Louis Alexander

Interviewee: Alexander, Louis
Interviewer: End, Jack
Duration: 29 minutes
Date: ca 1971

Biographical note:  Louis Albion Alexander was the coach and Athletics Director at the University of Rochester from 1931 till 1966. Alexander coached at the University of Connecticut for eight years prior to coming to Rochester in 1931 with his wife and four children. He coached the basketball team through one of its most successful periods in 1942, when it remained undefeated for sixteen straight games. Among his many honors, he was elected to the Helms Foundation Basketball Hall of Fame and has received several National Collegiate Athletic Association honors. The Palestra was named in his honor in 1968. He died in 1976.

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Jack End:
Uh, Lou, before you came to the University of Rochester, you coached for – I think it was eight years – at the University of Connecticut.

Louis Alexander: That’s right.

JE: What prompted you to come here?

LA: Well . . . in the spring of 1931 I received a letter from Dr. Edgar Fauver, the college physician and athletic director at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. And he told me that his brother, Dr. Edwin Fauver[3] at the University of Rochester, was looking for a basketball coach. And would I be interested in being considered a – being considered for the position. So I wrote back to Dr. Edgar Fauver indicating that I was happy and consented. At the University of Connecticut, where I was coaching the varsity basketball and baseball, freshman football; I was the alumni secretary, and I had charge of the publicity for the University, uh –

JE: You did some writing, then.

LA: So I had three positions. And I felt that I’d reached a stage that, if I could put all my energies in one area – either the alumni work or publicity or in coaching – over the long haul I’d probably be that better off. So I decided to put all the eggs in one basket, as it were. And I was invited to come out to Rochester and visit with Dr. Rhees and of course Dr. Fauver and others. And they finally invited me to come out here and after looking at the Palestra and the facilities on the River Campus, I found it not difficult to make up my mind that it would be a challenge to, and a fine opportunity, to come to the University of Rochester. . .

JE: If you had to do it all over again would you do it the same way?

LA: I doubt if I would have the courage. [laughs] Knowing what a coach goes through coming out here in 1931 with four children and the – my wife. [4] Neil, the oldest boy started in the first grade. And anyone that puts all of his eggs in one basket isn’t very bright. [laughs]

JE: And now I’m going to throw you a curve. Lou are you superstitious?

LA: Uh – more than I care to admit. [laughs] Uh . . . anyone who is overly so indicates that is not too bright. But in the field of athletics and coaching many times we – we wore the same suit or the same necktie or go through a certain routine and the team wins and they say, well, why don’t we do it the next time and if the team wins we’ll have to continue to do that. But to that degree I have been superstitious some over the years. I’d like to deny it but I can’t, honestly. [laughs]

JE: What were some of the other superstitions you had? Or not su – well, whatever you want to call them.

LA: Well, uh –

JE: I seem to recall something about your making the team eat in the same place, um –

LA: Well, in nineteen I think it was 1941, ’42, we had an undefeated basketball team. And we did not have a training table. But the boys started eating in a restaurant over on Monroe Avenue. Uh, Al Herbert’s Diner.[5]  And they had scrambled eggs and toast and tea and so forth. And we won the first few games and they wanted to...the boys wanted to continue doing it so we all met over there and ate before each game and we [laughs] we had an undefeated season and I’m sure it was not because we ate in the diner on Monroe Avenue, but it was because we had some fine players and –

JE: Well, it probably did something for their spirit too.

LA: Dick Baroody[6], John Baynes[7], and so forth. But it was it contributed to the morale – call it superstition or whatever you wish.

JE: How would you classify yourself in terms of working with your teams, and were you rougher on them than most coaches or easier on them? Than the average coach.

LA: Well . . . uh, that’s a difficult question. I wanted to be fair and I think I was fair in the way I handled and treated the players. But I gave my all when I was a performer in college. And as a coach I expected the players to give their all. Forgetting at times that they were playing for the joy of participation and fun. Rather than making it a life’s work or a job. So I think I tried to demand more of them than they – than some wanted to give, and as a result, over the years, a player here and there dropped off the squad because he just didn’t want to give that much. But the other players who stuck with it today will – some of the ones I was the toughest on are now my closest friends and over the period that I was coaching were my biggest boosters, although when they were playing I don’t think they [laughs] thought too much of me as a person.

