When Joe Dean was crisscrossing the country as an executive for Converse, his late wife Doris said she knew there had been a lot of college coaching changes by how incessantly their phone would ring.
Dean, who died Sunday at the age of 83, would get the messages and dutifully return the calls, whether they came from someone seeking advice on taking a job at a major college program or on the junior college level.
His advice was always the same.
“He’d say, ‘Coach, it’s anything you want to make it,’” Joe Dean Jr. said during his father’s funeral services Wednesday. “That was the way dad lived his life.”
In a congregation at First United Methodist Church filled with hundreds of mourners from across the country, Joe Dean Jr. figured there wasn’t a person in attendance whose life his father hadn’t impacted.
“He had a special gift,” Joe Dean Jr. said. “The gift of encouragement. He did that for everybody. He was genuinely interested in the people he met.”
The church was where Joe Sr. and Doris were married in 1952; where her funeral was held in 2002; where their children Joe Jr., Mark and Mardi were christened; and where Dean faithfully sat to the center right of the pulpit for more than 50 years. A basketball court at the church bears his name.
Former First United pastor Chris Andrews recalled during the services that Dean was always on the go, like his travels around the country.
“He was not a man to linger,” Andrews said. “He ate fast, he talked fast, he moved fast, and he left this world fast.”
Dean suffered from heart problems in recent years. In a visit a couple of months ago, Dean told his son Mark he knew his time was short.
“He said, ‘I’m fading fast. I can feel it,’” Mark Dean recalled. “‘But I’m not afraid to die.’”
Dean underwent a non-heart-related surgical procedure Nov. 12 but returned to his South Baton Rouge home Saturday. He died there early Sunday morning from a heart ailment, the family said.
“He’s probably dunking up there,” in heaven, Mark Dean said, drawing a round of laughter. “He couldn’t dunk down here.”
A native of New Albany, Ind., Dean played basketball for LSU from 1949-52, earning a pair of All-Southeastern Conference honors and spots on LSU’s All-Century basketball team and in its Athletic Hall of Fame.
Concurrent with much of his career with Converse, Dean started the still active Dixie Basketball Camp in 1966 and began working as a color analyst on SEC basketball telecasts starting in 1969. His catchphrases like “String Music” and “Stufferino!” made him a legend.
“Joe’s voice and his phrase ‘String Music’ resonates throughout the country,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said after attending the services. “He helped make college basketball as popular as it is today as a player, athletic director and broadcaster.”
Dean stepped away from the microphone in 1987 when he became LSU’s athletic director, a position he held until 2001.
After retirement, he continued to consult on basketball coaching hires throughout the nation. In November 2012, Dean was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Aside from Slive, the crowd in attendance was filled with sports luminaries, among them current LSU men’s basketball coach Johnny Jones and former coaches Dale Brown and John Brady (now at Arkansas State), former LSU assistant coach Kermit Davis Jr. (now head coach at Middle Tennessee), LSU basketball greats Bob Pettit and Collis Temple Sr. (who served as a pall bearer), LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, former LSU football coach Gerry DiNardo, former LSU and current Texas A&M track coach Pat Henry and former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer.
Also in attendance were Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Louisiana Secretary of State and Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown.
Andrews recalled how when he was pastor Dean would never come out the main doors of the church to shake his hand but instead would wave from halfway down the steps and shout back, “You’re the greatest!”
“Joe Dean, Mr. String Music, it’s our turn to say, ‘Joe Dean, you’re the greatest!’” Andrews said.
Dean was interred at Resthaven Gardens of Memory.