Hays steps down after 33 years at OC Legendary career made him the winningest coach in Oklahoma history

By Murray Evans

Dan Hays, one of the most successful basketball coaches in collegiate history, resigned from his longtime post as men’s coach at Oklahoma Christian at the end of the 2015-16 season.

He is the winningest coach in Oklahoma history with 724 career victories. He recorded more wins at an Oklahoma university (653 at OC) than any other coach in the state’s hoops history and is a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame, the OC Athletic Hall of Fame and the Eastern New Mexico Hall of Honor. In April 2011, OC honored Hays by naming the court inside the Eagles’ Nest as “Dan Hays Court.”

The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a resolution declaring the day of his final game to be “Dan Hays Day” in the state. State Rep. Mike Sanders of Kingfisher – an OC graduate and a former radio voice of the Eagles and Lady Eagles – presented Hays with a Governor’s Commendation, issued by Gov. Mary Fallin, as well as an Oklahoma flag that was flown atop the state Capitol in honor of Hays.

“We haven’t always had the best team, but I’ve always felt like we’ve had the best program, when you consider the basketball, the academics and the character. The only thing I want to be remembered for is that I did it the right way, the Oklahoma Christian way.” Dan Hays

Alumni traveled from as far away as South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and New Mexico to watch Hays’ final game and pay homage to the man who coached them, served as their mentor and set an example as to how to win big while doing it right.

OC honored Hays with a postgame ceremony, and all of his former players and coaches gathered on Dan Hays Court for one of the greatest team photos ever taken – one more than three decades in the making. The love in the arena was palpable as players from different generations of OC hoops mixed and mingled, sharing their affection for their coach.

“My goodness,” Hays said. “I’m still overwhelmed – a packed Eagles’ Nest, overflow crowd, players from three decades, taking me back to my first team. It was an unbelievable experience. I almost can’t put words to it.”

With 33 years at OC, Hays ranked third all-time among collegiate basketball coaches in tenure at one Oklahoma school, behind only Henry Iba at Oklahoma State (36 seasons) and Don Sumner at St. Gregory’s (35 seasons). He ranks 42nd overall on the all-time wins list for men’s basketball.

“Coach Hays is a living legend – the winningest college-level basketball coach in Oklahoma history,” President John deSteiguer said. “He has achieved his success the right way – working hard, persevering, surrounding himself with good people and treating everyone with respect. Coach is an example for all of us.”

Hays became OC’s head coach during Ronald Reagan’s first term as U.S. president in 1983, the same year Microsoft Word was launched and Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in outer space.

The Eagles won six of their 10 Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season championships and their only SAC tournament title during Hays’ tenure. He led Oklahoma Christian to nine NAIA Division I tournaments and reached the round of 16 five times, most recently in 2010. He has coached two NAIA players of the year, Jay Mauck (1999) and current Mercer University assistant coach Jarred Merrill (2005).

“I’ve got nothing but love for Oklahoma Christian and appreciation for the years that I’ve had,” Hays said. “We haven’t always had the best team, but I’ve always felt like we’ve had the best program, when you consider the basketball, the academics and the character. We still stand for what’s right, on and off the floor. The only thing I want to be remembered for is that I did it the right way, the Oklahoma Christian way.”

During the 2012-13 season, OC’s first as a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association, Hays guided the Eagles to the national championship game, losing a heartbreaker in overtime to Shorter (Ga.). The Eagles just completed their first season as an official member of NCAA Division II.

Dozens of Hays’ former players and assistant coaches have gone on to become college or high school coaches themselves. Hays also was the driver in building the Oklahoma Christian Cage Camps into a behemoth that has drawn thousands upon thousands of kids – some from places as far away as England, Germany, Austria, France and South Korea – to the OC campus each summer since 1984.

“Dan Hays embodies what it means to be a ‘coach.’ He has and continues to mentor players and coaches all over the country,” Athletic Director Curtis Janz said. “His knowledge of the game of basketball is unparalleled; skill development, player management, Xs and Os – all are areas in which he is recognized as one of the best anywhere.

“I have been with coach Hays in about every role possible, as a student-athlete, assistant coach and now as an athletic director. He has been my coach, mentor, confidante, and most importantly, friend since 1983. He is an OC legend, not because of the 700-plus wins, but because of the impact he has made on so many people.”

Hays has been active in basketball both nationally and internationally. In 1998, Hays, then the NAIA representative to the USA Men’s Basketball Collegiate Committee, served as an assistant to Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University on the USA Basketball Junior World Championship Team, which won the gold medal in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

Hays also was an assistant to then-University of Florida (and current University of Oklahoma) coach Lon Kruger on the 1991 gold-medal-winning USA team at the World Championships for Junior Men in Edmonton, Canada, and at the 1990 U.S. Olympic Festival in Minneapolis. Hays served as the president of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Coaches Association from 1991 to 1993.

He was named Sooner Athletic Conference coach of the year five times (1985, 1986, 1989, 1999, 2005) and NAIA District 9 coach of the year twice (1981, 1985).

Hays came to Oklahoma Christian after five seasons as head coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Before becoming a college head coach, Hays served as an assistant coach at Southeastern Oklahoma State University for three seasons and at Eastern Washington University for one season. He also coached for six seasons at the high school level in two New Mexico towns, Grants and Roswell, guiding four teams to the New Mexico prep state tournament.

Hays is a 1964 graduate of Highland High School in Albuquerque, N.M. He attended Casper (Wyo.) Junior College for one year before transferring to Eastern New Mexico. At ENMU, Hays earned All-America honorable mention twice and was named to the NAIA and NCAA all-district teams twice. He was the most valuable player and leading scorer on coach Harry Miller’s first two nationally ranked Greyhound teams.

After graduating in 1968, Hays spent several years in the Amateur Athletic Union leagues. He played in three national tournaments and was chosen to the AAU All-Stars team that played the Soviet Union’s national team in 1971.
“It’s been great,” Hays said. “It’s been wonderful. All I can say is thanks. It’s been a great ride and I’ll always be an Eagle.”

Summer 2016

View more stories from the Summer 2016 issue of Vision magazine.