FRESNO, California (KSEE/KGPE) — Boyd Grant, the man who helped put Fresno State men’s basketball on the map in the late 70s and early 80s, has died at the age of 87.
According to his son Kevin, Boyd suffered a stroke late Thursday night in southern Idaho, and was airlifted to a hospital in Salt Lake City, where he eventually passed away Monday on his birthday.
“It was a massive stroke,” said Kevin. “There was nothing we could do where he was gonna recover.”
Grant grew up in Idaho, and played college basketball at Colorado State, but he really made a name for himself once he became the head coach at Fresno State.
He coached the Bulldogs for nine years from 1977 to 1986, taking over a seven-win program and turning them into one of the better programs on the west coast. His immediate and sustained success made Fresno State basketball the hottest ticket in town at Selland Arena.
“He put a standard in place that a lot of coaches (at Fresno State) haven’t been able to reach, because not only was he winning games, but he put a ton of people in the seats,” said Jervis Cole, who was recruited to the Bulldogs by Grant, and played the 1985-86 season under him. “There were tickets being scalped at our games. You couldn’t get into our games.”
He eventually led the Bulldogs to three NCAA Tournament appearances (’81, ’82, and ’84), winning a tournament game and reaching the Sweet 16 in 1982, the furthest Fresno State has ever been in the NCAA Tournament.
“Undoubtedly, he’s the greatest basketball coach in the history of the school,” says Bobby Anderson, the former Bulldog guard out of the Chicago area, who was part of Grant’s first recruiting class at Fresno State.
In Fresno, Grant won over 72 percent of his games, and nearly 87 percent of his home games at Selland Arena, a venue that came to be known as “Grant’s Tomb” for opponents during his tenure.
Boyd grew up in Idaho, and although he could be tough and demanding, he also had a down-to-earth touch that helped him connect with the people of Fresno, and attract talent to Fresno.
“You know, dad was from an agricultural area in Idaho,” said Kevin. “And I think coming to Fresno, with the ag-based town here, he felt an instant connection that way.”
“(His tenure) basically started the Red Wave, and to me, it’s personal because I was a 9, 10, 11 year-old young man in Bakersfield,” said current Fresno State head basketball coach Justin Hutson. “And my dad as a high school coach, would drive me up to the games, so I was part of the Red Wave at that point in time.”
“He was one of a kind,” said Mike Mitchell, who played for Grant at both Fresno State and Colorado State.”What Made Boyd a special coach and person? Two words, ‘He Cared.’ Not only did he care about every player, he also took time out to talk to their parents and assured them he would treat them like his very own kids. From the time I made my visit to Fresno State, he would check on me every few weeks and he would always ask about my parents. And I am fortunate to say my parents are still alive and well, and when I told them Coach Grant passed, they took it harder than I did. That’s what makes him special in every sense of the word.”
He won with a disciplined, defensive style that was once dubbed “vomit basketball” by former UCI coach Bill Mulligan.
“He had a simple approach to the game and to life — do your best with all the energy you can muster,” said current Golden State Warriors assistant Ron Adams, who was an assistant under Grant at Fresno State, and then succeeded him as head coach.
“He never really screamed and yelled at you during the game, because he always wanted to show every single player respect,” says Mitchell with a smile. “But when you got in practice and the doors were closed, you heard a few choice words there.”
“Excellent coach because of the way he demanded us to play defense first and offense second,” said former Bulldog All-American Rod Higgins, who was one of seven NBA draft picks Grant coached during his time in Fresno. “Legacy-wise, Fresno state was so fortunate to have him build the program.”
He left Fresno State after the 1986 season in which the Bulldogs only finished 15-15 overall. After a year away from the game, he took the head job at Colorado state, where he also engineered a turnaround with the Rams, leading them to two NCAA Tournaments in his four years there, before he decided to retire from coaching for good.
Kevin says his his dad was more than a just a great basketball coach, he was also a great father to him and his two sisters.
“A normal, good, down-to-earth sort of guy, who didn’t take himself too seriously,” says Kevin. “Part of dad’s charm was being approachable, a good guy, and friendly. Those are the things growing up with him that made him so special, and why my sisters and I love him so much.”
“Boyd Grant was a great coach, a wonderful father, a loving husband, and a mentor to many coaches and players, myself included,” said Adams. “He was a close friend more than anything else. He loved his players and he loved the Fresno community. His biggest fear was that he would fail them….he never did. I already miss him.”