The Weave Master...J.K. "Bud" Kennedy
By Jim Joanos
J.K. "Bud" Kennedy was one of the good guys. Kennedy was the head coach when Florida State basketball moved from a new, struggling program, to one of major college status. He first became the head coach for the 1948-49 season and ran the program for eighteen years through the 1965-66 season. He served FSU as head basketball coach longer than any other person has. His teams won 237 games and lost 208. Credit him for establishing the base upon which the program has been built.
Officially, Bud Kennedy was the second men's head hoops coach at FSU. However, some would argue that, in reality, he was the third. The confusion comes when you consider the 1946-47 season. Intercollegiate basketball was first played by male students attending Florida State during the 1946-47 school year. However, the team that played that year was not officially a "Florida State University" team. In that school year, the institution on Westcott hill was still named the "Florida State College for Women" and officially had an all female student body. However, attached to FSCW, for that one year only was an entity known as the "Tallahassee Branch of the University of Florida". "TBUF", as it was called, consisted of a small administrative staff and approximately 600 male students. The male students, mostly military veterans of World War II, were housed out on the west side of town in what had been barracks for the former Army Air Corps' Dale Mabry Field. The men attended classes and participated in activities at FSCW but were officially registered as students of the University of Florida. The arrangement came about because the University of Florida's Gainesville campus could not accommodate all of the state's returning vets following the great war.
As to athletic programs, TBUF students, with but one exception, only had intramural programs. The one exception was basketball. TBUF fielded a team wearing garnet and gold and bearing the nickname, "Golden Panthers", that played an array of colleges, junior colleges and independent amateur teams. TBUF played a schedule of eleven games and finished the season with a 4-7 record. That team was coached by Ed Williamson, the same Ed Williamson who would the following year become FSU's head football coach. Thus, some would argue that Williamson was the first men's head basketball coach at Florida State.
The first "official" Florida State men's basketball team began play during the 1947-48 school year, the same year that the school resumed intercollegiate football and adopted the name "Seminoles" for its athletic teams. It was the first year that the institution bore the name, "Florida State University" and included males officially as students. That team was coached by Don Loucks, a faculty member of the school's physical education department who had at one time been the plebe coach at West Point. Thus, Loucks, was the first "official" head coach or the second coach, however, you count. The first year Seminoles went 5-13.
Bud Kennedy arrives in late 1947
Bud Kennedy was hired in late 1947 as a faculty member of the men's physical education department and was to do double duty as a purchasing agent for men's athletics. Shortly thereafter he was assigned the additional duty of head coach of the basketball team to begin with the 1948-49 season. He remained FSU's head basketball coach for the rest of his life.
Bud Kennedy was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, into a sports environment. At the time of his birth, his father, Dr. A.R. "Bert" Kennedy, was the head coach of the University of Kansas football team. In addition to his profession as a practicing dentist in Lawrence, Bert Kennedy also served as head coach of the Kansas team. Before coaching at the University of Kansas, Bert Kennedy was responsible for forming one of the first ever professional football teams. He also had coached football for six years at the Haskell Institute for Native Americans in Lawrence and had coached the Washburn University team that was undefeated in 1903. While at Washburn, he was credited with developing the single wing formation as well as the quick-kick. For seven seasons from 1904 through 1910, he was the head coach at the University of Kansas and compiled a record that is still among the best ever in the history of that school. His 1908 team went undefeated and won Kansas' first conference championship.
Bud Kennedy grew up in Lawrence. He began college at the University of Kansas and later attended Baker College and Kansas State University. He was dependent on athletic scholarships in obtaining his college education and played football and basketball and ran track at all three institutions. He graduated from Kansas State in 1931 and then became the playing coach of the San Diego (California) Athletic Club for the following two years. For two years, he taught physical education and coached basketball, track, and baseball, at Warrensburg High School in Missouri. In the summers he operated a country club so that the family could make ends meet during those days in which the country was in the "great depression". Kennedy then served in the Kansas City school system as a physical education supervisor for six years. It was during his stint in Kansas City that he became acquainted with Howard Danford, who at the time was also involved in athletics but more on the administrative side.
