St. Louis University’s Billikens laid 50 points on St. Bonaventure Wednesday night at in the SECOND half and sent the Bonnies home, 86–62 in an Atlantic 10 game. Charlie Spoonhour would have been proud. It was his kind of basketball game.
Spoon died earlier that day, ending the life of one of the most charismatic men I’ve every known. He struggled with a rare lung disease over the past three years. Even a transplant couldn’t save his life.
As we go through this journey of life, there are a few people that touch our hearts and memories in a special way. Charlie was one of those people. It seemed that everyone who knew him was his friend. He may have had enemies but I can’t imagine who they were. A complete stranger could spend 10 minutes with him and they would be friends.
Spoon always made fun of being from the country. He grew up in Rogers Arkansas. He said he thought he could be the mayor because they usually picked some guy who was out of work. His homespun humor had a Will Rogers quality to it.
He could entertain 5 or 500 with his stories. When he coached the Billikens, he would join me on most Sunday mornings on KMOX during the basketball season. Every Sunday was a treat. He used to do a show during the week with Jack Buck. The program was sponsored one year by a pickle company. Spoon did the pickle commercials live and always had Jack breaking up. In addition to his family, he had two passions in his life, basketball and the St. Louis Cardinals. He loved the Redbirds.
But it is a big mistake and unfair to remember Spoon only as a funny man. Charlie was a great coach. His success, however, did not come easily. He went to College Of The Ozarks. Hardly a basketball factory. He spent 20 years as a high school, junior college and assistant coach before, at age 44, he got his big break–head coach at Southwest Missouri (now Missouri State). He took a down program and turned it into an NCAA tournament team five times in six years. He took over a program at St. Louis U. 20 years ago that was drawing almost as many ushers as fans and turned SLU games into an event. The Billikens packed the old Arena averaging about 17,000 a game. I think many of them came to watch Spoon patrol the sidelines. In the 93–94 and 94–95 seasons, they went 46–14 and into the NCAA tournament both years. “Spoonball” turned on St. Louis. By the end of the decade he “retired”. He grew weary of the lack of support of the program by the school’s administration. But, Spoon being Spoon, never made a public issue of it.
Charlie loved Las Vegas. He had a home there when he was coaching at SLU. He used to tell me, “Call me in Vegas but don’t say that’s where I am.” So, within a year, he “unretired” and was named coach at UNLV.
He stepped down late in the 2003–2004 season when he started having health problems.
Current St. Louis U. coach Rick Majerus put it best. He said, “Charlie’s legacy is not that he was a great coach, his legacy is that he was a great person.”