Former Kokomo High School boys basketball coach Carl McNulty died Tuesday night at the age of 89.
A standout player at tiny Washington Township in Cass County and at Purdue University, McNulty coached at Rochester, Elwood, LaPorte and Warren Central before arriving in Kokomo.
He took over Kokomo the first season after Kokomo and Haworth split into separate high schools.
“I’ve known him for 50 years. I came here in 1970 and he gave me my first coaching job and we worked together for about 15 years as head coach and assistant. We had no other assistants,” former Kokomo teacher, coach and athletic director Ron Barsh said of McNulty. “We traveled the state to East Chicago and Valparaiso and Fort Wayne and LaPorte and Elkhart Central. When you hang out with a person that long you get to know a lot about him. I can’t tell you how well respected he was in the coaching profession.
“All those years, we played with half the town because we had two high schools. He could get so much mileage out of all his talent. He maximized the kids’ talent. Whatever that kid did best, he got the most out of that kid of anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. He was just a giant in the coaching profession. He’ll be truly missed by all the people who knew him over those years.”
In 18 years with the Wildkats, he won 13 sectionals and amassed a 256-172 record. His overall coaching record of 32 years was 413-277.
Former Tribune sports editor Dave Kitchell covered the Kats for a dozen of McNulty’s seasons until the coach’s last season in 1986.
“People know how great an athlete and wonderful a person Carl was, but they should be reminded of how good a coach he was,” Kitchell said. “He coached at a time when talent was shared by two schools and the North Central Conference was considered the best high school basketball conference in the country. His teams didn’t always win, but they were always prepared and very competitive. His teams loved playing for him.”
Inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990, McNulty was inducted into the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 as part of its fourth class. He was a member of four halls of fame total with a spot in Indiana’s softball hall of fame for his fastpitch exploits, and the Purdue hall.
“He just knew so many people from softball and coaching and Purdue, if you went to a party or some function he just lit up the room. He respected everybody,” Barsh said.
“If we beat somebody we shouldn’t beat, he’d give the kids all the credit. He had a great work ethic because he grew up on a farm. And he expected his players to have a good worth ethic. We practiced really hard and we needed to because we were always a little short on the bench.”
McNulty’s wife Fran died recently, on Aug. 19, 2019, and Barsh said the loss hit McNulty hard. Now, he too leaves a void in the Howard and Cass counties area.
“They’re just losing a great ambassador in sports and the community,” Barsh said. “He’d have done anything for anybody.”
McNulty played the only three sports Washington Township offered — track, softball and basketball. He excelled in all, but it was basketball that earned him a scholarship to Purdue University.
“If it hadn’t been for basketball, I would never have gone to college,” McNulty said in a 2006 Tribune story. “My dad only finished the eighth grade and no one in my family had ever gone. We just never gave it a thought.”
A Purdue scout saw McNulty play in Windfall and a phone call later, McNulty accepted an offer from a school he’d never see until that fall when he was dumped out in front of Lambert Fieldhouse with two grocery bags full of clothes.
“Tuition was $55 a semester back then,” McNulty said in the 2006 story. “That’s what [Purdue] gave me — $55 and a handful of used books. I washed dishes and waited tables all four years I was there.”
Consider it one of Purdue’s best bargains ever. As a junior in 1951, McNulty averaged 17.1 points per game and was named third team All-American. As a senior, he averaged 18.1 points and was named first team All-Big Ten. Both years he broke the single-game scoring record for points and average.
While at Purdue he was a two-time MVP and set the school’s single-game scoring record of 36 points against Indiana. His single-game rebound record of 27 against Minnesota may stand forever.
“As far as skills I didn’t think I had many,” McNulty said in the 2006 story. “I had long arms and I think most of my success came because I could rebound and tip the ball well. I would say a third of my points in high school and college came on tip-ins. I enjoyed rebounding too, I was hungry around the basket.”
Following graduation, McNulty toured the country with the College All-Americans, playing the Harlem Globetrotters. The teams played coast-to-coast and McNulty earned $100 a game while guarding Globetrotters’ legend Goose Tatum.
Following a two-year stint in the Navy, McNulty played in two NBA games (Milwaukee) in 1954 and was later offered a $7,700 contract by the Minneapolis Lakers. Married and with a son (Brad), McNulty opted for a $4,700 teaching and coaching contract at Rochester High School.
From there, McNulty coached at Elwood, LaPorte, Warren Central and then 18 years at Kokomo.
McNulty was also one of the Midwest’s premier softball pitchers for some 44 years. It is estimated he threw as many as 100 no-hitters using primarily two pitches — a drop and a rise — that he said a Deer Creek farmer taught him when he was 16 years old.