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JOHN McMANUS, 1918-2006
December 1, 2006 - John McManus, the long-time head coach of the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team, died after a courageous battle with cancer at North York General Hospital on Wednesday, November 29th, 2006.

Born in 1918 in Milestone, Sask., and raised in Winnipeg, John served with the R.C.A.F. during World War Two, spending 1939 to 1942 at various Fighter Command bases in England. During the spring of 1942, he joined 413 Squadron in Ceylon for a tour and then returned to Bomber Command bases in England for the duration of the war. After the war, he enrolled in U of T’s School of Physical and Health Education. A multi-talented student-athlete, John excelled in baseball as a pitcher, and as a high jumper. But his true skill was as a basketballer, leading the Blues in scoring in 1949-50 and in the process earning a unanimous selection to the league all-star team. John graduated with a BPHE in 1950. In addition to playing at the intercollegiate level, John was a member of the 1946 Toronto Huskies practice squad of the Basketball Association of America (which merged with the National Basketball League to become the National Basketball Association). During the summers, he was a pitcher on various professional baseball teams.

“John’s long-term dedication to U of T athletics is truly inspirational,” said current Blues basketball head coach Mike Katz, who played under McManus from 1968 to 1971. “He was a kind, congenial man with a wickedly quick wit. He will be missed.”

John’s coaching career began with a two-season stint (1950-51 to 1951-52) at Acadia, where his teams earned intercollegiate, Halifax and District, and Maritime Senior championships. Toronto soon beckoned, and in 1952 John returned to his alma mater as an assistant basketball and football coach. His early responsibilities included running the intermediate teams, and he quickly demonstrated his coaching abilities with intermediate championships in both football and basketball in 1953-54. He was promoted to head basketball coach of the senior team in 1955-56. In 1957-58, John led the Blues to a 9-1 record for their first Wilson Cup championship since 1939-40.

John’s teams were always competitive: in 28 seasons as the Blues’ head coach, he posted only seven sub-.500 seasons, and never more than three in a row. On 20 February 1965, the Blues set an OUA one-team, single-game points record that still stands by defeating the McGill Redmen 134-80. John gave up his duties as a football assistant after the 1975 season, having serving a team-record 24 seasons on the senior team, and retired as the basketball coach after the 1982-83 campaign. He amassed a regular season record of 174 wins and 152 losses.

“John gave U of T nearly 40 outstanding years as a student, coach and teacher,” said Liz Hoffman, the University of Toronto’s current Director of Athletics. “He was truly a great friend and mentor to many Varsity athletes, and I know he will be fondly remembered.”

During his time as a coach, John taught in the University’s School of Physical and Health Education (SPHE). He also remained active with the R.C.A.F., serving as an administrative officer with the University Reserve Officers Training Course. His daughter, Kathy, graduated from SPHE in 1980 and was a member of four Varsity championship swim teams.

In accordance with John’s wishes, there will be no visitation, service or funeral. Cremation has taken place. In lieu of flowers, donations are gratefully accepted in John’s memory to the ‘University of Toronto, T-Holders’ Association’, and can be sent c/o Varsity Blues Alumni Office, 55 Harbord St. Toronto, ON M5S 2W6. John’s last message to family and friends: “Get in shape and keep fit!”

The Varsity Blues wish to extend their condolences to Kathy and the entire McManus family.

To help commemorate John’s life, the Varsity Blues invite John’s former athletes, students and friends to send in their stories and reminiscences of him—as a coach, teacher or mentor. A selection of these anecdotes will be posted on Please send such items to


John McManus was a huge influence on my life because he was able to differentiate what was truly important. Our teams consisted of today's lawyers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs and other future professionals. We practised and played hard and were always competitive but win or lose there was a sense that basketball was really only part of things that were more important in life like physical activity, education, fair play, and fun--and did we have fun. When I see the alumni of our teams, we can talk for hours about the things around our basketball experience: none of us can remember much about the individual games. We traveled, we lived together, all under the tutelage of John McManus. He treated us as a team (no preferential treatment), he treated us like men, he loved to have fun and laugh with us and he had great witty lines that cracked us up at the most opportune times. I believe his military background, his career as a teacher and his experience as an athlete combined to make him the respected coach he was.

We ate together every night after practice in Varsity Arena at a training table with the track team and the hockey team. I learned about discipline as I watched Bill Crothers and Bruce Kidd gulp down their dinner and run to study at the library, and I learned about saving money as I saw John take home a vat of detergent or other kitchen supplies courtesy of the training staff.

Kennedy, Stevens, White, Ringham, and now McManus were characters with character. We will all miss you - it seems that you got through this life "faster than a pregnant fox in a forest fire" but you have left an indelible mark on all of us.

Varsity Blues basketball player, 1960-61 to 1964-65
Former Canadian National Team member

©2006 Varsity Blues, all rights reserved