Georgia's John Guthrie remembered as a pioneer

A former Georgia basketball coach credited with recruiting and signing the school’s first black basketball player, died Tuesday night. John Guthrie, who coached at Georgia from 1969-78, died from natural causes at age 70.

Guthrie, an Atlanta native, was an assistant coach for the Bulldogs from 1969-73, then spent five seasons as the school’s head coach. Before going to Georgia, Guthrie coached at Southwest DeKalb and Oglethorpe. After his stint at Georgia, he served as a long-time assistant commissioner in the SEC, where he oversaw the league’s basketball officials.

But in terms of historical significance, it might be Guthrie’s recruitment of Ronnie Hogue in 1971 that leaves the biggest mark. Guthrie had learned of Hogue, a high school player in Washington, while the coach was working as an assistant at George Washington just before joining Georgia’s staff.

Hogue went on to set the school’s single-game scoring record (46 points vs. LSU) and earn an all-SEC distinction. He is currently No. 17 on Georgia’s all-time scoring list.

But as important as that was, men such as SEC basketball official Tony Greene and Morehouse athletic director Andre Pattillo, a former referee, say Guthrie’s greatest legacy was the way he befriended, mentored and became a second father to so many young men in and around Atlanta.

“I met him at a summer basketball camp in 1977, and he identified me as a project, someone he could help and give a chance to,” Pattillo said. “He raised me in the field of officiating, and I owe him everything. I worked six Final Fours and attribute all of it to John Guthrie. He was like a father to me. There was nothing you couldn’t go to him with and get sound, fatherly advice.”

When Guthrie hired Pattillo in the early '80s, Pattillo said, “There was still a quota on how many minority officials were hired.” He stomped out that unofficial mandate by hiring the most promising officials, regardless of race, both Pattillo and Greene said.

“He made it his business to identify good officials, especially minorities, and give them a chance,” Pattillo said.

Greene, who last year won the Naismith Award as the best referee in the nation, said Guthrie’s style was to teach young men how to be good men, then transfer those attributes onto the court.

“He wanted us to be people of high morals and good integrity, family people, good citizens,” Greene said. “As officials, he wanted us to take those same things on the court. These were things to keep you out of trouble and ways to be productive citizens and officials.”

Mark Slonaker, who played for Guthrie at Georgia, said he had an idea about the kind of civil-rights champion Guthrie was at the time -- but that his appreciation for that grew over the years.

“He had to go through an awful lot as a very young coach,” Slonaker said. “We’ve since talked about it many times. He brought on the first black assistant coach at Georgia and really did so much in those regards. I think you couldn’t help but recognize it a little bit as you were going though it, but it wasn’t until I got older that I could really appreciate what he had done.”

Guthrie was an all-state basketball and baseball player at Murphy High School in Atlanta and graduated from Oglethorpe in 1962. He served as head coach of the freshman basketball team in his senior year. He then became a coach and teacher for three seasons at Southwest DeKalb before returning to Oglethorpe in 1965 to coach basketball, baseball and tennis.

Guthrie is survived by his wife, Angela, a son, David, a daughter, Campbell, and three grandchildren. A memorial service for Guthrie will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Duluth.