Ex-Providence, Laker Coach Mullaney Dies

Associated Press

Joe Mullaney, who coached Jimmy Walker and Lenny Wilkens and was a basketball fixture at Providence for 18 years, died of cancer at home Wednesday. He was 75.

“He fought it hard, he never liked to give in, and every step along the way he fought it,” his son, John, said. “We were hoping he would be able to overcome it, but it wasn’t to be.”

Mullaney coached Providence from 1955-1969 and again from 1981-1985, ending with a 319-164 record. He guided Providence to nine consecutive 20-win seasons.

He led the Friars to the 1961 and 1963 NIT championships and four other NIT and three NCAA appearances.

A February tribute to him in Providence drew 700 people.

“It was a special evening for him to remember the contribution that he made not only to PC basketball, but to sports in Rhode Island,” John Mullaney said.


Mullaney was a young coach when he first arrived at Providence, a small, Catholic school. He had coached only one season at Norwich in Vermont.

The school had just built Alumni Hall and the Rev. Robert Slavin, then the school’s president, figured basketball could give the commuter school an identity.

Mullaney built a program that produced not only Wilkens, Walker and Johnny Egan but coaches such as Rick Pitino and Dave Gavitt. Former Georgetown Coach John Thompson played for Mullaney at Providence.

“Joe was a purist as a basketball person,” Thompson said Wednesday. “Joe coached and taught basketball because he loved it and he was one of the last guys that way.”

As a coach, Thompson had an 8-1 record against Mullaney.

“You always knew he knew what he was talking about, but I had to become a coach to know he was a genius,” Thompson said. “I wanted to show him what I had learned.”

Mullaney left Providence in 1969 to coach a Laker team featuring Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. He ended his two seasons with a record of 94-70 in the regular season and 16-14 in the playoffs.

Mullaney also coached in the former American Basketball Association with teams in Kentucky, Utah, Memphis and Baltimore. He coached at Brown from 1978 to 1981, then returned to Providence.

He grew up in New York and went to college at Holy Cross. He played with Bob Cousy on the 1947 Holy Cross team that won the national championship.

“You had to listen to Joe because he taught Bob Cousy how to be tricky,” Thompson said.

A funeral is scheduled for Saturday at St. Pius V Church, near the Providence campus.

Mullaney is survived by his second wife, Jane, and their five children, who all graduated from Providence.