Longtime former Yale men’s coach and Dartmouth alumnus Joe Vancisin died Tuesday at 98, nearly half a century after his official association with the Ivy League ended. But Vancisin’s legacy of dedication to college basketball and the people he played and coached is as strong as ever upon his death.
Vancisin was Yale’s head coach from 1956 to 1975, leading Yale to three Ivy League championships and two NCAA Tournaments, coaching Bulldog legends like Rick Kaminsky, John Lee and Jim Morgan. Vancisin also coached Yale to a memorable 1969 Rainbow Classic championship after a win over Pete Maravich’s LSU squad in the title game.
“Mrs. Vancisin called me with the news, and her first words were, `Your Coach has passed away.’ She wanted his former players to know how much we meant to him,” said Morgan, who captained Vancisin’s the 1970-71 Yale team, in a Yale Athletics release mourning Vancisin’s death. “I was proud to play for Coach Vancisin, and he was recognized throughout the coaching ranks as an outstanding tactician. We didn’t always match up to the talent level of our opponents, but we were always well prepared.
“Coach was a proponent of fast break basketball and a motion offense, both of which suited my style. He always showed a great deal of respect for me and the other players even when we made a mistake. You never saw Coach curse or yell at anyone, not even the refs. He had confidence in us even when we were struggling, and I think he truly believed we could win every game we played.”
Morgan similarly told Ivy Hoops Online in a 2019 Inside Ivy Hoops podcast that Vancisin was “a wonderful man” with a brilliant basketball mind who ran a disciplined, positionless motion offense and liked playing uptempo.
“Joe was a wonderful friend and a passionate basketball coach who cared dearly about Yale and all the young men that he mentored,” Yale coach James Jones said. “I feel blessed to have known him and will miss my friend.”
A Bridgeport, Conn. native, Vancisin was the first in his family to go to college, graduating from Dartmouth in 1944 after being Dartmouth’s starting guard in the NCAA title game in an overtime loss to Utah. Vancisin later followed his head coach at Dartmouth, Ozzie Cowles, serving under him as an assistant at Michigan and Minnesota before taking the reins at Yale.
Vancisin gave clinics around the world and became executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1975, serving in the role for 17 years.
Vancisin was a member of the 1976 and 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball staffs, winning the gold medal in 1976 (the U.S. withdrew from competition due to the American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics). He was was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I’m grateful for having had the chance to play for him, and I know my teammates feel the same way,” Morgan said. “He had a major impact on our lives, and I sincerely appreciate everything he did for me and the basketball program.”