Joe B. Hall explains the key to successful living in one's golden years with a two-part mantra.
The first component is the need for joy. "And I'm having fun," Hall says.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who famously said there are no second acts in American life, would be amazed to see the 82-year-old former University of Kentucky men's basketball coach.
In retirement, Joe B.'s "second act" has been a humdinger, filled with one surprise after another.
The coach who used to be second-guessed regularly, even savaged, on Kentucky radio sports talk shows has reinvented himself in "retirement" as a host of a show that is syndicated around the commonwealth.
Back in the day, Hall and then-Louisville coach Denny Crum were antagonists during the most bitter period of the great UK-U of L divide, when Kentucky refused to schedule Louisville.
Now, Hall co-hosts his radio talk show with Crum. Even more amazing, the two are genuinely close. "I don't see how anyone could not like Joe B," Crum says now.
In his days as Adolph Rupp's successor, Hall's public coaching persona was rugged, with players emphatically chastised, game programs flipped in the air in disgust, prominent sportswriters berated.
In his second act, the face Hall shows the world is warm and funny. Joe B. 2.0 has become a figure of genuine public affection in the commonwealth, finally beloved by UK fans and liked even by many Louisville backers.
After the recent controversy when it briefly appeared the NCAA was barring Hall from coaching in Monday's exhibition in Rupp Arena between the John Calipari-coached Dominican National Team and a group of former UK players, there was a "Free Joe B." movement in the social media.
"If you had one of those noise meters that pop out at the top, Joe is popping out with pride right now," says Oscar Combs, who launched The Cats Pause and is a friend of Hall. "He's really enjoying this."
In the public realm, there has never been a better time to be Joe B. Hall than now.
It's not hard to run into Hall. Just go to a sporting event somewhere in Kentucky.
Two winters ago, I ventured up Interstate 64 to see Morehead State and Kenneth Faried face Eastern Kentucky. In the stands was Hall, who wanted to see Faried play in person.
Another time, I went to Georgetown to see Dakotah Euton play at a time when the then-Scott County forward was committed to UK.
Want to guess who was also there watching? Hint: He coached the 1978 NCAA championship team.
At Kentucky Speedway last month, I was in the concourse several hours before the Quaker State 400 when a cheer went up. It was prompted by fans saluting Joe B., who was walking up the steps toward a luxury suite.
"What he does is almost amazing," says Mike Summers, the UK football assistant who is married to Hall's daughter, Kathy. "He'll come home at night and tell me how tired he is, yet if anyone of us 30 years younger would do his schedule, we'd probably be falling on the floor. He is constantly on the go."
Since 2007, one reason Hall attends so many night events could be because of who isn't waiting at home.
Joe B. and the former Katharine Dennis knew each other growing up in their native Harrison County and used to walk to classes together as students at UK. Yet the two never dated until the day Hall, working as a ketchup salesman for H.J. Heinz Co., made a call on the school in Pendleton County where Katharine teaching.
That very night, the two at last went on a "real date," to Cincinnati for dinner and a movie. Five weeks later, they were married.
The union lasted 55 years, until Katharine died in 2007.
"Oh, Lord, yes, I miss her," Hall says. "... I miss her in so many ways. She was as good a 'coach's wife' as there has ever been."
Harrison County roots
When Joe was a teenager, he became a two-sport star athlete, football and basketball, at the old Cynthiana High School. He noticed then that the summers he spent working tobacco on his Uncle Ofal Harney's farm tended to have him in the best physical condition of anyone on his teams.
"That's why I was later such a big supporter of weight training," he says. "I knew what an advantage being in the best shape could be."
Hall's father, Charles, worked for the post office and would one day be elected to a couple of terms as Harrison County sheriff as a Democrat. Joe B.'s mom, Ruth, was a longtime florist in Cynthiana. (Later in life, Hall's younger sister, Laura Jane, also became a Harrison County florist).
Growing up in Cynthiana, "it was a great place for a boy," Hall says. "It just seemed so easy to get a bunch of kids together and play a game, football, basketball, baseball. And it wasn't organized or anything, it just seemed like people knew to show up."
It wasn't always easy. In the throes of the Depression when Joe B. was around 6, Hall says his dad could not find work. The family had to leave Kentucky temporarily.
The Halls went to Florida looking for opportunity. Charles Hall talked his way into a job at a laundry in Miami; Ruth then found work with a florist in Coral Gables.
With their parents occupied, Joe B. says that when school started, he and his older brother, Bill, had an ingenious idea. They would get up each day and put their swim trunks on underneath their school clothes. Then, instead of going to classes, they'd spend each day at the beach.
"That was going pretty good until the school sent a letter about where were we," Hall says. "We got spanked every way you can be spanked (by their parents). That put an end to the beach. We went to school from then on."
Connection to UK past
Dick Robinson, who until his recent death was the producer of The Joe B. and Denny Show, explained Hall's current popularity like this.
"Other than Coach Rupp, who has been gone such a long time now, the three icons of Kentucky basketball were Cawood Ledford, Bill Keightley and Joe B. Hall," Robinson said.
Since Ledford and Keightley have both passed, "Joe B. is sort of the last connection to a whole lot of Kentucky's (basketball) past," Robinson said.
Joe B. can tell you firsthand what it was like to try out as a teen before Rupp for a UK scholarship and how it was to practice against the Fabulous Five.
He can relate what it felt like succeeding the iconic Rupp, how he was able to bring full racial integration to UK basketball and how he resisted the urge to punch Bobby Knight after the latter cuffed him upside the back of the head in the famous 1974 incident.
Hall says he has no regrets about his 13 years (1972-85) as UK head coach — which yielded a national title, three Final Fours and six trips to the Elite Eight — though he does have some laments.
"If Sam Bowie hadn't gotten hurt," Hall says of the leg injuries that cost the 7-foot-1 center two full seasons of his UK career, "I believe we'd have won another NCAA title, maybe two."
For people who remember Joe B. the stern coach, it's still a little surreal to reconcile the glib guy of today.
Summers says Hall "was so misunderstood when he coached because of the pressure of the job and because of the way he felt like he had to run the program to get the success he was able to get."
Oscar Combs says former Kentucky Gov. Happy Chandler used to joke that the key to popularity "is outliving your enemies. Joe may have done that, but I think we all mellow as we get older. "
With Katharine gone, Joe B. has three children, three grandchildren and a statewide radio audience that keep him company.
Even with Robinson's death, Hall says the plan is to find a replacement to produce The Joe B. and Denny Show so it can go forward. "The radio show with Denny has been such a blessing," he says.
Keeping the show going fits the second component of Joe B.'s mantra for successful living in one's golden years: You need a goal to work toward.
Going strong with a second act at 82, Hall says "I'm having fun and I'm not done."
Here are some of Mark Story's favorite columns from his "A Story for Every County" series, beginning with the first one published in September 2003