MANHATTAN, Kan. (K-State Athletics) – Legendary K-State Athletics figure Ernie Barrett, affectionately known as ‘Mr. K-State,’ with his trademark firm handshake, passed away on Friday morning (April 21) at the age of 93 in Manhattan, Kan.
A Celebration of Life is planned for 1 p.m., CT on Thursday, April 27 at Bramlage Coliseum with a reception to follow in the Shamrock Zone. The service and reception are open to the public.
Barrett is survived by his wife of 72 years, Bonnie, his son Brad and a grandson Ryan and wife, Lauren. He was preceded in death by his parents (Ernie and Ruby Barrett) and son Duane.
Born in Pratt, Kan., on August 27, 1929, Barrett called Wellington, Kan., his home, where he led Wellington High School to its only state championship in 1947 as an all-state basketball player. Recruited by the likes of Kansas’ Phog Allen and Oklahoma State’s Henry Iba out of high school, Barrett chose Kansas State, beginning a long association in 1948 when he entered the university as a freshman basketball player for Hall of Fame head coach Jack Gardner and then freshman coach and future Hall of Famer Fred “Tex” Winter.
Barrett was a two-time graduate of the university, earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1951 and a master’s degree in journalism in 1956.
During his near 75-year association with K-State, Barrett served the university as a student-athlete (1948-51), assistant basketball coach (1958-64), assistant athletics director (1963-69), director of athletics (1969-75), university consultant (1988-91) and director of development (1991-2007). His list of accolades and achievements are nearly endless. As a student-athlete, he captained the 1950-51 team that opened venerable Ahearn Field House while guiding the Wildcats to the Final Four as the school’s first consensus All-American. As an assistant coach to Winter, he was part of two Final Fours (1959 and 1964) and five Big Eight titles from 1958-64. Later as athletics director and fundraiser, he was instrumental in the hiring of legendary coach Jack Hartman as men’s basketball coach in 1970 and helped spearhead numerous athletics facilities, including Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Colbert Hills Golf Course, Tointon Family Stadium and R.V. Christian Track and Field Complex.
Barrett was a charter member of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990, while the university erected a statue of him in front of Bramlage Coliseum in 1999 as a tribute to his many contributions. He was named to the State of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was selected to the school’s 13-member All-Century Basketball Team in 2003. His number 22 jersey hangs in the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum after he was honored by the school in 2005.
Barrett was associated with three of K-State’s four all-time Final Four appearances, including the first in 1951 as a player and two as an assistant coach in 1959 and 1964, while he was part of teams that won a combined seven Big Seven or Big Eight Conference titles (1950, 1951, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964).
As a basketball player, Barrett famously led the Wildcats to their first and only NCAA Championship game during his storybook senior season in 1950-51, while earning First Team All-America honors on the team that opened historic Ahearn Field House. He averaged a team-leading 10.3 points as a senior en route to helping K-State to a 25-4 overall record, which included the Big Seven Holiday Tournament and Big Seven regular-season titles and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In the tournament, the Wildcats defeated No. 12 Arizona, No. 11 BYU and No. 2 Oklahoma State to set up a matchup with Kentucky in the NCAA title. Due to a shoulder injury, he was limited to just 4 points in the championship game, which the Wildcats lost 68-58.
Overall, the Wildcats were 54-22 (.711) during Barrett’s 3-year playing career, which included a pair of Big Seven Conference titles in 1950 and 1951. He scored 675 points in 77 career games.
As a senior, Barrett earned First Team All-America honors from the Helms Foundation, The Sporting News and International News Service, while he was selected for second team honors by Converse Yearbook and Look magazine as well as third team honors from the UPI. He was also unanimous First Team All-Big Seven.
Upon graduating from K-State, Barrett was one of his four Wildcats taken in the 1951 NBA Draft, as the Boston Celtics took him with the seventh pick of the first round. Due to his service in the U.S. Air Force from 1951-53, he deferred his commitment with the Celtics until 1953, playing two seasons (1953-54 and 1955-56) for the legendary Red Auerbach and alongside Hall of Fame player Bob Cousy, helping the Celtics to the Eastern Division finals twice.
