A couple weeks ago, Jimmy Rayl Jr. — son of 1959 Indiana Mr. Basketball and local legend Jimmy Rayl — was at a fifth grade basketball game with former Kokomo High School boys basketball coach Carl McNulty.
The younger Rayl, who played one year for McNulty in 1986, remembers sitting alongside his old ball coach and critiquing the 10- and 11-year-olds as they ran up and down the floor.
“He was just as sharp and knew everything that was going on,” Rayl Jr. said.
Of course those who knew McNulty at all during his 18-year coaching stint with Wildkats basketball knew that was just his nature, described as a man who personally knew and was well-respected by legendary college basketball coaches like Gene Keady, Bobby Knight and Matt Painter and who was most at home with a whistle around his neck.
A coach until the very end.
So when McNulty passed away at his residence last week at the age of 89, there was little doubt where the most poignant place would be to hold his visitation and funeral service.
And with one of McNulty’s old whistles hanging securely around his neck, Grace United Methodist Church Pastor Brian Cook began Monday’s two-hour funeral service with one question.
What do you say for a man who’s accomplished so much in his life?
Boiler to Wildkat
A three-sport standout at Washington Township in Cass County, McNulty graduated high school in 1948 and went on to earn a basketball scholarship to Purdue University in West Lafayette.
During his junior season, McNulty averaged 17.1 points per game and was named third team All-American. The next year, he averaged 18.1 points and was named first team All-Big Ten.
Also at Purdue, McNulty was a two-time MVP and set the school’s single-game scoring record of 36 points against Indiana University. His single-game rebound record of 27 against Minnesota is still intact to this day.
Following a two-year stint in the United States Navy, McNulty played in two NBA games for Milwaukee in the mid-1950s and was even offered a contract to play for the Minneapolis Lakers.
But with a growing family, McNulty opted instead to settle down and begin teaching and coaching at Rochester High School in Fulton County.
From there, McNulty coached at Elwood, LaPorte and Warren Central before eventually moving to Kokomo and amassing 256 wins and 13 sectional titles with the Wildkats from 1968-1986.
Inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990, McNulty was also inducted into the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 as part of its fourth class and is a member of four different halls of fame in all.
But as family and friends expressed on Monday, McNulty didn’t like to talk much about his own accomplishments.
He was too busy lifting others up.
“We’ve all heard the term that someone is larger than life,” former Wildkats athlete Kevin Lechner said after Monday’s service. “And as a kid growing up in Kokomo, the dream was to play basketball for the Wildkats. But it wasn’t only that. It was to play basketball for the Wildkats and Carl McNulty. He was so respected and revered that he really was larger than life.”
Lechner played basketball and baseball for McNulty from 1979-1982, and the current assistant coach of Western girls basketball said he has a laundry list of great memories from his time spent under McNulty’s tutelage.
“Kokomo is definitely going to miss him,” Lechner said of McNulty. “When he was out and about, people just gravitated to him. He was a Kokomo legend, but it’s the personality, smile and stories that people will really miss.”
Former KHS basketball player Mark Jansen also eulogized McNulty during Monday’s service, beginning his speech by thanking McNulty’s family for sharing their father with hundreds of former players over the years.
Jansen played basketball for the Wildkats in McNulty’s final season in 1986, and he said one of his proudest moments was in knowing that he was the last player McNulty ever introduced at an end-of-the-year sports banquet.
Jansen then raised his head and looked around at the gymnasium, openly sharing with the crowd some of the more vivid images he still has of his former coach.
“He [McNulty] was my coach for one year,” Jansen said, “but he was my friend for life.”
That sentiment was continuously shared throughout the service too, with each eulogist remembering a man who knew the game of basketball inside and out and treated his players like sons.
“Whatever he did, whatever he said, you would do anything for him,” former Wildkats basketball player and educator Charlie Hall stated. “… He wasn’t my dad, but he was close.”
And as much as McNulty loved his sons on the team, the coach’s love and devotion for his actual family was even stronger, McNulty’s eldest grandson, Matt McNulty, stated on Monday.
“He was one-of-a-kind, and family meant everything to him,” Matt told the crowd.
Then speaking directly to his family, Matt began to talk about the side of his grandfather that a lot of people didn’t get to see, like the trips to the doughnut shop and McDonald’s or the family gatherings on Lake Shafer in Monticello.
“He loved all of his kids, all four of you,” Matt said as he looked at his father, uncles and aunt sitting nearby. “And his grandkids were so spoiled growing up. … Anything and everything. … Anywhere he was felt like home, but he was ready to leave this earthly tent behind.”
Matt then reached for one of his grandfather’s old whistles and then put it quietly to his lips.
And with a soft blow of Matt’s breath, the whistle began to echo throughout the rafters of Memorial Gymnasium, just as it did hundreds of times before.