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Texas A&M Women's Basketball

'Impact': Legendary Gary Blair leaving indelible legacy behind at Texas A&M

February 24, 2022
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There is a scene in the 1993 classic baseball film “The Sandlot” where Babe Ruth appears in Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez’s dream and tells the speedy young baseball player, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

It’s safe to say that the legend of Gary Blair — a lifelong baseball fan who has made his mark in coaching in his second favorite sport — and what he built in 19 seasons at the helm of the Texas A&M women’s basketball program will live on forever.

And one day, very soon, should most certainly be embronzed in front of Reed Arena, and his legend will stand in perpetuity with the renaming of “Gary Blair Court” prior to Thursday night’s contest with South Carolina — Blair’s final home game.

Gary Blair’s legacy in Aggieland far supersedes the near-450 wins, the 15 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and even goes beyond that illustrious national title in 2011.

When we think back on Blair’s time as head coach of the Aggies, we’ll very likely ponder the one-liners and epic press conference sound bites as much as we will the wins.

“Coach Blair has impacted so many lives and has created life-long memories and relationships. He is one of a kind!”
- A’Quonesia Franklin

The pregame candy toss right along with the postgame celebrations after countless monumental wins throughout his career.

Yes, when we think about the man that many of his players call “PawPaw,” we can’t help but smile.

Coach Blair just has that effect on people.

Young and old. Gray-haired, blue-haired, no-haired. Black. White. Purple. It doesn’t matter.

It’s impossible to not like Gary Blair.

“Coach Blair has impacted so many lives and has created life-long memories and relationships,” legendary former A&M point guard and current Lamar University head coach A’Quonesia Franklin said. “He is one of a kind!”

He certainly is.

The funny thing is: Basketball was never something that Blair dreamed would be in his future.

Basketball — and particularly coaching young ladies in the sport — just fell in his lap. Literally.

Much like “The Jet”, Blair’s first love was baseball, and like “The Jet,” Blair grew up in a big city playing baseball with neighborhood buddies and dreaming of making it to the Big Leagues.

And also like “The Jet,” Gary could absolutely fly.

He was a 128-pound center fielder at Dallas’ Bryan Adams High School and utilized his one great baseball tool — speed — to earn all-city honors as a senior in 1963 on his way to Texas Tech to continue his baseball career.

But it didn’t take long for Gary to realize that hitting a baseball in college was tough and studying architecture was even tougher.

Texas A&M Athletics
Blair remains a lifelong baseball fan to this day and isn’t affair to quiz the media on their knowledge of the Clemente-era Pittsburgh Pirates.

He left college after one year and a 10-year sojourn led Blair from Lubbock to Los Angeles to work as a restaurant manager, to a two-year tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, then back to LA for another run at the restaurant business and then eventually back to Texas Tech at age 27, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree.

It was during his first coaching gig at Dallas’ South Oak Cliff High School that Blair’s career path changed forever.

After failing to find a job coaching high school baseball, Blair took a job at South Oak Cliff, earning $7,000 per year, as the boys’ and girls’ golf coach.

As he describes so humorously, a young coach Blair would pile the entire golf team into his small car and would often be driving to the local golf course with several of his students basically sitting in his lap. The entire team had one set of clubs to share.

Even to this day, Blair absolutely loves golf, but he knew there had to be more out there.

Soon after arriving at South Oak Cliff, Blair found an opening for the girls' basketball position. Although he was waiting for the baseball job, Blair accepted the position and got to work, swiftly developing the SOC program into a winner and an eventual state champion.

“The best decision I ever made was going into women’s athletics,” Blair said. “And then in ’77, after we won a state championship [at South Oak Cliff], they offered me the head baseball job and a coordinator in football, and I turned it down to stay with the women. Best move I ever made.”

In the fall of 1980, Blair got his big break when legendary Louisiana Tech women’s basketball coach Leon Barmore offered him $22,500 and a six-year-old brown station wagon to join him as an assistant coach.

Despite initially turning down the job, Blair eventually came back to Barmore and accepted the position, and the rest is history.

• Four trips to the Final Four, including two national titles in five seasons as an assistant at LA Tech.

• 210 wins, seven consecutive conference championships and six straight trips to the NCAA Tournament in eight seasons as the head coach at Stephen F. Austin.

