Western Kentucky University's Edgar Allen Diddle stood unique among the college basketball coaches of the world.
His 759-302 won-loss record at WKU made him the first coach to ever guide his team through more than 1,000 games at one college. At the time of his retirement in 1964, his 759 wins stood as the highest total ever by a college coach.
Diddle, who died in 1970, served as head coach at WKU for 42 seasons. Over that span of time, the Hilltoppers almost monopolized the championships of all three conferences to which they belonged. The row of titles included 13 in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. In addition, the Hilltoppers won or shared the Ohio Valley Conference championship 10 times in 16 years.
Under Diddle's guidance, WKU collided with some of the best competition collegiate basketball had to offer, playing in such prestigious events as the NCAA, National Invitational, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Bluegrass, All-College, Kentucky Invitational and National Campus tournaments as well as the Olympic Playoffs.
Diddle was born at Gradyville, Ky., on March 12, 1895. He was one of five sons born to John A. and Mary Elizabeth Hughes Diddle.
After his early education at Columbia, Ky., Diddle entered Centre College (Danville, Ky.) in September of 1915. There he was a standout for four years in both football and basketball.
He was a member of the famous football squad of Praying Colonels which included the colorful Bo McMillin. Diddle was a blocking back during the 1917, 1919 and 1920 seasons and was credited with shaking loose the All-American McMillin for many sensational runs.
He was also a star on Centre's unbeaten basketball team of 1919, a squad which laid claim to the Southern championship after defeating Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Louisville.
Diddle served in the Naval Aviation program during World War I, returning to Centre in 1918. He left the school at mid-term in 1920 and began his coaching career at Monticello (Ky.) High School that spring. In 1921, he coached at Greenville (Ky.) High School.
On September 7, 1922, he joined the staff at Western Kentucky State College as athletic director and coach of all sports. He gave up his duties as head football coach in the fall of 1929. In 1934, Diddle relinquished the job of athletic director, but assumed it again in the summer of 1942 and held it, in addition to his coaching duties, until his retirement.
Diddle married Margaret Louise Monin on December 27, 1923. They had two children, Edgar Allen Diddle, Jr., and Mrs. James (Mary Jo) Phillips. The couple also had three grandchildren.
The younger Diddle, better known as Eddie, coached for six seasons at Middle Tennessee State College, where he waged a heated but respectful rivalry with his father. Eddie left the coaching profession at the end of the 1961-62 season to enter business in Nashville. The elder Diddle won 11 of the 12 games played between the two. They were the first father and son to coach against each other in college basketball history.
Aside from his achievements in the win column, E.A. Diddle will go down in basketball history as one of the most colorful figures the game has ever known.
Over the years he became famous throughout the nation for his antics with a red towel that was his constant companion on the bench. Never done as a "show," the towel tossing started as a nervous habit and he used it to signal his players. The Red Towel soon became a revered WKU tradition.
The towel soared to the rafters of many a gymnasium or was beaten heartily on the floor when the Hilltoppers scored a crucial point in the game. It was also known to cover the veteran coach's face when things were not going well.
Diddle was a firm believer in the fundamentals of basketball and imparted that belief on his players. He advocated a fast style of play and the top-notch conditioning that must accompany it. He was one of the first avid proponents of the fast break and his flashy teams played a major part in popularizing the running game throughout the country.
A unique trait for recognizing potential talent in youngsters played no small part in Diddle's success. Furthermore, he was able to develop that talent to a winning degree in an amazingly large percentage of cases.
The development of 13 All-America players at Western Kentucky — William "Red" McCrocklin, Carlyle “Big Boy” Towery, Oran McKinney, Don “Duck” Ray, Dee Gibson, Odie “Sleepy” Spears, John Oldham, Bob Lavoy, Rip Gish, Art Spoelstra, Tom Marshall, Bobby Rascoe and Darel Carrier — is proof enough of the ability to find and develop individual talent.
Mr. Diddle (as he was commonly known by his players and others on The Hill) was zealously proud of his players, holding as warm a spot in his heart for them as he did for the game of basketball itself. At the same time, he demanded dedication and hard work.
Well over 100 of his former players went into coaching in both the high school and collegiate ranks. Among these were such head college coaches as Bernard "Peck" Hickman at the University of Louisville, Charles Parsley at Southeast Missouri, Bob Lavoy at the University of Tampa and Buddy Cate at Tennessee Wesleyan.
Another former star developed by Diddle, John Oldham, was named to succeed his mentor when Mr. Diddle retired following the 1963-64 season. Oldham had been head coach at Tennessee Tech for nine years and led WKU to 146 wins and only 41 losses over seven seasons at WKU before becoming the Hilltopper Athletic Director after the 1970-71 season.
Ted Hornback, Diddle's assistant at WKU from 1939 to 1964, was another pupil of the famed Hilltopper coach, starring on THE 1926, ‘27, ‘28 and ‘29 teams. Hornback remains the only Topper cager to lead the Toppers in scoring all four of his seasons.
Diddle held the distinction of having made one of the most remarkable comebacks in the annals of coaching. Three severe heart attacks in the fall of 1952 sidelined him for a time. However, he returned to coach the Hilltoppers to more than 200 victories after that time.
Basketball fans everywhere were saddened by Mr. Diddle’s death on January 2, 1970.