friend of 45 years who made outstanding contributions to the KU basketball program,” Owens said Thursday in a phone conversation from Tulsa after learning that Miranda had died in his Lawrence home at the age of 78.
“He was an outstanding coach, a fine recruiter and really a dedicated worker,” Owens added. “In recent months, we talked quite a bit on the phone reminiscing about old times and laughing about the great times. It’s been a hard day. I’ve had a lot of people calling to tell me, including Roger.”
That would be former KU player Roger Morningstar, who, like Collinsville, Ill., native Miranda, hails from Illinois, but has lived in Lawrence for many years.
“Coach Miranda earned a tremendous amount of respect,” Morningstar said. “Everybody who played for him was touched by him. He was incredibly loyal and dedicated. He was the king of tough love.
“He may have been the toughest human being I’ve ever known. He didn’t ask for respect. He got respect from everybody — from the greatest players here to the schmoes like myself who were just role players. He never treated anybody differently.”
Former KU athletic director Bob Frederick worked with Miranda as an assistant coach on Owens’ KU staff.
“Sam was really a great person and outstanding coach,” Frederick said. “He was extremely organized and disciplined, a no-nonsense coach. Sam and his wife, Polly, were wonderful to Margey (Frederick’s wife) and myself. Sam was the best man at our wedding 37 years ago. They are really nice people.”
Miranda helped bring players like Jo Jo White, Dave Robisch, Morningstar, Roger Brown, Dale Greenlee and so many more to KU.
“He was a great recruiter. He went home every single night to make recruiting calls. There were no limits (on calls) at the time,” Frederick said. “He was well respected as a recruiter and as a coach. We’ll really miss him.”