• 198 wins, five trips to the NCAA Tournament and a Final Four appearance in 10 years at Arkansas.

All of that success led him to Texas A&M University, a place that had absolutely no women’s basketball history outside of a mini-run here and there upon his arrival.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs
Blair’s impact on the Texas A&M program is undeniable as he turned the Aggies into a national power during his 19-year run.

Aggie women’s basketball was not a dying program upon Blair’s arrival in the summer of 2003. It was already dead.

A&M had missed the postseason seven years in a row, combining to go 22-90 in the Big 12 during that span. In those first seven years as a member of the newly-formed Big 12 Conference, the Aggies never finished better than ninth in the league.

Blair took a chance on Texas A&M but had an extremely difficult challenge ahead of him to turn a totally dormant program into a winner.

“It was a family atmosphere from day one,” said former A&M guard Jamila Ganter, who Blair inherited when he arrived in Aggieland. “It was obvious that he wanted to build his program on integrity, hard work and forming great relationships with high character individuals, and for me, at the time, that was very telling in regards to where the program could be in the future.”

According to Ganter, Blair immediately established a great rapport with that first group of players, and that had a strong impact on his ability to establish a culture.

“It was easy to trust him once he arrived at A&M,” Ganter said. “And that’s not only because of his previous history of winning at prior programs but because you just knew that the program was on an upward trajectory due to his ability to get the most out of his players on and off the court.”

Blair’s success in Aggieland was not immediate.

His first A&M team went 9-19 overall and 2-14 in league play to tie for last in the Big 12.

A&M took a major step in year two, going 16-15 and advancing to the WNIT Quarterfinal behind an uber-talented and highly competitive crop of freshmen, led by point guard Aqua Franklin and athletic forward Morenike Atunrase.

“It was obvious that he wanted to build his program on integrity, hard work and forming great relationships with high character individuals, and for me, at the time, that was very telling in regards to where the program could be in the future.”
- Jamila Ganter

It was that first full recruiting class — which also included Patrice Reado, Ashley Bolden, LaToya Gulley and Katy Pounds — that changed Aggie women’s basketball forever and provided the necessary spark that ignited a flame of historic success under Blair’s direction.

The Aggies followed up that WNIT run with a 23-9 mark in year three, punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in ten years.

In 2006, during Franklin and Atunrase’s junior seasons, the Aggies turned in a 25-7 record and finished tied for the Big 12 championship, the first regular-season conference title in program history.

That group closed their storied careers with a 29-8 season and a trip to the Elite Eight, nearly beating Candace Parker and Tennessee with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Franklin left A&M ranking third on the career assist list, but her impact on the program extended well beyond the stat sheet. She was the true ring-leader of the rise of the Aggies, and while in the midst of a fantastic career in college coaching, Franklin attributes much of her success in the game to Blair.

“Coach Blair is my coach, my mentor, my boss and now my colleague,” Franklin said. “He has worn every hat for me, and for that, I am grateful and blessed to have been a part of his legacy.”

That early wave of success put the program on the map and led to Blair and his staff continuing to make major inroads on the recruiting trail. Along came Takia Starks, La Toya Micheaux, Danielle Gant and Tyra White ... and then the two Syds — Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter — to spearhead a formidable backcourt.

“Coach Blair took a chance on me, a 17-year-old kid living in DeSoto, Texas, even when I told him I wasn't sure if I wanted to play basketball in college,” Carter said. “He saw something in me that I hadn't seen in myself and believed in what I could be as a person and a player.”

Carter wasn’t the only player Blair took a chance on.

“Coach Blair took a chance on me back in 2005,” Gant added. “I wasn’t the top player that they were looking for, but I bet on myself and [so did A&M]. The day I stepped foot on campus, coach Blair made it loud and clear that WE — as a team — had to work for our spots. Each and every day, he pushed me to the max. Being able to have a coach like Coach Blair is what it’s all about.”

“I can honestly look back on my career and see how he’s impacted me in my daily routines. Today, I am strong, and I am a hard worker, and I owe it to Gary Blair.”
- Danielle Gant

Gant was a critical piece to the puzzle in bridging the gap between that first full recruiting class and the group that led the Aggies to the national championship in 2011. Gant currently ranks third all-time at A&M in career field goal percentage, fourth in career rebounds and fifth in career double-doubles.

