Marc Daniels Column: Speraw's Mark Remains At UCF

2004 NCAA 1st Round: UCF v Pittsburgh

Photo: Getty Images

May 13, 2022

If Torchy Clark is the father of UCF Basketball, Kirk Speraw is a close relative that gets one of the big chairs at the family reunion.

Clark was UCF's first coach(then still called FTU) in 1969 and for 14 years he built the program into a winner and attracted packed gyms that cheered on the Knights. Clark's 1978 team reached the NCAA Division II Final Four and Torchy became a legend for his coaching style, his many great stories and his accomplishment of building a basketball program.

In 1993, a 36-year old Kirk Speraw took over UCF after serving as an assistant at Florida. He turned a team that went 10-17 the year before into the school's first NCAA Tournament Team(D1 level) and went 21-9 losing to Glen "Big Dog" Robinson and Purdue in the first round.

Speraw retired Wednesday after 12-years as an assistant at Iowa. He leaves the game at the age of 65 and truly plans on spending more time with his family.

Speraw spent 17 seasons at UCF and went to four NCAA Tournaments and although he was let go by UCF in March of 2010, Speraw almost landed his dream job. Kirk was a finalist at Iowa, his alma mater, before the school hired Siena's Fran McCaffery. Speraw had support from a number of people at Iowa, including former Coach Lute Olsen. I remember talking to Speraw a few days before the school chose McCaffery and he talked about what it would mean to go back home and coach the Hawkeyes. The school chose McCaffery, who was coming off a third straight NCAA Tournament with Siena. But Speraw was then asked to join McCaffery's staff as a top assistant. Imagine being so close to coaching the school you played for and grew up dreaming about, to then being asked to work with someone you didn't know and sit next to him on the bench.

Speraw took the job because it was still a chance to go back home. And it also was a job, one that paid him significantly more than he was making as the head coach at UCF. 

Kirk Speraw has been gone from UCF for a while but his fingerprints remain. He took over a program that was playing in the TAAC(Trans America Athletic Conference) before it became the Atlantic Sun. It was a time UCF had very little money and the basketball program had to find ways to recruit, travel in buses to and from games and ate at fast food restaurants before and after games and stayed in many motels where the room entrance was outside and the cable channel options were few.

Speraw recruited a team that fit his system which focused on fundamentals and execution. Give Speraw a possession after a timeout and he would draw up a play that would get you a good look. He was a master at understanding the opposing team's tendencies and then used them to figure out what to run for his team.

Kirk had his up-and-down seasons and had his critics who felt the program lacked consistency at times. But he did get to four NCAA Tournaments and UCF has been to one since he left, that being in 2019.

I think the 2019 UCF team is the best team in the program's history(at the D1 level) as it came inches of beating Zion and Duke and advancing to the Sweet 16. But Speraw's back-to-back tournament teams in 2004 and 2005 went 46-17. The 2004 team went 25-5 going into the NCAA Tournament and likely deserved better than a 14th seed. But they gave 3rd seeded Pitt fits before falling 53-44. Then Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon admitted Speraw's team had played the best defense against them than anyone had all year.

He was also the coach when UCF made the jump to Conference USA, which for basketball was a much bigger jump than football's move from the MAC. The A-Sun was a low level conference and C-USA was a top 10 league. By the Knights second season in C-USA they went 22-9 and Speraw was named Coach of the Year in the league.

Could he have won more? Should he have won more at UCF? Maybe. But Speraw did things that haven't been duplicated since he left. And now the basketball program is about to jump from the American to the Big XII with new challenges.

Speraw moved down a chair when he took the assistant job at Iowa. He came close to landing a head coaching job at Drake a few seasons ago but they chose someone else. Speraw became one of the top assistants in the Big Ten and earned a reputation as an excellent game planner and handled a lot of Iowa's offense during his time in Iowa City.

He leaves the game after 44 years as a player, coach and someone who gave much to college basketball.

Kirk Speraw has been a friend since we started working together when I started calling games at UCF in 1995. He remains a friend today and he's one of my favorite people I have met and worked with in all my years in sports.

My guess is Kirk sees the game changing on and off the court and maybe he just feels the time is right for him to step away and focus on things that matter the most, his family. But despite being gone from UCF for many years, his impact on the program remains. His former players are among the closest you will find and you can listen to their many stories of him and the impact he made on them on and off the court.

Here's hoping UCF will honor Speraw in the coming years with a spot in their Hall of Fame. One of the good guys who helped UCF build a brand checks out of the game he loves so much...

Final note: Kirk Speraw walked on to the Iowa basketball team and helped the Hawkeyes win the Big Ten title in 1979.

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