JE: Well, from what I remember right you had them all playing way over their heads. And probably that’s why you were so successful.

LA: Well, that’s . . . [laughs] due of course to good fortune, y’know, as the man said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” [laughs] And but the other reason why is the – the most important was that we had some very fine athletes, some very fine boys. And, uh –

JE: Who are some that stand out in your memory?

LA: Well, of course the boys that played on that undefeated, team were Glenn Quaint[8] was the captain. But Dick Baroody was a sophomore, Bobby Erickson[9] was a senior. Peter Kelly[10], who was played center was a senior. Um – uh, John Baynes was just breaking into the ball team, was a sophomore. Um, all those boys were fine players. And it was a joy to work with them and it was the only undefeated –

JE: Yeah, you won sixteen –

LA:  – basketball team the, y’know, the University has ever enjoyed, and, um –

JE: The only one in the country in four – forty-two, wasn’t it?

LA: The only one, that’s right.

JE: You went 16-0.

LA: That’s right. It was a very fine team and a wonderful group of players. Um, I got a real thrill the other day, I was invited out to the Oak Hill Country Club by Al Brewer[11] and Bobby Ulrech[12], who were two of the finest players we had over the years. And it’s that sort of thing that, to me, is made the trials and tribulations of a coach worthwhile. But after they get through for a while through college for a while they look back and say, well, you know, he wasn’t such a mean [laughs] old person after all. You know.

JE: What were the – what do you think the trend is in basketball from the time that you were playing for Connecticut and then coaching up to the present in terms of oh, let’s say teamwork. Do you think there’s as much teamwork now in basketball as there was?

LA: Well, I – from my observation watching pros play, and many of the colleges, the individual players are so expert at shooting . . . that, y’know, one-hand jump shot that – they can hit from twenty feet out as well as they can for – in close layups, and therefore it cuts down on the amount of teamwork. In the day when I played – was in the horse and buggy days – because one man shot all the foul goals. And if I made five field goals, ten points. And I shot twenty-one foul goals, maybe I had forty tries but I – maybe I only made twenty-one. But it’d say Alexander made thirty-one points, he must be quite a player. Wherein reality I was shooting the foul goals for all the players, rather than each boy now has to shoot his own foul goals. And the scores were much lower; I remember even in a university teams in the early days, in the mid-thirties, I think we beat Michigan State by about twenty-eight to twenty-seven and the University of Michigan I think we won thirty-two to twenty-nine. If you don’t score that many points in one period today [laughs], yes, it’s altogether different and of course, I prefer the day when you pla – when you – when the boys helped each other out. By picking and screening and team play work the ball in for a close or a good shot, whereas today they don’t need to spend that time because the boys can shoot the ball in the hoop from most anywhere over half the court.

JE: I read a quote attributed to you in the other day and you said at one time “You go to school to learn your place in society. Where better can you learn this than in sports?”[13] Uh, could you elaborate on this?

LA: Um, well –

JE: Does this mean if you get beat, you should accept a sort of a lower place in the pecking order of society or –?

LA: No, I think that as I’ve already indicated that, when we played basketball some years ago, the teamwork, the helping each other out, was the big important factor, to learn team play the submergence of one’s individual desire for the good of the team, to accept victory without getting too arrogant and to accept defeat without being too dejected or too morose. If education is trying to prepare one for taking his place in society as that quote indicated, where better can one learn to work for the good of the group, submergence of oneself to act as a gentleman in victory or defeat, take the good with the bad – uh, I think that’s good education and I think athletics provides that opportunity. It doesn’t make a gentleman out of everyone but it is a contributing factor for many – I like to think most of the young men that participate.

JE: Well, the University of Rochester doesn’t emphasize in competitive athletics as much as a good many other schools. Do you think there’s a proper balance here?

LA: Well I think the University’s policy in the early years that I was here, in the thirties and forties, that it was a proper policy because most of our opponents did not recruit or subsidize. They took the regular run-of-the-mill student and tried – if someone wanted to play basketball or football or baseball or whatever, he had an opportunity to come out and participate. But in the fifties . . . it’s – it started, and the emphasis continued to increase. One college after another in our normal competition started to provide inducements for the superior athlete who was also the superior scholar. And in the early days we were not allowed to recruit. But as our opponents started recruiting and their teams improved and we stayed about on the same level we had difficulty winning, you know, fifty percent of our games. In fact, some years we didn’t and the people were very unhappy. But the University policy gradually changed, so I would daresay today that the majority of outstanding athletes – not all of them – but the majority of them are there because they have scholarship help. Not only because they are ath – good athletes but because they are solid students. They are not provided help just because they can play football or just because they can play basketball. They must have the balance, they must be potential scholars as well as potential outstanding athletes and no one can criticize the University for that but that’s the only way the quality of the teams over the past few years has improved.

