Former Varsity Blues basketball coach passes away

Globe and Mail Update

December 2nd 2006

Some coaches keep their players in a state of anxiety, wondering whether they will play or not.

John McManus was more apt to keep them in stitches with his wit.

The coach of the University Toronto Varsity Blues basketball team for almost three decades died Wednesday of cancer in North York General Hospital. He was 88.

"He loved the game with a passion. He was still playing pick-up basketball in his 50s," said Michael Katz, the present day heir to the Varsity Blues basketball bench. He played for McManus from 1968 to 1971 and knew the value of the coach's humour first hand.

"The old Hart House bandbox was supposed to be our home court, but one year our home games were played at York University because the old building was virtually condemned. We could have been grim, but he made up for it with his sense of humour."

Born in Milestone, Saskatchewan in 1918, McManus was raised in Winnipeg where he excelled in baseball, basketball and track and field. He joined the RCAF at the outbreak of the Second World War and spent 1939-42 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, McManus attended U of T to study physical education. In 1946, he played basketball for the Blues and moonlighted on the practice squad of the Toronto Huskies in the National Basketball League's first foray into Canada. McManus led 1949-50 Blues team in scoring and was a unanimous pick as a league all-star.

Upon graduation in 1950, he coached the Acadia Axemen basketball team in Wolfville, N.S., for two seasons, then returned to Varsity in 1952 to coach football and basketball and to teach in the school of physical education.

He was the men's basketball coach for 28 seasons (1955-83), amassing a regular season record of 174 wins and 152 losses. In 1957-58, McManus led the Blues to a 9-1 record for their first Wilson Cup championship since 1939-40. On 20 February 1965, his Blues set an Ontario Universities single-game points record that still stands, defeating the McGill Redmen 134-80.

"John never had an assistant," Katz said. "And because of the academic standards at Varsity, he didn't always have the same athlete selection some other schools did. He did a lot with the players he had. He would hold massive tryouts. I'd heard that he loved players who liked to shoot all the time, so whenever her was in the gym for a pick-up game, I'd suit up and make sure he knew who I was. It worked. When he had those big tryouts, he already knew me and what I did."

McManus also served 24 seasons (1952-1975) as a Varsity Blues assistant football coach. Along with Ron Murphy and Tom Watt, McManus was an assistant to head coach Dalt White for the 1965 Vanier Cup winning team. Ontario Universities Athletics presents a career coaching award in McManus's name.

McManus was predeceased by his wife of 40 years Myrtle (nee Thom), his brother Pierce and sisters Mildred and Kay. He is survived by sister Maureen Elsey, son John and wife Julie, their children Olivia and Patrick, and daughter Katherine and husband Tom.