Barrett returned to his alma mater as assistant alumni secretary for the K-State Alumni Association in 1955 before becoming an assistant coach for Winter in 1958. He spent six seasons (1958-64) on Winter’s staff, helping the Wildcats to a 123-36 (.774) record cumulating in the 1964 Final Four. The team shared or won the Big Eight regular-season title five times in his six seasons on the coaching staff, boasting a 72-12 (.857) mark in conference play, with Final Four appearances in 1959 and 1964.
Barrett moved full-time into the administrative ranks in the fall of 1964 before succeeding Bebe Lee as the school’s director of athletics on March 10, 1969. He was the first Kansas-born athlete to lead the department. He spent seven years (1969-75) leading the athletics department, in which, he hired the school’s all-time winningest coach Jack Hartman while leading fundraising campaigns for KSU Stadium (now Bill Snyder Family Stadium), the athletic dormitory and the R.V. Christian Track and Field Complex.
After leaving for the private sector, Barrett returned to his alma mater in 1991 as the department’s director of development for which he served until his retirement in 2007.
University statements on the passing of Ernie Barrett:
University President Dr. Richard Linton
“Ernie Barrett has always been a shining example of what it means to be a K-Stater. From his storied success at K-State — both on and off the court — to his achievements in the NBA, and later, his transformative time as an athletics administrator for the university, Ernie embodied the work ethic, dedication and tenacity that are hallmarks of the Wildcat spirit. We will always celebrate and hold dear the legacy of Mr. K-State and all he accomplished for our great university.”
Director of Athletics Gene Taylor
“Today is a sad day for Kansas State University. Ernie Barrett poured his heart and soul into K-State for an amazing 75-plus years, and we would not be where we are today as an institution and athletics program without him. As a former athletics director, he was always supportive of me and the decisions I made, and that meant the world to me. His symbolic handshake will forever be remembered as a symbol of his care and love for both people and Kansas State. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie and the entire Barrett family.”
President and CEO of the K-State Alumni Association Amy Button Renz
“I will always be grateful to Ernie for his support and friendship. When I became president and CEO of the Alumni Association, Ernie provided valuable insight into the world of athletics and helped the association establish a new elevated partnership with the athletics department. When we started the campaign to build the K-State Alumni Center, he helped us raise funds and then Ernie and his family personally donated. The Barrett Wildcat Den is named in their honor. I have so many wonderful memories of him and his love for K-State. I was so excited when he received the Association’s Wildcat Pride Award, but my favorite memory is sitting next to him when the 2018 men’s basketball team defeated Kentucky to advance to the Elite Eight. Ernie was so excited! There will never be another Mr. K-State. My thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie, Brad, and all of Ernie’s loved ones.”
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Jerome Tang
“Known for his firm handshakes and his neck hugs, Ernie enjoyed an incredibly well-lived life that I was blessed to be part of as the men’s basketball coach at his alma mater. He might be the greatest Wildcat of all-time. In his near 75-year association with this great school, he accomplished nearly everything you can imagine from playing Final Fours to hiring Hall of Fame coaches to helping build the very building our teams play in today. He came to visit me before every home game and was incredibly welcoming to me and my staff in our first year. No one loved this university and its basketball team more than him. I’m sending love and prayers to his wife Bonnie, son Brad and the rest of their family. What a remarkable life.”
Head Football Coach Chris Klieman
“Ernie cared so deeply about Kansas State, and I appreciated our friendship and his personal interest in our football program. Everyone knows Ernie for his figurative handshake, but what I will remember most is a person who spent nearly three-quarters of a century trying to make his alma mater a better place. He is the true definition of a K-Stater, and Bonnie and the rest of the Barrett family will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Hall of Fame football coach Bill Snyder
“Ernie was the dearest of friends, one of the greatest K-Staters in the world, and a special, special man and husband. He was one of the first individuals I met when I visited Manhattan and was significant as anyone in formulating my decision to come to Kansas State. Never in my 40-plus years here have I met anyone who meant more or did more for a university than Ernie. He sought out opportunities to promote Kansas State University and the athletics program everywhere he was. While he was truly one of the most recognizable K-Staters across the state, Ernie was amazingly received in our Western Kansas communities and was embraced in an astounding way. It was astonishing to witness people bring their children and family members just to meet Ernie and shake his hand. He and Bonnie have been so meaningful to Manhattan, Kansas State University and the entire state of Kansas, and he will be dearly missed.”