JE: Or at least kept up with the trend of the other colleges.

LA: That’s right.

JE: And when you go back in your memory what are some of the outstanding thrills in your career?

LA: Well, I think the probably . . . first one was the – the undefeated season we enjoyed in 1941, ’42. Then about a year or two later, taking the V-12 group down to Madison Square Garden and defeating NYU forty forty-four to forty-two, I believe was the score; anyway, it was a two-point victory. And of course we had players from Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Fordham and . . . Buffalo, other colleges and universities that boys were sent here as Marine or Navy trainees. And we had some fine athletes but I felt and still feel that the better team was the . . . squad that was made up of our own students a year or two previous that was undefeated in their regular season.

JE: You figure they were better than this, uh –

LA: I think so – than the Navy V-12 group, I really think so. Yes.

JE: Really. Hm.

LA: And then of course, as I look back and think, we defeated . . . with our own group . . . the University of Michigan. Michigan State University. Ohio State University. Syracuse, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Princeton . . . and West Virginia. And . . . one year we played the national champion, which was the University of Wyoming. And they came in here and defeated our team. But we put up a – a real battle, but they were so much taller and really so much superior that we had no chance of defeating them. But they went on to win the national championship that year. Uh, then the third and I feel the most important thrill of all – or the biggest thrill of all – was having my three sons on the basketball team. And having them be at the University, where the three boys all graduated. And the oldest boy Neil[14] served as captain two years in a row and then the next year his younger brother, Lou Junior[15], was elected captain by his teammates.[16] And I have to see the three boys[17] come down on – from the dressing room in the Palestra, down the stairs to the court, and have them look over and sort of smile or say, y’know, hi, or when they went by the little one would give me a whack in the arm [laughs], y’know, and say, “Hi, Dad,” and to have my sons out there every day and to have them four years longer than most fathers have their sons, was to me the – the biggest thrill of all.

JE: Um, there are a few people that have had a building named for them. They named one of the UR buildings after you. It’s the – now called the Louis A. Alexander Palestra. How do you feel about that?

LA: Well [laughs] I have mingled emotions. First I’m pleased and proud that, to have had it named in my honor because I think it’s a wonderful tribute. But . . . it took considerable [laughs] . . . nudging . . . or undercover work, and I don’t mean that illegal undercover work. But it took work by a few people like Dave Occor[18] Al Brewer Scotty Norris[19], who I think at that time was President of the Alumni Association. And Gerry Zornow[20], who was on – still is on the Board of Trustees. I think they brought up the subject when I retired . . . in nineteen sixty-six[21]. But the University didn’t want to have it done. At that time they said, wait a couple years because if you do it now, others who are retiring from other departments other people might have ideas that they would like to do something and we would prefer not to get into that now but if you bring it up in a couple of years, we’ll consider it. Well, instead of saying “the hell with it,” uh, Dave Occor and those boys kept nudging, and finally it was approved by the administration and the Board of Trustees, and I really feel that it’s a real tribute that I really appreciate with all my heart because I think it came a little – how shall I say, uh – a little more difficult than you would expect a normal thing of that sort to – to develop, I mean, if someone has the idea, and in order to put it through it takes a lot of work and effort on some people’s part, and –

JE: Oh, I understand that one of the biggest hurdles for them to overcome was to get your permission.

LA: Oh. [laughs] I do – [laughs] I don’t think that for one – I don’t think that for one second. I don’t think anyone – well, they may have mentioned it but I thought they were half-kidding. [laughs]

JE: Well, it certainly was a very appropriate and . . . as they say, it couldn’t happen to a better guy.

LA: Well, that’s awfully nice of you to say that, Jack, but I’m not such a nice guy. [laughs]

JE: Nice guys what is it, they –

LA: Well, they say – that’s a remark that is supposed to be attributed to Leo Durocher said about Mel Ott when he was manager of the New York Giants. “Nice guys finish last.”

