MORGANTOWN, W.Va — The city of Fairmont and the Fairmont State University community are mourning the loss of one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history.
Joe Retton passed away Wednesday morning in Morgantown. He was 87.
The NAIA national coach of the year in 1969 and 1976, Retton finished his career with a 478-95 record — an .836 winning percentage that remains the highest of any men’s coach across all collegiate levels.
Retton and Jerrod Calhoun share a unique coaching accomplishment. Both led Fairmont State to the brink of a national championship. Retton led his 1968 Falcon squad to the NAIA title game. Calhoun led FSU to the Division II championship game in 2017.
“He came to all our practices,” Calhoun said. “Fairmont meant so much to him. He always supported not only the basketball team but the football team. We always bounced ideas. He always complimented our team and our players.”
When Calhoun was named head coach at FSU in 2012, he worked with Retton to connect with the city and build the team’s fanbase.
“We always talked about how to ingrain the city of Fairmont into our basketball program,” Calhoun said. “That’s what his teams always did. They were really good players and really good teams but I think they embraced and got out into the community and that’s one of the things we took from him when I first got there.”
Retton remained a fixture at Falcon basketball games until his death. His usual seat, at the arena named in his honor, was directly across the court from the FSU bench.
“Early on you are thinking as a young coach, there is the legend,” Calhoun said. “He sits right across from you. He watches every move you are making.”
“I took the job because he said to take it. When he comes to watch you better make sure he is proud of the product you are putting out there because his standard was the highest.”
Calhoun was named the head coach at Youngstown State shortly after leading the Falcons to the national championship game and the two remained close over the past year.
“He really talked about that final team we had at Fairmont and what a joy it was to watch,” Calhoun said. “When he couldn’t watch, he would always listen on the radio. So it meant a lot to me that a guy of that stature, a legend like that so many years later wants that school to do well. That’s how much love and passion he had for our program and the college.”