Other notable figures on the passing of Ernie Barrett:
President of Interim HealthCare Topeka and family friend Jill Stehley Harrison
“Ernie developed the relationships that truly transformed K-State. He built those with a firm handshake, a handwritten note, a personal passion for a project, and the trust that goes along with that. There will never be another Mr. K-State. We were all fortunate to have him in our lives.”
Longtime athletics donor Mary Vanier
“Ernie Barrett had a passion for Kansas State University and the Athletics Programs that is unmatched. Starting as a player, then administrator, fund raiser and constant supporter, I really can’t name anyone who has had more of an impact on K-State Athletics than Ernie. Together with his wife Bonnie, they are the patriarch and matriarch of the K-State Family. Ernie’s friendship, humor and bone crushing handshake will be greatly missed.”
Longtime athletics donors Howard and Patricia Sherwood
“There will no longer or ever will be the handshake that Ernie shared with thousands over the 75 years of his life as a Wildcat. The purple will fade a bit without our Ernie. The MAN and Bonnie will always be loved and never forgotten.”
Longtime athletics donor and professional golfer Jim Colbert
“Ernie was Mr. K-State. He devoted all of his adult life to the betterment and development of the University. There would be no Colbert Hills without Ernie. There would be no Bramlage Coliseum, Bill Snyder Family Stadium and many other facilities on campus. There will never be another Ernie. The relationships he developed and friendships he made stretch all across the country.”
Former University Chief of Staff Jackie Hartman Borck (daughter of the late Jack Hartman)
“A force of nature, Ernie Barrett is recognized by all. Whether it be his handshake, his fist pump, or his persuasive efforts, he loves and is loyal to Kansas State University. The Jack and Pat Hartman family is forever indebted to Ernie for bringing us to Manhattan. He introduced us to the power of purple and the K-State Family which we love as well.”
Former athletics director and current Big 12 Deputy Commissioner Tim Weiser
“Ernie represents a bygone era of K-State Athletics. I think he is the only AD that K-State has had that was a former student-athlete which would also be a unique piece of history that you rarely see today. He was an important person for me personally as he could open many doors and connect me with so many people that were essential to the future growth of K-State. His knowledge and understanding about K-State basketball was second to none. He will be sorely missed as there will never be another Ernie Barrett.”
Former athletics director and current Wake Forest athletics director John Currie
“Ernie Barrett’s competitive spirit, loyalty and passion for K-State was unmatched. I’ll remember him fondly, including my initial meeting with him and Bonnie in their home, where he coached up this rookie AD on all things K-State from a yellow legal pad to-do-list. Godspeed to Mr. K-State!”
Oklahoma State Director of Athletics and former K-State assistant AD Chad Weiberg
“Like so many others, I will be forever grateful for Ernie. He took me under his wing when I first came to K-State Athletics and introduced me to everyone he knew. I will cherish the memories of our trips to Western Kansas. On those drives I heard stories about the people and places he loved so much. And people loved him. To have Mr. K-State take a new, unknown fundraiser under his wing changed everything for me. And I hope I was able to take that and play a small role in doing good for the school he dedicated his life to and make him proud. Thank you, Mr. K-State! Love you, Ernie.”
Former men’s basketball player, assistant coach, and head coach Lon Kruger
“Certainly, the tag “Mr. K-State” sums up Ernie Barrett perfectly. There is no one in the history of Kansas State University that had a genuine love and devotion to the institution like Ernie. Through his association and service to K-State as a basketball player, coach, athletics director, and fundraiser he touched thousands of lives. He will be dearly missed by all those who love K-State. My prayers are with Bonnie, son Brad and the rest of his family.”
Former men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber
“All of us will remember Ernie for his bone crushing handshakes and enormous hugs. However, Megan and I will always appreciate Ernie’s kind heart and true friendship. It was our honor and privilege to have Ernie and Bonnie as our dear friends and neighbors.”