The war years
By 1940 Danford had an administrative job for the city of Madison, Wisconsin. He recruited Kennedy to become the city recreation director for Madison where Kennedy would work for three years. During the Madison years, World War II erupted. Kennedy was exempted from the draft. His son, Bob, describes that "he was over age, had dependent children, had no teeth, bad eyes, and a trick football knee." Bob adds, "He couldn't stand seeing the young kids going to war, even though he and my mother worked a night shift job packing food after working a full day" at their day jobs. "He finally badgered the military until they offered him a position as a lieutenant j.g. in the Navy as a special services officer". He served in the Navy for the remaining three years of World War II. As part of his special services duties, he coached basketball teams at the Naval Training Station at Purdue University. Son, Bob, however, mostly remembers some of the entertainment shows that his dad scheduled for the sailors including "a magician who used a swinging radial saw to cut a woman in half, and two ton Tony Galento, the world champion heavy weight wrestling and boxing champion who appeared on stage and took on all comers, several at a time". After the war, the Kennedy family which then numbered four, Bud, wife Laura, and sons, Hugh and Bob, first returned to Wisconsin and then moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Bud took a special services job with the Veteran's Administration.
In the meantime, when the war ended, Howard Danford was hired to become athletic director at Florida State which had just been converted from a woman's college into a coeducational one. In late 1947, he hired his acquaintance, Kennedy, to come to Tallahassee as part of the sports program at FSU.
Bud Kennedy's first FSU team
Kennedy's first basketball team at FSU was mostly composed of World War II veterans. Most had considerable prior basketball experience having played in the military or at other institutions before entering the military. As a result of their maturity, they were tough to discipline but highly talented.
Art Adams was on Kennedy's first team. Adams was one of the few who was "recruited", although the recruiting method was quite different from today's system. Adams had been playing at Findlay College in Ohio. A friend of his from the same school, Joe Marcus, transferred to FSU to play football and told the sports staff about Adams. Adams was invited to come down for a "try out". Kennedy liked what he saw in Adams. Adams also liked what he saw at FSU and enrolled. There were no athletic scholarships at FSU but Adams was on the G.I. Bill and was "promised a job" which was perfectly proper at the time. Kennedy helped all married team members, as Adams was, to get jobs around campus and in the community to supplement their meager incomes. Most of the players, as did most other male and married students, lived in the West Campus barracks. These were living quarters left over from the Army Air Base that had existed in Tallahassee during the war. In most instances the quarters were quite Spartan. The team practiced and played in the old "West Campus Gymnasium" which also remained from the Air Base. The playing floor was good but the gym was tiny, and would accommodate only a small number of spectators.
According to Adams, when the new coach, Kennedy, held the first practice, there was a very large turnout. During preseason practices, the number was gradually reduced. Some of the younger players, right out of high school, were outmatched. Although they might have made other college teams at other times, it was tough for them as there were so many mature veterans of the war participating in college basketball at the time. Eventually, a list was posted listing fifteen men who would "dress out for the first game". The fortunate fifteen were invited to Coach Kennedy's home for a dinner and a team meeting. In addition to Adams, some of the others included were Dick Kendall, Ronald Nettles, Jim Pavy, Lee Benjamin, Orlando Wyman, Bill Weigel, Tom McLaughlin, Larry Dickson, and Bill Kratzert. Adams was elected team captain at the meeting.
Adams describes Kennedy's offensive basketall strategy as "utilizing the figure eight weave along with some set give and go plays". The ball would be passed back and forth in the back court in a weave pattern and occasionally someone would break to the basket. The players passing the ball would look to make the pass to the open breaking player. Adams says that college basketball "was just coming off the primary use of the two hand set shot". "If you used the one handed shot too much you would be considered a hot dog". The team "did some fast breaking-you would hook up the fast break first, if it was not there, you would set up the weave". "The weave did well against zone defenses as we had some good shooters---who took mostly two handed shots". On defense, Adams said the "team played man to man mostly but used the zone some".
Adams said that for most of the out of town games that year they traveled on a "yellow school bus". When they got to ride in "Old Ironsides" the commercial style bus that FSU had at the time, "it was special". Adams said that sometimes "when the bus was running late they would change into their basketball uniforms right on the bus" so that when they arrived at the away venue they could go right in and start warming up. In later years, the team traveled in two seven passenger vans with trailers attached for the equipment. Toward the end of Kennedy's tenure, the team on rare occasions got to fly in commercial aircraft. When they did, Kennedy, would travel separately by car as he very much disliked flying because of some very harrowing experiences that he had with aircraft during his military years.
In Kennedy's first year as head coach (1948-49), the team broke even with a record of 12 wins and 12 losses. They did well in the State of Florida. Two victories over Stetson and two over Florida Southern were especially sweet. The team split with Tampa University.
