Dee Rowe, beloved UConn men’s basketball coach and ambassador, dies at 91

Dom Amore, Hartford Courant

Donald “Dee” Rowe, who coached UConn men’s basketball into the national spotlight and spent more than 50 years spreading good will for the university, died early Sunday in Storrs. He was 91.

“Dee is one of God’s children, and everything flows from that,” basketball Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, a lifelong friend, told The Courant in 2016. “And we see so little of that in our society. His entire life, he has reached out to assist others. He is as saintly as any friend I’ve ever had.”

Rowe was hired to coach the UConn men in 1969, after a 5-19 season, and quickly turned the program around, going 14-9 and tying for the Yankee Conference title. UConn was 103-78 during his time, peaking in 1975-76 with a run to the NCAA’s Round of 16. After advancing that far in the tournament, UConn was positioned to receive an invitation to join the Big East three years later.

After retiring as coach in 1977, Rowe remained as an advisor and fundraiser, participated on the search committees that brought Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma to UConn and helping raise the funds to build Gampel Pavilion.

“From the day we talked down by the churches on campus and he told me I needed to accept the job,” Calhoun said. “He never told me anything but the truth, what I could do. And there was never a hint of ego in it about him. He was always my greatest booster, PR man. No one could’ve have done more for UConn.”

In 1980, Rowe was an assistant on the U.S.A basketball team, but did not make it to the Olympics in Moscow, because of the U.S. boycott. At Auriemma’s invitation, Rowe attended the 2012 Olympic Games in London with the U.S. women’s team.

“Everywhere I’d go around the country, people would ask, ‘How’s Dee?’” Calhoun said. “That tells you more about him as a person than anything else.”

Even as he passed the age of 90, Rowe was a regular at UConn sporting events. His former players remained loyal and in contact, ever offering encouragement to players and coaches.

“Coach Rowe would come by my office every Friday,” football coach Randy Edsall said, “or call if he couldn’t make it in person, to say good luck to me and the coaches for our Saturday game. He always had just the right words for every moment.”

Said baseball coach Jim Penders: “Every Husky knows Dee Rowe as the chief ambassador of UConn nation. I know him as an original mentor and great friend. I, like so many others, am a better person for knowing his love for his family, for those he coached and for those he inspired. His immensely positive impact will remain forever.”

Rowe lost his wife, Ginny, in 2018. They had seven children and 17 grandchildren.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com