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Wimp Sanderson
Replace this image male.svg

Sport Basketball
Born August 8, 1937 (1937-08-08) (age 72)
Place of birth United States Florence, Alabama
Career highlights
National Coach of the Year (1987)
SEC Coach of the Year (1987, 1989, 1990)
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Alabama (grad. assist.)
Alabama (assist.)
Arkansas-Little Rock

Winfrey "Wimp" Sanderson (born August 8, 1937 in Florence, Alabama)[1] is a retired college basketball coach. Sanderson coached at the University of Alabama from 1981 to 1992 and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 1994 to 1999.

Sanderson prepared at Coffee High School and graduated from the University of North Alabama in 1959.[2] In 1960 he became a graduate assistant under Hayden Riley at Alabama, and in 1961 he was made a full time assistant. He served in this capacity for 20 years under both Riley and C. M. Newton, eventually becoming Newton's top assistant. When Newton resigned to become assistant commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, Sanderson was named his successor. In 11 years as head coach his teams averaged 21.8 wins a year, with a 267-119 record, and they won 4 SEC tournaments. They played in one NIT and eight NCAA tournaments making the "Sweet 16" five times. He is only coach in Alabama history to win 200 or more games in his first 10 years. He was the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1987, 1989 and 1990, and was the National Coach of the Year in 1987.

Sanderson currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama.[1]

Sanderson was famous for wearing plaid sport jackets on the sidelines.


Early life

Winfrey Sanderson was named for his mother's brother, Hayes Winfrey, who died from kidney problems in his 20s after he blocked a punt in his stomach during a high school football game. Sanderson never much liked the name, so he called himself "Wimp", back when to be Wimp was cool, or at least not the harmless dig it is today. This was a long time ago, in Florence, an Alabama town on the Tennessee River tucked in the northwest corner of the state. The big game for kids was hot-tail, a cross between "21" and H-O-R-S-E. You picked your spots on your court -- shots were worth one or two points -- and the first to 21 was the winner. The loser was hot-tail. "I had to shoot the ball (like a) grandma just to get it up there," Sanderson says. "If you lost, you had to grab your ankles, and they threw the ball at you. They always wanted me to be hot-tail."[3]

His dad, who worked for an auto parts company, died when he was 6, and Sanderson, an only child, shared an apartment with his mom, Christine, a secretary for the Veterans Administration. Wimp was more of an athlete than a student, more Mr. Popular than either. His senior year in high school, he beat the would-be valedictorian to become class president.[3]

In 1955, Sanderson went to Abilene Christian College to play basketball. He planned to go into radio and television, but flunking Spanish soured his plans. He transferred home to Florence State (now the University of North Alabama) and continued his hoops career while graduating in physical education. He took a high school head coaching job and one year later, in 1959-60, he went to Alabama as a graduate assistant under Hayden Riley for $75 a month. Sanderson figured it was a stepping stone for a better high school job.[3]

When he was hired as Alabama's head coach for the 1981 season, many frowned. Alabama didn't really care about basketball, or else it would have hired a big-name coach, not a cantankerous assistant. "When he was hired, Wimp felt a tremendous amount of pressure," his wife, Annette says. "He had his doubters. People wondered,`Why did they ever hire Wimp?'"[3]

College career

Sanderson played his freshman season of collegiate basketball at Abilene Christian University before transferring back to Florence State. In three seasons with the Lions, from 1957-1959, he scored 1,076 points and averaged 14.9 points over his 72 game career. He was named team captain as both a junior and a senior and led the Lions in scoring in 1958 with 403 points. His best single-game performance came against Jacksonville State University in 1958 when he scored 31 points. Sanderson graduated in 1959.[2]

Coaching career


University of Alabama

Before he resigned in 1992, Sanderson had been at Alabama for a year as a graduate assistant, 20 as an assistant coach and 11 as head coach. He led the Crimson Tide to 10 NCAA Tournaments and six trips to the Sweet 16. He lived 32 of his 58 years in Tuscaloosa, watching three decades of history pass from one season to another. In 1963, as Governor George Wallace stood at the schoolhouse door, Sanderson, an assistant coach without political convictions, watched from a window in a building across the street, unaware he was privy to history. Six years later, as Alabama Coach C.M. Newton, now the athletic director at Kentucky, became the first Southeastern Conference coach to heavily recruit African-Americans (Vanderbilt's Perry Wallace was the first African-American to play in the conference, in 1967-68), Sanderson was pounding the recruiting trail, helping to lure players like future All-American Wendell Hudson to Tuscaloosa.[3]

"I have a lot of respect for C.M. and Wimp," says Hudson, the first African-American athlete at Alabama and now the assistant AD at Alabama. "I would talk to a lot of guys who came in the league at the same time as I did, who didn't have as easy of a time as I did. There were no special rules. Everyone was treated equally."[3]

Sanderson's skills as a recruiter were legend. Enticing Robert Horry, Derrick McKey and Latrell Sprewell to football-mad Tuscaloosa was unprecedented. In addition to Sprewell, Horry and McKey, eight other players recruited when Sanderson was head coach made it to the NBA, including James Robinson and David Benoit.[3]

The Fall

Sanderson resigned from Alabama on May 18, 1992, days after Nancy Watts, his longtime secretary, filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against him and the university with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. Both Sanderson and Watts admitted they had had an affair from about 1970 to 1985, but both offered conflicting stories about what happened on March 17, 1992.[3]

Watts said that on that day, two days before Alabama was to play Stanford in the NCAA Tournament, Sanderson punched her in the face, giving her a black eye, during an argument. Sanderson said Watts had become hysterical and that, in an effort to defend himself, he stuck out his hand. She collided with it, giving her a black eye. More than a year later. Watts' lawsuit against Sanderson, the university and then-athletic director Hootie Ingram, was settled out of court, days before it was scheduled to go to trial. Alabama and Sanderson's homeowner's insurance policy paid Watts $275,000. Sanderson's 32-year relationship with Alabama, in which he had been a graduate assistant, assistant coach or head coach for more than half of the basketball games the school had ever played, was over.[3]

"It was a situation where if you're accused of anything, you're guilty, and that's not right. I know what happened," Sanderson says, almost whispering. "I gave the university 32 years, all I could give them. Tried to do everything the right way. It was a sad day in my life. I loved the school, but it's behind me. It's over."[3]

David Hobbs, a former assistant was promoted as head coach when Sanderson resigned.[4] Mark Gottfried, a former player under Sanderson, followed Hobbs and coached for 10-1/2 seasons before he was fired on January 26, 2009.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Sanderson re-surfaced in 1994 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock after a 2-year exile for his transgression. He would lead the Trojans to one National Invitation Tournament appearance in 1996.[3]



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