JE: Yeah. [laughs]

LA: But of course we don’t think that for a minute but on the other hand a coach or a baseball manager – or an administrator – uh, at times has to be considerate tough; uh, I shouldn’t say tough but anyway it –

JE: Firm. [laughs]

LA: He has to be firm, yes, I think that’s the best put it – term. Uh, word.

JE: Uh, Coach, what do you think the trend is going to be to get back a little bit to not only basketball but in the change in the emphasis on athletics. What do you think it’s going to be like in the next, say, ten years. Are we, the U of R, going to go into heavily sponsoring athletics, or do you think we’ll stay the way we are or, well. . . [laughs]

LA: Well, I’m smiling and chuckling because that’s a difficult question for me, I mean, I am – I’ve been retired for five years and you know, what I think I don’t think matters one little bit, but my observation the last five years watching Bob Dewey[22] and the new members of the staff as they’re appointed and coming along really indicates that the University would like to improve its image athletically and be able to compete with Amherst, Wesley, and Williams on even terms. At least on even terms. And would like to play one or two teams – as we have done always in basketball and baseball – out of our normal competition. But for the University to go into athletics the way Syracuse has gone into it, and other schools we can mention I doubt if that’s what the administration would approve. Certainly the current administration could not approve because it would require some courses in forestry or physical education or hotel management or something so the outstanding football players could get in school and take some course that they might get a – have a chance of getting by. But from forty years’ experience being connected or associated with the University of Rochester, I would say that the University would like to improve the image athletically but they would not be willing to compromise academic . . . uh, excellence for athletic excellence. That’s the way I feel. But who knows what’s gonna happen in ten years or twenty years.

JE: Well, we just have to wait and see. Thank you, Louis Alexander.

[recording ends]


[1] Varsity Basketball Coach, 1931-57; Varsity Baseball Coach, 1934-57; Director of Athletics and Chairman of the Department of Physical Education for Men, 1945-66.

[2] Date not given in recording but it was made after the Palestra was named for Alexander in 1968 (discussed in the interview). Alexander retired from his administrative posts in 1966; he says at one point that he has been retired for five years.

[3] College physician at UR since 1916 and eventual Director of Athletics. Fauver Stadium was named for him. Edgar and Edwin Fauver were twin brothers who often collaborated professionally.

[4] Wife was Anna L. Three sons were Neil, Louis, and Rogers. Daughter identified in mother’s 1963 obituary as Mrs. Albert Almansberger.

[5] According to the 1941 Rochester City Directory, Herbert’s Diner was at 503 Monroe Avenue. Owner was Albert E. Herbert. The Democrat and Chronicle’s RocRoots Facebook page states it lasted from 1938 to 1948.

[6] Richard J. Baroody, Class of 1944. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[7] John A. Baynes, Class of 1947 (entered 1940). UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[8] Glenn W. Quaint, Jr., Class of 1942. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[9] Robert S. Erickson, Class of 1942. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[10] Samuel Peter Kelly, Class of 1942.

[11] Allen M. Brewer, Class of 1940. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[12] Dr. Robert G. Ulrech, Class of 1940. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[13] “All this is education at its best. After all you go to school to learn to take your place in society. Where better can you learn this than in sports?” Quoted in article “Athletics Lou’s Life: Would Do It All Over Again” by Matt Jackson, March 4, 1960 edition of Rochester Times-Union.

[14] Neil L. Alexander, Class of 1950. UR Athletic Hall of Fame.

[15] Louis A. Alexander, Jr., Class of 1951. UR Athletic Hall of Fame. Nicknamed “Little Lou.”

[16] Third son was Rogers Newton Alexander, Class of 1953. He died in May 1960. He was better known at UR as a tennis player.

[17] His three sons were together on the 1949-50 basketball team.

[18] David R. Occor, Class of 1951. UR Athletics Hall of Fame. Worked for the Department of Sports and Recreation from 1955 to 1968 and returned to UR as Athletics Director in 1974.

[19] H. Scott Norris, Class of 1949. UR Athletics Hall of Fame.

[20] Gerald Zornow, Class of 1937. UR Athletics Hall of Fame. The Zornow Sports and Recreation Center was named for his family in 1981.

[21] Retired as a coach in 1960. Retired as Director of Athletics in 1966.

[22] Alexander’s successor as Athletic Director.