She claims it never would have happened without Blair’s guidance.

“Coach never gave up on me, even during my bad days,” Gant said. “I can honestly look back on my career and see how he’s impacted me in my daily routines. Today, I am strong, and I am a hard worker, and I owe it to Gary Blair.”

Blair also added versatile Houston post Adaora Elonu to offer some inside presence. But the one missing piece to a run at the national title came to the surface from seemingly out of nowhere after five-star Houston post Kelsey Bone (who would later transfer to A&M) chose an emerging South Carolina team over the Aggies out of high school.

With one scholarship remaining, Blair & Co. turned to Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri, where a little-known center named Danielle Adams was lighting up the JUCO circuit.

Adams was that missing piece, and her incredible ability to impact the game — as a low-post scorer, an outside shooter, a rebounder and a passer — completely elevated an already rapidly-rising team to new heights.

“Coach Blair was the one that put trust in me to come in and make an impact on the program, and, wow, did we do that!” Adams said. “He gave me a chance when everyone else told me I couldn’t play Division I ball. He’s had a major touch on my game. He’s made me a better and smarter player, on and off the court!”

With Adams in the fold, the Aggies went 26-8 in 2009-10 but fell to Gonzaga by one point in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The core group of veteran Aggies — Colson, Carter, White, Elonu and Adams — came back that next year highly motivated to break through and lead Texas A&M to its first Final Four appearance.

“He gave me a chance when everyone else told me I couldn’t play Division I ball. He’s had a major touch on my game. He’s made me a better and smarter player, on and off the court!”
- Danielle Adams

The story of the 2010-11 season is well-documented.

The Aggies went 33-5 that year, beat Baylor in the Elite Eight after previously falling to the Lady Bears three times that season en route to their only Final Four appearance. Adams became a first-team All-American that season, and her #23 jersey is the only women’s basketball number currently hanging in the rafters at Reed Arena.

But Blair, Adams & Co. were not satisfied just to make it to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

The Aggies were there to win it all, and that’s exactly what they did.

Adams had 16 points and six rebounds, and Tyra White beat the buzzer with a layup on a bounce pass from Colson to edge Stanford in the semifinals, 63-62.

In the national championship game against Notre Dame, White did it again, this time burying a three-pointer with 1:03 on the clock and nailing a pair of clutch free throws with 19 seconds remaining to help the Aggies hoist the national championship trophy with a 76-70 victory over the Fighting Irish.

“I don’t think there are enough words or thank yous to show my appreciation to Coach GB,” White said. “When I first got to College Station, I had no idea what I was doing or how to grow. He was the first to really push me not only as a player but as a woman! He gave me endless tough love, and that’s something that I will forever carry with me. I’m so thankful and grateful to not only have him as a coach during my time at A&M but also as a leader, papa, and a mentor for life!"

Adams scored 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the championship game to earn Final Four MVP honors.

“We won the national championship together,” Adams said. “I would’ve never imagined that in my life, but we did it!”

That title helped solidify Blair's status among the greats.

“I’m so happy that he got a national championship under his belt and truly cemented himself as one of the giants in our game,” Colson added.

Texas A&M Media Relations
Blair cuts down the nets in Indianapolis after winning the program’s only national title on April 5, 2011.

While 2011 was most certainly the pinnacle moment in Gary Blair’s storied career, his teams have enjoyed incredible success over the last decade-plus.

Countless impact players have come through the program, and the trophy cases have needed continuous renovation and expansion in the years following that national title.

Overall, the Aggies have reached the NCAA Tournament every year since Blair’s third season at A&M and have won 20-plus games 16 years in a row. That includes a pair of regular-season conference titles (2007 and 2021), three league tournament titles, eight trips to the Sweet 16 and three Elite 8 appearances.

But as he prepares to coach his final home game at Reed Arena, the legend of Gary Blair that will live on will center less around the wins and losses and more around one word: Impact.

The indelible mark that the 76-year-old has made on players, coaches, support staffers, the community of Bryan-College Station over the last two decades and people with special needs through his foundation, Gary Blair Charities, will live on forever.

“Coach Blair is an inspiration to me and is a [shining example] of how I would want to run a program of my own one day,” Adams said.

