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Memories of Gradyville's Ed Diddle

When he stepped down as coach of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in 1964, Gradyville native Ed Diddle had won more NCAA games than any other coach, according a biography of the famous Adair Countian on Western Kentucky University's web site, in an article entitled "If there is a basketball court in Heaven, Edgar Allen Diddle will be coaching the angels."

Mr. Diddle helped Adair Countians
Jim Richards, along with Willard and Wayne Smith, were the first baseball players ever to get aid at Western Kentucky State College. And, with Columbia High School basketball star Jimmy Callison, the only Adair Countians to play for Mr. Diddle.

The aid was all thanks to fellow Adair Countian Ed Diddle. "We got a room, noon meals, some of our books, and a college job. We had to pay our own tuition," Richards said. That was all of $32 dollars, including lab fees, back then. The job was cleaning out the basketball arena and the football stadium after games, and it paid 35 an hour.

They were undergraduates from 1954-1958. Mr. Diddle was their coach for two years of that time.

After graduation, Richards won a KHSAA Boys State Basketball Championship while coaching at Glasgow High School, in 1968. He then went to Western Kentucky as an assistant coach. In 1971, he became head basketball coach, a position he held until 1978.

After that, he was golf coach at Western. Later, he became head of Alumni Affairs. Richards is one of the late Coach's biggest admirers, and is a storehouse of Diddle anecdotes. (see also A Pretty Good Piece of Driving)

From his earliest days, Ed Diddle loved sports
As a boy, Diddle loved to play all sports. Jim Richards says that around Milltown they still remember when Ed Diddle rode up on a mule, in a cloud of dust, just in time to play baseball for Gradyville against Milltown. "His father had made him work, but he was determined to play baseball that night."

When he was in high school, Diddle's family moved to Logan County, but he stayed behind, so he could finish high school with his Columbia teammates. Bo McMillen recruited Diddle to play basketball and football at Centre College, Richards remembers. "He played in the first football game he ever saw. He was so strong that he was an outstanding football player as well as starring in basketball and baseball for Centre.

After he became established at Western, he loved to go into the chemistry classes at the beginning of each semester and, as "guest lecturer," write his chemistry formula on the board, "C6H0" and ask the class what compound he had written. He would tell the students, "It's Centre, 6; Harvard, 0. And don't you ever forget it." Then he'd tell them the story of the famous Praying Colonels of Centre College. That was the October 29, 1921 match in which Danville, Kentucky's Centre defeated unbeaten and top-ranked Harvard.
Centre's football team was widely known as "The Praying Colonels" from the late 1800's into the first part of the 20th century. According to Richards, Coach Diddle could freely take over Dr. McNally's and Dr. Ward Sumpter's chemistry classes to give the lesson. Both Dr. McNally and Dr. Sumpter loved Hilltopper Athletics and Mr. Diddle. But he wasn't allowed in Dr. Dooley's quantitative analysis classes. "Dr. Dooley didn't hold with such foolishness," Richards said.

Mr. Diddle patrolled Western's campus like it was his home. His residence was on campus, located behind College Heights High School, and there was a rock about 2 feet cubed that he used for a seat. If a person cut across the grass, be that person a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, he always called out, "Stay off the grass, Freshman." One day, Dean Dero Downing's daughter, Ann, cut across the lawn, and Coach Diddle yelled out, "Hey, Freshman, stay off the grass!" but she ducked her head and kept going. He repeated the warning two more times, but she kept going, with her head turned away so she wouldn't be recognized. Finally, Mr. Diddle said, "Hey, Dean's Daughter, stay off the grass."

The Famous Red Towel
Richards says he knows the real story of the Red Towel and how it became a university symbol. It came about during the years when Western was playing often at Madison Square Garden in the NIT.

Mr. Diddle was a bit overweight in those days. He wore a trademark navy blue suit which caused him to perspire a lot during the games. He had a manager soak a towel in ice water, and Mr. Diddle would use the towel to wipe the sweat away. In the excitement of a game, he threw the towel in the air, and the crowd loved it. Kelly Thompson saw the crowd's reaction and told Mr. Diddle that he needed to make it a part of his act.

