Digger Phelps, who holds the NCAA record with seven upset wins over No. 1 ranked teams, led Notre Dame to 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. He guided the Irish to the first NCAA Final Four in school history in 1978 and won 393 games as Notre Dame’s Head Coach. Phelps coached Notre Dame to a 71-70 victory over John Wooden and No. 1 ranked UCLA to end the Bruins’ NCAA record 88-game winning streak.
Phelps was at the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center on March 4, 2020 for Florida State’s 73-71 come-from-behind victory over the Irish – a win that ensured the Seminoles of at least a tie for the first regular season ACC Championship in school history. Phelps watched the game that night under the banner that bears his name as he was inducted into Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor on January 19, 2014.
Richard Frederick “Digger” Phelps got the nickname “Digger” from his father, who was a mortician.
As we continue to celebrate Head Coach Leonard Hamilton and Florida State’s success in 2020, we had the pleasure of visiting with Phelps for #CelebritySightings – the Hottest Ticket in Tallahassee. It’s a series of interviews that showcase the celebrities who enjoyed front row seats to the Seminoles’ magical run to the ACC Championship.
Which is the best gym you ever coached in? Toughest to play in?
The best gym I ever coached in was the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania. The toughest gym I ever coached in was the old Reynolds Coliseum at NC State. The student body was on both sides of the court and on the balconies directly above your team and across from your team. Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas is an incredibly tough place to play because it’s like an echo chamber in there. As soon as the National Anthem is over, their fans start with Rock! Chalk! Jayhawk! That cheer is pretty intimidating.
Who is the greatest college basketball player you have ever seen play in person?
The greatest player I ever saw play in college was Len Bias of Maryland. You could double and triple team him, run him off of screens and beat him up all night … but at the end of the game you look up, and he’d have 27 points.
Which buzzer-beating end to an NCAA Tournament game do you remember to most?
The NC State national championship in 1983.
Throughout your entire coaching career, is there one specific moment (or play or game) that you remember the most?
We (Notre Dame) won at Syracuse on February 17, 1990 in a classic game. Syracuse ran a play for Billy Owens who scored and put the Orangemen up. We ran what we called our “home run” play with Jamere Jackson, Elmer Bennett and LaPhonso Ellis at the offensive end with Keith Reardon taking the ball out. Reardon threw the ball to Bennett who made the winning basket. It’s a play we practiced in the final 10 minutes of practice every day.
If you could pick one player in the history of college basketball that you would like to have coached, who would it be?
Pete Maravich of LSU was a classic player. If college basketball had the 3-point line you could have added another 1,000 points to his career total.