Adams describes Kennedy's coaching style as "laid back" and that he "did not coach by threat." "He coached by trying to explain what he wanted to do." He described Kennedy as a "friend to the team members" and that "he remained a friend after you graduated". He adds that he "was there to listen to you and help you."
Kennedy continued to seek further education after coming to FSU. He took advantage of the G.I. Bill and completed a masters in physical education from FSU and in 1952 completed a second master's degree from the University of Colorado. Adams says that "he was very active in faculty affairs and was proud to be a part of the forty-niners" - that group of male faculty and staff members who came to FSU in the late forties and were most important in the transformation of Florida State from a women's college to a coeducational one.
According to son Bob, the Kennedys had a "large extended family from the Midwest, all of whom loved to come to Florida." "We had a small house with a sun porch." "Many times family would come and sleep on couches and pallets on the porch."
The 1949-50 team went 15-10 and became the school's first men's basketball team to have a winning season. The team continued to improve overall and played a tougher schedule as the years went on despite a 5-20 record for the 1951-52 season. As time passed the schedule included some of the better established teams. Kennedy's best team was probably the 1954-55 team that won 22 and lost only 4. That team was led in scoring by Jim Oler (549), Ham Wernke (512), Rick Benson (432), and Dick Artmeier (339). In the 1955-56 season, Jim Oler scored 743 points which is still the most points ever scored by a Seminole in one season.
The move to Tully
For the 1956-57 season, the team moved to the "new" Tully Gymnasium on the main campus. It was an important move as it became more convenient for the student body as well as townspeople to attend games. Hugh Durham, a sophomore, led the team in scoring that first year in Tully by scoring 509 points. Hugh Durham would also lead the team in scoring in each of the next two years and would end up with a career total of 1,381 points for his three years which at the time ranked second only to Oler's 1,820 points for career scoring. After graduation from FSU, Durham became Kennedy's Assistant coach beginning with the 1959-60 season. Durham would be Kennedy's top assistant for the last seven seasons that Kennedy coached the Seminoles. At some point, Kennedy named Durham, the "associate coach" rather than assistant coach to emphasize the importance of Durham's role.
One of the biggest victories in FSU basketball history, occurred when on December 3, 1960, the FSU basketball team, a huge underdog, went to Lexington, Kentucky and beat the University of Kentucky basketball team coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp, 63-58. Dave Fedor led the FSU team in scoring that night with 17 points. Bill Cotton (15) and Ray Swain(13) also scored in double digits.
During Kennedy's latter years at the FSU helm, the competition continued to be escalated and the Seminoles became established as a competitive basketball team. The schedule regularly included teams like Auburn, Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Miami, and Georgia, and FSU held its own in the competition. Throughout his career as the head coach, Kennedy continued to use the "weave offense". When old timers talk about the "Bud Kennedy Years" that is one of the first things that they will talk about. Sometimes it worked great, sometimes it did not. It was very effective when the team was leading but not too helpful when the team had to come from behind.
In his last season as FSU's coach, 1965-66, Kennedy made history as probably the first southern coach at a predominantly white institution to sign an African-American to a basketball grant-in-aid when he signed Lenny Hall, a junior college player at St. Petersburg Junior College to come to Florida State to play basketball starting with the 1966-67 season. Kennedy's son, Bob, recalls that his father was "reviled, life threatened, and his job was severely threatened". There were "letters that were sent to the Governor demanding his replacement". It is ironic that Coach Kennedy died before Hall played at FSU and further that Hall tore up his knee in the first game that he played for FSU and never played thereafter.
Sometime about the end of the 1965-66 season or afterwards, Kennedy began experiencing extensive stomach pains. At first, he continued to do the things that he usually did including giving speeches at high school sports banquets. Son Bob says that his Dad finally told him "about six weeks before he died that he had something broken inside but he wasn't going to let them cut because it would just explode." "He finally let them do an exploratory". "They found generalized carcinomatosis, sewed him up and after two very tough weeks, he was dead."
A number of years after Kennedy's death, his widow, Laura, married Ed Williamson whose first spouse had died a few years before. Consequently, Laura Kennedy Williamson, who died in 1994, is the only person in FSU history to have been married to two members of the FSU Sports Hall of Fame. Incidentally, if you count that TBUF basketball team as a Florida State team, she would be the only person who was married to two Florida State head basketball coaches.
From the very beginning, FSU basketball has been a player oriented program. Through the years, the teams that wore the Garnet and Gold have won and they have lost. But always, there has been good rapport between the coaches and the players. Bud Kennedy played a big part in establishing that spirit that continues to this day.