Born: December 26, 1946
In the early 1990s, with his NBA days done and his wife about to start a new job at a TV station, Claude English drove all over Kansas City.
His car found its way to Park University’s campus on the northwest side of the metro area and then, while walking around, ran into the athletic director. For English, the plan was to go into the private sector, not return to coaching. But the basketball team needed a coach.
Said English, “After conversation with my wife, Charlotte, she convinced me to entertain the idea and the rest is history.”
English made quite an impact at Park University for nearly 30 years, first as men’s basketball coach and then as athletic director. And it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted English with the Class of 2023.
English was the men’s basketball coach from the fall of 1992 through March 2005. He was the athletic director for 25 ½ years, retiring in July 2021.
During his tenure as AD, Park won seven NAIA national volleyball championships (five men’s and two women’s), 79 conference championships, produced 170 NAIA All-Americans, 428 NAIA Scholar-Athletes and was a 17-time NAIA Champions of Character awardee.
He also guided the university’s addition of four sports programs, men’s baseball and golf, and women’s beach volleyball and golf. In 2017, the university added seven developmental (junior varsity) athletics programs, and English was the conference Athletic Director of the Year in 2016-2017.
In coaching basketball, English compiled the second-most victories (182 in 13 seasons) in program history.
He was the American Midwest Conference Coach of the Year twice, including in March 1999 when the Pirates reached the NAIA Division I semifinals. Following the tournament, the team was recognized with the Dr. James Naismith / Emil S. Liston Sportsmanship Award, and English received the Charles A Krigel Award for coaching sportsmanship.
When he took over as AD in November 1995, he had several goals.
“We needed to change the culture of the department and improve the GPA; graduation rate; the retention rate,” English said. “We wanted to involve our coaches and student-athletes in community service and achieve a departmental GPA over 3.00.”
English’s passion for college athletics was understandable. A three-sport athlete at South Girard High School in Phenix City, Ala., he led the basketball team to a state championship before going on to Rhode Island University. Twice named All-Yankee Conference First Team and a two-year team captain, he helped the Rams to the 1978 NCAA Tournament and three NIT berths.
He then played the 1970-1971 season for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and then played several years in the Eastern Basketball Association for the Hartford Capitals, an affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers – and won a EBA title.
After his pro basketball career, he was an assistant coach at Rhode Island and then its head coach from 1980-1984, with English named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 1981.
Those experiences not only helped his Park basketball teams but certainly in his role as AD.
“It is very important to hire the right people that are student-centered,” English said. “What I mean by that is having concern for the total student, not just the wins and losses but also in the classroom and in their personal development.”
English set out to improve facilities and worked with Park’s Institutional Advancement Department to raise funds.
Over the years, Park constructed the 1,500-seat Julian Field for the soccer teams, and the 1,200-seat Breckon Sports Center, which opened in 2000 for basketball and volleyball programs and housed administrative offices. Enhancements to softball and baseball facilities followed. In turn, student-athlete enrollment increased by 30 percent.
In essence, he cherished his roles as coach and AD, as English knew well the influence they held.
“The most influential people in my life have been my coaches. From the time I entered high school, I always wanted to be a coach at some level,” English said. “The thing I have always been taught is, ‘Recruit good players and get out of their way and don’t over-coach.’”
English counts as mentors his high school coach, James Patrick, along with Rhode Island coach Jack Kraft. He also found support from Park University officials such as Don Breckon, Paul Gault, Paul Rounds and Patricia Fayard – along with assistants, head coaches and athletes.
Best of all, the support of his wife, Charlotte, and his mom made all the difference.
“I am not sure that I made an impact on Park University,” English said, “but Park University and the students made an impact on me.”