Even near the end of his decades-long career as the head coach of the men's basketball team at the University of Toronto, John McManus was in better shape than his players and that was in his 60s.

"We shared a locker area and many times, we'd be finishing practice and he'd be in the washroom area doing chin-ups on the handle across the stalls," laughed Doug Fox, athletic director at Humber College, who played under McManus from 1974 to 1979.

The fitness fanatic, who coached the Varsity Blues for 29 years between 1954 and 1983, never stopped working out, even up until his death Wednesday after his second battle with cancer in two years. McManus was 88.

Over his lengthy career in Toronto, McManus amassed a 172-152 regular season record, but coached more than 600 games in total. His only title came in 1958 when he led the squad to victory in the Wilson Cup, Ontario's championship game.

He was known at the university, not only for being the longest-serving coach he was also the football assistant for 24 years but for his physical prowess, as well. He was the definition of a gym rat, playing and coaching every sport possible. He almost became a professional baseball player, but World War II began. Before he started at the U of T, he coached every single team at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.

"Even when he was sick in the hospital, I'd walk in and there he'd be leaning on the end of his bed, on the railing, doing push-ups on it," said his daughter, Katherine McManus-Browne, who studied physical education at U of T. "Even at 88, he was still working out twice a day."

His coaching wisdom has been passed on to hundreds of players over the years.

"He helped me with my free-throw shooting," said Mike Katz, who has been the head coach of the basketball team for the past three years and played for McManus between 1968-1971. "He wanted you to place your hands across the seams of the basketball. It's something that I still do with my kids today."

McManus's career netted him an award upon his retirement in 1983 for being "a retired coach who exemplified the highest ideals and qualities of sportsmanship and service."

Fittingly, it was the inaugural award and named after him.

There was no funeral or service, as per his wishes, but like the sign-off on his letters, he had a quick final message: "Get in shape and keep fit."