The next year, when time came to go to Madison Square Garden, Kelly Thompson suggested that they dye some of the team's white towels red. Mr. Diddle, a master showman, threw it into the air often. Once, it landed on his head and some ladies sitting behind him laughed hysterically. This pleased Mr. Diddle, and he practice throwing the towel in the air so that it would land on his head.

"The New York crowd went wild. And the sportswriters loved him," Richard said. "Mr. Diddle was a country Casey Stengel. He could mangle the language with his own Diddlese, just as Casey Stengel could, but the writers saw more than that. They saw that, in the same way Casey Stengel could inspire baseball team, Mr. Diddle could ignite basketball players. And, they loved the fast-paced, high-scoring, fast-break basketball style Mr. Diddle pioneered. That made him a favorite of the press."


The Real Ed Diddle

However, there was always a great controversy around Ed Diddle as to whether his show was the real Ed Diddle, or, just that, a show.

On one occasion, Mr. Diddle was outside when a car came through the lane by his house going too fast, and the tires squealing. Mr. Diddle heard him coming and stepped in front of the car and stopped it like he was a traffic cop. "Hey, Freshman, where are you from, driving like that?" The driver responded, in what Mr. Diddle thought was a smart aleck fashion, "Chicago." Mr. Diddle was having none of it, "Don't try to fool me, Freshman, I saw those Illinois plates!"

But many consider that and the story about Mr. Diddle telling the players to "line up alphabetically according to size" to be ploys.

Jim Richards says, "I never wanted to tell stories that would in any way seem to cast him in a country bumpkin light," because Richards believes that Diddle calculated every statement he made, and wanted his opponents to underestimate him, let their guard down, and unknowingly cede tactical advantages to the Western Coach.

No one could be certain when he was putting them on, but everyone is sure of this: Ed Diddle was always exciting, he was always lovable, and he loved Western Kentucky University.

A part of Gradyville lives on in memory of Mr. Diddle at Western. The late Helen Claycomb gave Western a cutting from Coach Diddle's mother's rose garden in Gradyville. The cutting was used in Diddle Park, located where Mr. Diddle's house used to stand, and is known as the Molly Diddle Rose.

Mayor Gist remembers meeting Diddle
Mayor Gist met E.A. Diddle only once. "C.O. Moss held an open house (photo) for Mr. Diddle in about 1950-1951, and he invited me to come." (The famous Moss home is now the home of Mary Keltner.) Mayor Gist got a chance to talk with the legendary coach. "He was a pleasant fellow to talk to," he remembers. Gist is an avid sports fan, and, in those days, he kept up with the Toppers by listening to them on the radio.



This story was posted on 2003-07-07 09:02:43
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New Ed Diddle sign in Gradyville



2003-07-07 - Gradyville, KY - Photo Ed Waggener. Now the world can know where Ed Diddle spent his boyhood, thanks to an idea of Gradyville Mayor Hootie Gist. He asked Squire J.M.Shelley, to get a sign to note the historic fact, and Shelley took action. "I talked with Judge Vaughan and he agreed. Together we got it done." The new sign is located at the intersection of Old Gradyville Road and Edmonton Road, one half mile north of the house where Edgar Allen Diddle was born. The Louie B. Nunn Parkway separates the sign and the Diddle homeplace. Paired Photo, 14 years later.
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Biographies of Coach Diddle



2003-07-07 - Gradyville, KY - Photo Ed Waggener. We know of at least two biographies of the great Western Kentucky Hilltoppers basketball coach Ed Diddle from Gradyville, Adair County, Kentucky. On the left, above, is Coach Diddle, Mr. Diddle : Motivator of Men, by C. Harvey Gardiner c1984, Parthenon Press, Nashville, TN. 266 pages, with many photos. This one quotes, acknowledges, and has stories of Gradyville and Adair County people. On the right is The Man with the Red Towel, edited by Wiliam M. Jenkins, Jr. It is copyright 2000 and is self-published by William M. Jenkins, Jr., Bowling Green, Kentucky. This one has photographs, including one with the very famous Old Rex. The second book starts, "I was born in Gradyville, Adair County, Kentucky, on March 12, 1895." It includes some of Ed Diddle's early Adair County memories.
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