A Coaching Original: Phog Allen launched career at Baker
Forrest “Phog” Allen was provided his first opportunity to coach a college team when Baker offered him a position in 1905. He developed his career for three seasons at Rippey Gymnasium while simultaneously attending the University of Kansas, where he played for James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
As a 20-year-old college student and talented basketball player, Allen trusted his instincts in accepting the Baker job, despite discouragement from his college coach. Naismith thought the idea of Allen coaching was absurd, and he told his protégé: “You don’t coach basketball, Forrest, you play it.”
Even so, Allen was convinced a coach could better prepare players, and he was confident coaches could teach proper free-throw shooting, passing angles and shooting techniques.
Baker pursued Allen, who was coaching high school basketball at Independence High School in Missouri, while still a KU student. Years after coaching at Baker, Allen and Wilbur Arnett, president of Baker’s student council and member of Baker’s 1905 basketball team, exchanged letters about Allen’s meeting with Arnett
“We went to lunch together and had a good steak and put the proposition up to you and you agreed to come up to Baker two nights a week in the fall of 1905,” Arnett recalled. “Then in the fall of 1906 you came up and stayed all season.”
Phog responded: “Yes, I do now remember very clearly how you and faculty adviser Dr. Parmenter came to Independence and how we went together to a restaurant and had a fine steak and fine visit.”
As part of the job offer, Baker provided Allen room, board and a small stipend. A typical winter day for Allen during that time found him working as a grocery store clerk until mid-afternoon when he’d leave to coach the high school team at Independence High. He would then catch a train to Baldwin for a Baker game and practice.
Naismith’s advice to his student to steer clear of coaching rang very hollow in 1906 when Allen’s Baker team beat Naismith’s Jayhawks 39-24. It was Naismith’s final year at KU before handing over the reins to the successful Baker coach.
In 1907, while still at Baker, Allen replaced Naismith and coached the Jayhawks for two seasons. He took a break from coaching and later returned to guide KU from 1920 to 1956, where he racked up 590 wins in 39 seasons. He was very successful at Baker as well, posting a stellar 45-9 record in three seasons, including a 14-0 mark in 1906-07.