WATERLOO — Murray Wier spent year after year winning basketball games and changing lives.
Tuesday, the people who loved, respected and admired Wier gave his family an evening to remember.
They gathered at the Waterloo Eagles Club and paid tribute to the former University of Iowa star and Waterloo East head basketball coach who passed away in April at the age of 89. The family had held a private burial for Wier at his home in Texas. The gathering Tuesday was a celebration, an opportunity to tell stories, to laugh, to recall what made Wier such a unique character.
Certainly, the evening had a character all its own.
“I don’t know how many times this happens, where there’s a high school coach and 50 years later you round up all the players and people,” said Terry Wier, Murray’s son. “It was really something.”
Terry Wier also said, “It was wonderful. We didn’t know what the turnout would be. I was a little worried all the time it wouldn’t be much. But the format was good, the people were good, the speakers were great.”
Wier’s life on the basketball court was extraordinary enough. He became the only Iowa player to lead the nation in scoring and the first Hawkeye to earn consensus All-America honors during a playing career that began in 1945 and ended in 1948. As the head coach at East, he posted a 372-149 record over 24 seasons, winning a state championship in 1974. Wier also served as the Trojan director of athletics for 34 years.
On this night, though, statistics and honors rarely entered the conversation. This was about Wier the man, the wicked sense of humor, the nicknames he hung on people that ranged from Handout Hank to the One-Armed Bandit, the corduroy coat he flung away, the clipboards he hurled across lockerrooms.
The night was also about respect.
Said Mike Woodley, who played for Wier before beginning a long career as a football coach, “Not enough can be said by any of us here about what an influence he had on our lives. He knew every one of his players. He knew every one of their hot buttons. He knew about kids and he cared about them.
“He was compassionate about kids. If you remember the 1960s, it was not an easy time for everyone at our high school. He overcame that. Everybody respected Murray Wier. If you didn’t and played under him, you didn’t understand him and didn’t understand anything about life. That’s what it was about. He was a life teacher.”
The man who organized Tuesday’s celebration of Wier’s life felt much the same way.
East High alumnus and former Trojan basketball player Dave Buhr has led a campaign to get Wier honored at Iowa, an effort that led to the former coach’s inclusion in displays at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the Athletics Hall of Fame. Wier will also be the first name in a ring of honor when it’s added to renovations at the Hawkeyes’ home court.
When Wier died in April, Buhr felt there should be a ceremony for the old coach in Waterloo. He knew that Wier’s family would be in the area during July, so a plan was put in motion.
“We needed to recognize him in some way,” said Buhr. “We loved the guy. We did. I don’t know what it was. He was hard on us. He treated us like dogs or whatever you want to say. But we loved the guy. We did everything he asked us. He was a great guy, a funny guy and he cared about us, too. I knew that as time went on.”
So the people gathered on a July Tuesday. Bob Siddens, the former Waterloo West wrestling coach, athletic director and close friend of Wier spoke. So did Steve McGraw, the present East basketball coach. So did Woodley and Bud Eggleston and Gaylen Tann and Charlie Aldrich, all of whom were part of Wier’s time at East.
The stories flowed and so did the laughter. Jeff Wier, Murray’s son, said his father was just as funny at home as he was anywhere else.
“That’s what I’ll miss the most about him — the real laughter,” said Jeff Wier.
Tom Thorson, the former athletic director and administrator at East, pointed out that Wier was a popular history teacher as well as a coach.
“Kids loved him, and the main reason was he was funny,” said Thorson. “He had more nicknames for people than you can imagine — both kids and teachers and other people at the school. A lot of them, I can’t mention.”
A few speakers pointed out that Wier knew how to influence people. Aldrich recalled the discussions with him over becoming the head girls’ basketball coach at East after the switch from six-player to 5-on-5. Wier, then the athletic director, approached Aldrich twice, and Aldrich said no.
Wier tried once more.
“Aldrich,” Wier said to him. “I’m not used to asking for things here more than once. Do you want this ... job or not?”
Said Aldrich, “I said to him, ‘Yes, sir.’’’
He was competitive, a man who hated to lose at tennis well into his 70s. Late in his life, he could still recall the names and positions of the players on a 1954 East baseball team. He learned how to ski his own way.
And his name was gold. Just by mentioning his name, Terry Wier closed a software deal in Iowa. Asked how he did it, Terry Wier responded, “I had an ace I didn’t tell you about.”
“He was a bonafide star,” said Terry Wier, “Everybody knew him.”
He was Murray Wier. And he was, through memory, alive again Tuesday.
“He would have enjoyed all of this, too,” said Jeff Wier.