Paul Webb, who built Old Dominion into a Division I men's basketball powerhouse and has long been praised as one of the great gentlemen of college basketball coaching, died Friday morning at his home in Virginia Beach. He was 94.
Eddie Webb, his oldest son who played for and coached with his father, said he died peacefully surrounded by family, including his four children – Kenneth and Douglas Webb and Deborah Webb Sanders, in addition to Eddie.
Webb died two years to the date after his wife, Charlotte. They met in high school and were married for 72 years.
Webb was in failing health in recent months and asked to be put in hospice care at his home.
Webb came to ODU in 1975 after coaching 19 years at Randolph-Macon, where Eddie played for him. Eddie later came to ODU as an assistant coach.
Paul Webb took over from Sonny Allen, who left for Southern Methodist University after leading the Monarchs to the Division II national title.
Building on the foundation laid by Allen, Webb took ODU back to the Division II Final Four his first season, then in 1976-77 led ODU on a wild ride in its first year in Division I. The Monarchs upset Mississippi State at home and Georgetown and Virginia on the road.
The Monarchs won 22 games in a row and finished 25-4. After beating Georgetown in the ECAC South final, the Monarchs lost to Syracuse 67-64 before a sellout crowd at Scope in the ECAC championship game. They just missed being one of 32 NCAA tournament teams.
Webb took ODU to four NCAA tournaments and five NITs in 10 seasons.
Along the way, the Monarchs upset No. 1 DePaul in Chicago, No. 3 Syracuse at Scope and Clemson in the NIT. Webb retired with 511 victories, then the fifth-most in college basketball. He won 196 games at ODU, an average of 19.6 per season.
"It's hard to think about ODU basketball without thinking of Paul Webb," said Wood Selig, ODU's director of athletics. "He did not skip a beat when the program transitioned to Division I. He had a blueprint and executed it perfectly."
Selig noted that Webb rarely missed ODU home basketball games since retiring in 1985 and attended every basketball banquet and Big Blue barbecue. He was also a football season-ticket holder.
"He meant so much to the evolution and growth of our program and the national prominence that we have enjoyed," Selig said. "His fingerprints are all over our program. He represented the program with such class and charisma and integrity.
"He really loved ODU. It was as much a part of him as he was a part of us. This is such a huge loss for everyone associated with ODU."
Webb was born in Petersburg and graduated from Petersburg High School and the College of William & Mary. He was better at baseball than basketball but went into basketball coaching because Highland Springs High School, just east of Richmond, offered him a job.
Webb enjoyed immense success everywhere he coached but is remembered more for his kindness and decency.
"He was a really, really good coach," ODU men's basketball coach Jeff Jones said. "But I don't think of him as a coach. I think of him as a true gentleman. He was so good to me and not just since I came to Old Dominion but before that.
"He was just such a great human being."
"He meant so much to the evolution and growth of our program and the national prominence that we have enjoyed. His fingerprints are all over our program." - Wood Selig, ODU athletic director
Webb continued to coach right up until last summer at his Paul Webb Basketball Camps held in Virginia Beach and at Randolph-Macon. Thousands of young men and women participated in his camps, where he talked about treating people with respect as much as he spoke about basketball.
Eddie began running the camps years ago, but his father made appearances at every camp, even when he was forced to begin walking with a cane.
Webb stayed in touch with former players, including those from Randolph-Macon, and would spend many hours around Christmas calling former players and friends.
"I've known coach for 42 years and never saw him lose his temper or utter a curse word," said Kenny Gattison, who played for Webb before going on to a successful NBA career. “A majority of coaches start cussing five minutes into a conversation with them. I knew the most important thing to me was the coach I was going to play for, not the program. And after I met Paul Webb, I knew that's who I wanted to play for."
ODU won a major recruiting war for Ronnie Wade when Webb walked into his Richmond living room and made one simple vow to his father, Wade said.
"He shook my dad's hand and said, 'I don't know how much he's going to play, but I promise you that he will graduate, and I promise you that I will take care of your son,'” Wade said. “And he's been taking care of me ever since. He was a father figure to me. He's been a part big part of my life since I was a teenager. I know his kids, his grandchildren. He's not just like family. He is family."
Ronnie’s son, Jason, plays for ODU’s basketball team. Jason suffered two season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons and then found himself deeply depressed. It took nearly a year of medication, therapy and love from his family and others to bring Wade out of a deep hole.
Jason has spoken publicly about his struggles, he said, to help others. He returned to ODU last season and starts for the Monarchs this season.
"While we were dealing with that, coach Webb called me almost every day with encouragement," Ronnie Wade said.
Gattison said he feels like he was one of Webb’s sons.
"I've never wanted to be like coach Webb, the coach,” he said. “I've strived to be like coach Webb the man. "
Eddie Webb said funeral arrangements are pending.
A longer version of this story is on the ODU Athletics website.