One of the greatest highlights of Don Weber’s coaching career at the University of Kentucky had little to do with his status as the longtime leader of UK’s cross country and track-and-field programs.
Weber, who over the weekend was inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame, arrived to track practice early one day and observed a man working with a young lady at the high jump stanchion. As Weber drew closer, the man recognized him as UK’s coach and asked him if it was OK if he continued to practice with the girl, his daughter.
The man continued, introducing himself: “I’m Cotton Nash, I used to play basketball here.”
Weber was elated.
“’I pretended I was you half my life when I was a kid out on my driveway, you can do whatever you wanna do here,’” Weber re-enacted with enthusiasm. “It was such a neat thing. ... When he told me who he was, I about flipped out.”
Weber loved — and still loves — basketball, but “regretfully, as things evolved in high school, I was a lot better at track, and I wasn’t that good,” he said with a laugh.
“Track’s not a fun sport, but it’s a very satisfying sport,” Weber said. “Just a sense of personal accomplishment. Basketball, for me, it was a hell of a lot of fun just playing it.”
Weber ran cross country and track and field at UK from 1968-1972 and joined those coaching staffs as an assistant in 1978. He served in that role until 1984, when he became the head coach, a post he held through 2012. In that time Weber coached 10 individual NCAA champions, had 225 athletes garner All-America honors and 92 win Southeastern Conference titles. The women’s cross country team won the 1988 NCAA championship under his leadership.
“It’s the hundreds of athletes I had a chance to know and coach, that’s why I’m here,” Weber said. “ ... Getting to UK out of high school, the best part about it was just being associated with all the great UK athletes that I admired when I was a kid. And coming to the Hall of Fame is the same thing. You just get associated with a lot of greatness even though you might not have been great yourself.”
It was his love of basketball that attracted Weber, a Louisville native, to UK as an athlete.
He fought through tears as he recollected listening to Cawood Ledford call UK basketball games on the radio in his youth.
“I was a kid, so I didn’t know nothing about nothing, but I’d get mad as hell listening to us play Mississippi State down there, and it’d be a close game,” Weber said. “I was like, ‘How could we be losing or how could we be close to Mississippi State. Who’s Mississippi State? They’re nobody. We oughta be killing ’em.’ Even on the radio, as a kid, buddy, you got into it because I thought I was those guys every day in my driveway.”
Weber never had the opportunity to cross paths with Ledford, but when he was a freshman Dan Issel was his next-door neighbor in their dormitory.
“Those dudes, they lived in a whole different world than I did,” Weber said with a laugh.
He also once got to give advice to Adolph Rupp while the basketball team was conditioning.
“There used to be a hill going down to the track, and Adolph Rupp and I walked down at the same time,” Weber said. “And we got into a little chat about running shoes. I was scared to death. ... I remember that being a special day.”