High Point University Mourns Loss of Legendary Basketball Coach Jerry Steele
All-time great High Point University men’s basketball coach and former athletic director who is the winningest HPU coach in school history with 495 wins, Jerry Steele passed away early Sunday (July 11th) morning. He was 82.
Steele played basketball at Wake Forest from 1958-1961 where he was a captain and twice a member of the ACC All-Academic team. He helped lead the Demon Deacons to an ACC Championship in 1961. Steele was the head coach at Guilford College from 1964-1971, he then coached the ABA’s Carolina Cougars for a season in 1970-1971. In 1972, he became the head coach at High Point where he stayed until retiring in 2003.
He was the school’s athletic director from 1972-1998. Steele guided the school to six conference tournament titles in NAIA and NCAA Division II. He was a basketball icon which is a status that was solidified with inductions to five halls of fame: NAIA Hall of Fame, North Carolina Hall of Fame, Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame, Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame, and was in the inaugural class of the High Point University Sports Hall of Fame.
“Jerry Steele represented the best of HPU,” High Point University President Nido Qubein said. “I’ve known him for three decades and always admired his spirited commitment to the university. We will certainly miss him. His legacy lives on.”
Steele took HPU through every level of college athletics (NIAA- Division I) while experiencing success in each division. Steele spent 31 years as the head coach of the Panthers. 16 of which were winning seasons.
“Jerry Steele was an icon of High Point University Athletics and his impact on HPU will live on forever,” Athletic Director Dan Hauser said. “Jerry was both a Hall of Fame basketball coach and a championship administrator. His induction into five Halls of Fame is an indication of the admiration and respect so many people had for his legacy of work. Jerry was a mentor, educator, and coach to hundreds of HPU alumni over his career. His influence and life lessons will carry on for generations to come. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kitty and the entire Steele family.”
Steele was a five-time NIAA conference tournament champion with The Purple & White.
HPU only spent six years in Division II, but that did not slow down Steele who led High Point to four CVAC Tournament Championship games. Steele and The Panthers won the CVAC Championship in 1996-97. Steele led the Panthers to two consecutive DII Second Round appearances in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
“Coach Steele has been a pillar in this community and in this state, Coach Tubby Smith said of his former coach. “He is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term. What I loved about playing for Coach Steele is that he was a man of principles. He was fair, he always kept things light he always someone I could count on and call on when I made a decision. He is one of those men once you knew him whether you played for him or knew him at all, he left an impression on you. He had great wit and wisdom he was like a John Wooden he had many ways to motivate players that made it fun. I never worked for him but I know guys who were assistants for him really appreciated what he stood for and honest and sincere he was. I was always impressed with how he stood the test of time, when you spend as much time as he did in this business he did a remarkable job, his legacy will last forever. I believe his wife Kitty was a big key to his success and his longevity in this profession and in life and he would say that as well. He is someone that the coaching profession and High Point University can be very proud of. He is certainly going to be missed, he was a real fighter he competed in all areas of life. Donna and I will always love Coach Steele he meant so much to our family.”
In 1999, Steele helped High Point University Basketball transition into Division I play in the Big South. After not being eligible for the Big South Tournament in their first two seasons Steele guided the Panthers to the Big South Championship game in 2001-02 in their tournament debut. Their wild run to the Championship game is best encapsulated in this excerpt from the High Point University Athletics recap story of the 2002 Big South Championship game against Winthrop where HPU finished runner-up.
“High Point’s first-ever Big South Tournament appearance was a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. The Panthers knocked off two of the league’s three highest-ranked teams, and became the first No. 7-seed in the history of the tournament to advance to the finals.”
Steele played such a critical role in the development of High Point Athletics and the transition to Division I. His contributions can be best seen through his four Division I seasons with the Panthers. A look back at Coach Steele’s non-conference games once the team became Division I showed a clear willingness to learn, and test his teams as they competed against some of the best in the nation. He did not shy away from the game’s giants even with his Panthers just two years removed from Division II. The first four Power-5 opponents in the Division I era under Steele were #22 Wake Forest, #8 Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn.
Against Auburn on November 16th, 2001 HPU took the Tigers the distance as the Panthers nearly shocked AU on their home floor 63-59.
Steele is survived by his wife Kitty Steele who spent many years alongside him at High Point University as a hall of fame coach in her own right.
The flags at the Steele Athletic Center will be lowered in honor of Jerry’s legacy.
Details of funeral arrangements or a memorial service will be released at a later time.