After being acquired by the New York Yankees in 1919, Babe Ruth started to transform the franchise from perennial loser to the model of excellence. After being hired as Quinnipiac’s Athletic Director and men’s basketball coach, Burt Kahn did the same thing for this school. He took a program that had only three sports teams, and over the course of three decades, expanded to 16 teams, including eight women’s teams.
Kahn passed away on July 6, 2004 at 74 years of age. He left behind a community, a University, and thousands of people whose lives he touched in a profound way.
A memorial service was held for Kahn in the basketball court that bears his name on Sept. 13, 2004, almost two months after he passed away. Kahn served as the schools AD from 1961-1995 and the schools men’s basketball coach from 1961-1991, compiling a record of 459-358, including six seasons with 20 or more wins. He will also be posthumously inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame later this month.
Many of his former players, employees, successors, friends and family made there way to the Hamden campus to say some kind words and share many stories about the beloved coach Kahn.
Cincinnati Reds broadcaster and Hamden native George Grande spoke of Kahn fondly. “Burt Kahn touched every one of our lives, and will always be with us…he put this school on the map,” he said. He then proceeded to take out a few items which symbolized the former coach, including a basketball, tennis racket and a wine glass meant to resemble a spittoon, something the avid tobacco chewer carried with him often.
University President John Lahey noted how during Kahn’s tenure, he severed under six of the eight Quinnipiac University presidents, and saw 14,000 of the 27,000 alumni pass through Quinnipiac. “A towering figure in the history of Quinnipiac,” said Lahey, “he devoted his entire professional career and all of life the Quinnipiac University.”
Current Quinnipiac AD Jack McDonald noted Kahn’s dedication and loyalty to this institution. “Burt was a legend,” he said, “It was an honor and a challenge to follow him.”
Bill Mecca, former Men’s basketball coach and current basketball commentator for WQUN, was an assistant under Kahn from 1978-1991 and had the utmost revere for his friend. “Coach is one of those figures it’s unfair to describe him in one word…He taught life lessons not on a daily basis, but a minute by minute basis,” he said. “He cared deeply about Quinnipiac University and he worked extremely hard to instill his loyalty on us.”
Almost everyone had a fond memory about Kahn. Some had humor, like one story of how the coach’s famous traveling spittoon accidentally fell onto his head after the bus made a sharp turn, covering him and his own tobacco juice, and all the players on the bus trying to keep from keeling over in hysterical laughter.
Another story was about annual fishing trips, which featured waking up at 5 a.m., a four hour drive from Hamden to the eastern tip of Long Island, bologna sandwiches and people who hated to fish.
People also talked about how thrilled the coach would be that our hockey team, which he fought long and hard to get in the first place, would soon be moving to the ECAC to play alongside such schools as Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton and nearby Yale.
Every banner in the Burt Kahn Court is because of Burt Kahn himself. And he would have his own banner, as all his former players, assistants and employees came up to unveil the Burt Kahn banner, briefly summing up all his accomplishments in a few short lines, including “Four Decades of Excellence”.
Kahn is one of the most influential people the Quinnipiac community has ever known, or probably will know. This athletic program is truly “The program that Kahn built.”