Brian Agler spoke to Larry Hunter in March when Hunter stepped down after 13 seasons at Western Carolina University. Even after 47 years in coaching and 702 victories as a head coach, Hunter didn’t plan to stay away from college basketball for long.
“He still wanted to coach,” said Agler, who was a freshman guard at Wittenberg University in 1977 when Hunter won a national championship in his first season. “He looked at himself as a coach and as a leader. He was looking to do that again. I don’t think he going to just take any position, but he looked at himself as a head coach. I think he would have tried to continue to do that.”
Agler, now the head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, was one of many players and coaches Hunter influenced in his career and one of the many people in college basketball mourning Hunter’s death Friday.
Hunter, 68, suffered a stroke last weekend and was on life support throughout the week at a hospital in Cary, N.C. His wife, Mary, brought him home from the hospital Thursday, Agler said, and he was in hospice care at home when he died — not in the hospital as previous reports indicated. Agler expects there to be a funeral in Raleigh, N.C., on May 12 and then a memorial service and burial later in Ohio, though he did not have all the details Friday.
Agler described Hunter as a tremendous coach, person and leader.
“I think I’m ready to apply what I learned,” Hunter said then. “I will do everything I can to maintain the excellence in Wittenberg’s program.”
Hunter did that and more over the next 13 seasons, compiling a record of 305-76 before he took the head coaching job at his alma mater, Ohio, in 1989. He was the third straight coach to leave Wittenberg for a Division I job, following Ray Mears (Tennessee), Eldon Miller (Western Michigan) and Hamilton (Navy).
Hunter lived up to the standard of his predecessors and passed them in many ways, starting with his first season when the Tigers won the Division III national championship by beating Oneonta State 79-66 in Rock Island, N.Y.
“I inherited an outstanding group from Bob Hamilton,” Hunter said after the championship in 1977, “but we had to earn our way back and win the championship. I’ve always strived to be the best at whatever I did. It’s part of my makeup, and it’s a remarkable feeling once you are the best, which I feel we are right now.”
Although Hunter never won another national championship at Wittenberg, the Tigers reached the Final Four three more times. It was just the start of a long career that saw him guide the Ohio Bobcats to the NCAA tournament in 1994 with Gary Trent as the star and win two Southern Conference championships with Western Carolina in 2009 and 2011.
Hunter’s former players and colleagues used Twitter to share their memories of Hunter on Friday.