BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Veteran college basketball coach Gene Bartow died Tuesday at his home in Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced. He was 81.
Bartow, who was the founder of the UAB athletic program -- and succeeded John Wooden as coach of the vaunted UCLA basketball team -- had been battling cancer for the past two years, the Los Angeles Times said.
Funeral arrangements were pending. UAB will play Memphis Jan. 7 in the Bartow Classic, which benefits the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Bartow was a venerated figure in Birmingham. He left UCLA in a stunning move in 1977 to become athletic director and basketball coach at a school that was just launching its intercollegiate program. He led UAB to seven NCAA tournaments, including a trip to the Elite Eight just four years after the program was created.
"To begin an athletic program from the ground up, UAB had to find a motivating force without parallel," UAB President Carol Garrison said in a statement. "Gene Bartow certainly was that person. He was a pioneer and a passionate believer and leader in UAB athletics."
Bartow retired as basketball coach in 1996 and as A.D. in 2000. He spent two seasons at UCLA after Wooden retired in the 1970s and compiled a 52-9 record that included a trip to the Final Four.