Benny Dees, boss inside the Dome of Doom, dies at 86
LARAMIE -- Sports Illustrated once tabbed Benny Dees as a "short, plump, frosty-haired cartoonist's dream who could charm the hide off a buffalo."
Former Wyoming basketball star Turk Boyd told the national sports magazine back in 1987 that losing head coach Jim Brandenburg was "like a death in the family." That is until Dees showed up in Laramie with "his personality and his up-tempo style of play and I think he caught us right there."
Fennis Dembo, the Cowboys' unquestioned leader and '87 SI cover boy, dropped this line about UW's new head coach: "Bang, he fit right in. It was like he'd been with us all along, like he was an assistant here or something. We'd seen him coach New Orleans in the NCAA tournament, and his guys beat Brigham Young, which we couldn't do. Then when we found out he was a Wyoming graduate, we knew he'd have the pride."
Dees led the Pokes to a 26-6 record during the 1987-88 season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the second straight trip to the Big Dance for Wyoming.
He came back to Laramie with swagger and a southern drawl. He recruited with the best of them, selling the Dome of Doom and the Cowboy way of life at 7,220 feet above sea level. In his six seasons on the high plains, the Mount Vernon, Georgia product won 104 games and took the Cowboys to two postseason tournaments.
The 16th head coach in UW history died Tuesday. He was 86 years old.
Dees was responsible for bringing names like Reggie Slater, Tim Breaux and Theo Ratliff to Laramie. He also snagged other fan favorites like Bobby Traylor, Mo Alexander and Paris Bryant. And, of course, he inherited some of the best players this program has ever known in Eric Leckner, Jon Sommers, Sean Dent, Boyd and the "Dazzling Dude."
"Benny wore many hats with me, including teacher, disciplinarian and the person I looked to for encouragement. But the best hat of all was that of a friend. I will miss you, Coach Dees. Love you," Slater wrote on Facebook Tuesday morning.
Another former UW player, Robyn Davis said, "I would have never made it without him. (I'll) Always remember how he recruited me."
Dees came to Laramie on a baseball scholarship in 1957. He also lettered in hoops under legendary head coach Everett Shelton.
He started his own college coaching career in 1968 when he took over a brand new program, Virginia Commonwealth. After two seasons in Richmond, Dees moved on to New Orleans.
″I’m a very impatient person and highly competitive," Dees told the Associated Press during his introductory press conference. "So, I feel we’ll move right into a good program and a good beginning."
There, he led the Privateers to a 26-4 mark in 1986-87 and a berth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It's no wonder his alma mater came calling.
After six seasons in Laramie, Dees moved on to Western Carolina where for two seasons he led the Catamounts.
Dees spent just two seasons at every stop in his college coaching career -- except for Laramie.
Tributes have begun pouring in from all over the country today: