GEORGETOWN, Ky. (FOX 56) — March Madness is about to get into full swing. Basketball will be the topic of countless conversations in the weeks ahead, and many of those discussions will bring up the coach who made Kentucky a basketball powerhouse.
It may seem odd to see a college professor carrying swords into a classroom, but Ed Smith likes show and tell.
Dr. Smith teaches theater at Georgetown College and takes students back to the days of Shakespeare. After class, he’ll take another audience back in time when the acting coach will act like a coach.
Since 2001, Ed has portrayed iconic University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for the state’s Chautauqua Series.
“I’ve been in 93 counties — 93 Kentucky counties — and performed for almost 17,000 people,” said Smith.
But, it wasn’t an easy decision to take on the personality of such a well-known figure.
“My immediate response was absolutely not,” he said.
There are people in the audiences who still remember Rupp and would know if Ed’s portrayal was out of bounds.
“The more I read about him, the more I thought, ‘Wow, he would be an interesting person to get to know and to portray,’” said Smith.
Rupp coached at UK for 42 years, winning 880 games and four national championships. So, there’s a lot of material to draw from.
His presentation focuses on Rupp’s last season in 1972, just before he was forced to retire at age 70.
Despite the coach’s gruff reputation, Ed demonstrates that Rupp was often witty.
The coach was controversial, slow to recruit Black players, and at the helm during a point-shaving scandal in the ’50s. But, Ed believes Kentucky has such die-hard fans today because of the way the coach approached the game.
“We’re uncompromising. We’re demanding where we won’t settle for anything less than perfection. And all of those are things that we learned in part from Adolph Ropp,” he said.
It’s a legacy Ed Smith says he hopes to keep alive as long as people want to hear about the man in the brown suit.
Kentucky Chautauqua is coordinated by the Kentucky Humanities Council and has more than two dozen performers who portray historic figures such as coach Rupp. Others include Daniel Boone, Henry Clay, Colonel Sanders, and Nancy Green.