Legendary Fresno State Women’s Basketball coach passes away at 87

Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics.

The Fresno State Women’s basketball program has lost its all-time winningest coach.

Bob Spencer, who coached the Bulldogs from 1981-1993, passed away on Sunday at the age of 87. Spencer was the first NCAA women’s basketball coach to earn 500 career wins. He guided the Bulldogs to a 198-147 record during his tenure as head coach.

“Bob Spencer laid the foundation for success at the highest level within our women’s basketball program,” Fresno State director of athletics Terry Tumey said in a statement. “He leaves behind a legacy which includes the most wins in program history, our first ever top 25 national ranking, and more importantly he developed strong women who continue to impact our community today.”

During Spencer’s time with the Bulldogs, two of his teams (1986,1990) appeared in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Four of his teams would each record at least 20 wins. 

The first time Fresno State entered the USA Today’s Coaches Poll came under Spencer’s tenure. The 1986-1987 team first broke into the top 25 on Jan. 13 and would climb as far as No. 21 by Feb. 10 but did not remain in the poll by the end of the season.

The 1986-1987 women’s basketball team finished at 22-8 and still holds the program’s record for the highest scoring average in a season with 78.4 points per game.

That team was led by four All-American honorees: Wendy Martell, Shannon McGee, Yvette Roberts and Simone Srubek. Martell recalled Spencer’s “spirit of tenacity” and what lessons he taught on and off the court.

“When I played at Fresno State, Coach Spencer introduced the words ‘intestinal fortitude’ into our vocabulary…” Martell said in a statement. “The spirit of tenacity marked our team and has marked my life. I am thankful for Coach Spencer and the lessons learned that have lasted a lifetime.”

Before Spencer arrived at Fresno State, he started athletic programs for women at John F. Kennedy College, Parsons College and William Penn College. He was the first male to receive the honor of the National Division II Coach of the Year and the American Women’s Sports Federation Coach of the Year following a 43-3 season at William Penn. William Penn also went on to win the AIAW that year.

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