“Coach Blair is one if a kind,” Elonu added. “I didn't quite notice how influential and generous he was until some years after I left A&M. His push for us to be more than basketball players has been helpful for me. I tend to share his advice of being a good communicator and networking to my peers often. It's one thing that he stressed during my years and that I have embraced and continued using.”

“I didn't quite notice how influential and generous he was until some years after I left A&M. His push for us to be more than basketball players has been helpful for me. I tend to share his advice of being a good communicator and networking to my peers often.”
- Adaora Elonu

As a truly remarkable career in coaching heads beyond the twilight and fades into the night, it’s the players he impacted that will live on as some of them take his teachings and attempt to influence the next generation of the game.

“Coach gave me my first opportunity into my coaching career,” Carter said. “He's been more than a coach! To me, he’s the greatest of all-time!”

“He has given this game his heart and soul, and he deserves this moment,” Franklin added. “To this day, I enjoy our conversations — long or short — and always come away with something that makes me better as a person and coach. I am forever thankful for him.”

Blair’s current focus is to squeeze as much out of his final roster down the stretch as possible in an effort to keep the NCAA Tournament streak alive before passing the torch. But sometime in March, the long and winding road of Blair’s coaching journey will come to an end after about 50 years on the bench.

The question has been asked a thousand times and will be asked a thousand times more of Blair between now and his final game: How do you want to be remembered?

“I just want to be that guy that hopefully did it the right way,” Blair said.

You can ask any player who ever played for him — any coach who ever worked for or with him — any support staffer or any fan that ever came in contact with him during his time in Aggieland or around the college basketball landscape, and they’ll confirm Blair’s primary wish.

He certainly did it the right way.

“Gary Blair was tough on his point guards, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, in hindsight,” Colson said. “I’ll still randomly get texts from GB when different basketball or life events happen. What I love is that he was the kind of coach who constantly urged the community to support women’s basketball, and what I respect [most] is the fact that he has continued to look out for his players beyond their time at A&M.”

Blair’s plan is to remain a fixture in Aggieland in retirement, with a wide-open schedule and more time than ever before to focus on the other critical area of his life: Family.

"My wife and I want to do some traveling, and we've got a lot of places picked out," Blair said. "I've got nine grandkids that I want to spend more time with. I just want to be the ordinary Joe about town."

A regular Joe with more time than ever before to enjoy family, golf and watching baseball. But he’ll still be a Joe that will always be just a phone call away for the players that helped etch his name among the very best coaches we’ve ever seen in the women’s game.

“I wish Papa Blair the best retirement ever,” Adams added. “I hope his next journey brings nothing but excitement and joy to his life! He will always be a part of me no matter what! Love you, Coach!”

Of course, don't expect him to be far away from his beloved program.

“This is hardly goodbye for Coach,” Colson said. “He’s going to be right there in Reed Arena, coaching from the stands next season.”

No doubt, passing out candy during pregame like the legend he is.

Discussion from...

'Impact': Legendary Gary Blair leaving indelible legacy behind at Texas A&M

4,536 Views | 5 Replies | Last: 9 mo ago by sharpdressedman
Gabe Bock
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Staff
AG
It was an absolute honor to have the opportunity to write this tribute piece to my ol' buddy Gary Blair as he prepares for his final home game in coaching tonight at Reed Arena! Hope you enjoy it…and thanks a million to the entire starting five on the 2011 national title team who shared thoughts for this piece, and several other key members of the rise of the program!
texagy99
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Thanks Gabe. Great write-up. Hard to imagine A&M women's basketball without GB. Glad to hear perspective from former players as well.
stuffandstufflikedat
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AG
Gabe, incredible article!
Always thankful for Coach Blair. My sister (Class of '73), who passed away in 2016, was a friend of Coach Blair. So thankful she was able to attend the semi-final game and the National Championship Game in 2011.
Thanks Coach Blair! Blessings and Gig'em in your retirement.
greg.w.h
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AG
Thanks Gabe. I know we are all a little cynical about effusive praise, but Gary paid his dues to be offered it. He of course will point out that all the team members and coaches and even the men's coaches deserve to be in the name of the court with him. Of course you have to be good to be able to turn down praise…
sharpdressedman
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Great article, Gabe, and thanks to Coach Blair for his dedication, inspiration, and success with the FTAWB team.
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